Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris help "Glee" get its groove back

Tonight's "Glee" = epic awesomeness.

This week's episode arrived laden with high expectations, at least for Gleeks and TV nerds - Neil Patrick Harris guest-stars! Joss Whedon directs! - and I'm happy to report it did not disappoint. Any episode that gives substantial screen time to Artie and Tina, singing time to Mr. Shue, and dancing time to Mike "Other Asian" Chang is well on its way to earning my thumbs up. But "Dream On" offered so much more!

About time, too. Before tonight, the show hadn't really found its footing since returning from its long winter hiatus. After a very creaky start, it was gradually improving but hadn't reached the heights and giddy delights of, for example, "Single Ladies" on the football field - or the sublime combo of Kristen Chenoweth and Lea Michele on "Maybe This Time." Tonight, however, "Glee" got its mojo back in a big way.

My favorite things about the episode:

1. Artie's dream sequence: Flash mob dance. In a mall. To the song "Safety Dance." With Artie (Kevin McHale) front and center. Result: pure unadulterated joy. Nice to see McHale finally get a chance to bust out his boy-band moves.

2. Mr. Shue and Bryan Ryan's sing-off: My only beef is that while Neil Patrick Harris is obviously an accomplished singer and performer, as between him and Matthew Morrison, vocally there's no contest. True, I may be biased, considering Morrison's voice is like catnip to me. And there's no denying NPH was a delight to watch as the Shue-nemy, though he was a little more dialed down than I was expecting. You'd think "Glee" would be a perfect place for him to let his manic spirit really rip. Then again, maybe the show's so over the top he just seems restrained by comparison.

3. "I Dreamed a Dream": Susan Boyle, eat your heart out. Of *course* Idina Menzel's character - forgot her name - had to be Rachel's biological mother; what a waste of an uncanny resemblance otherwise! Their double-powerhouse duet was exquisitely lovely, even if Lea Michele's overly dramatic facial expressions were a bit distracting.

4. The return of Jesse: So he did have an ulterior motive, just not the one we all suspected! (Although maybe Rachel's mom wants to bring her daughter over to Vocal Adrenaline, and then for all practical purposes it's still sabotage of New Directions.) I have to admit I'm fascinated by his character, and whatever his motives, I like him with Rachel. Why did I not try to see those two together in Spring Awakening when it was still on Broadway? Damn. And I don't care if Jonathan Groff is gay; he's still delish.

5. Tina and Mike's tap dance I found quite charming, and Artie's expression throughout it surprisingly poignant. That said, I do wish the show would give Tina some character development that isn't related to being Artie's supportive & long-suffering love interest. What about *her* dreams? her demons? And while you're at it, why not give "Other Asian" a few lines, too?

Did the episode come together as a whole, apart from the strength of these individual set pieces? I'd say yes. Sure, Rachel's pining for her mother came out of left field (loved her attempt to persuade Jesse that Patti LuPone was her bio-ma, though), and the Artie plotline was a little after-school-specialish, and a little redundant (didn't we get that lesson in "Wheels," or for that matter, from Finn's paraplegic friend last week?). Still, the overall theme - don't give up on your dreams, but not all dreams are possible - was pretty coherently executed. For "Glee," anyway.

Let's hope this week signaled a return to form. Even if it didn't - and "Glee" is nothing if not erratic in quality, always has been - this is still one of its best eps so far. Bring on the rest of the season!


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