We’ve been wanting something more from Glee — mainly, less literal song picks and a little character development to go with the lessons destined for the end of each episode. So this week we got a pleasant surprise: Who thought Kristin Chenoweth, squeaky mistress of soprano sunshine, could bring gravitas to the show? Like a wee platinum tornado, April Rhodes wreaks havoc on all. Rachel must cope with loneliness at the top, Finn and Mr. Schue confront what they must do to get there, Emma gets feisty, and Kurt gets drunk on rubbing alcohol. Like Miss Sally Bowles, who figures quite prominently, we’re hopeful for better things to come — like, how about more Jane Lynch? Are we delusional, like Sally? No matter — with an excellent eighties ballad, a Liza showstopper, and some Queen, we weren’t thinking deep thoughts for long.
Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing”
Make no mistake, we’re huge Steve Perry fans, but enough already! Any good glee club knows when to retire a song, and Quinn’s feeble contribution is a red flag (we hope Dianna Agron is hiding an awesome voice, to be revealed in a fit of agony when she catches Rachel and Finn making out. It’s bound to happen). We were worried at first that this anthem starts the episode — after all, it’s all about how we all must Not Lose Hope — but things thankfully improve shortly.
Kander and Ebb, “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret)
Acafellas may be over, but Mr. Schue clearly hasn’t given up on his high-school dreams, which are now manifest in the perky li’l package that is April, former glee-club star and aspiring actress (on “Broadway!”), current fan of boxed wine and cold medicine. It’s clear by now that Will has some serious Mr. Fix-It issues (“We’ll get you sobered up ... and find you some underwear”), thinking that if he brings April into the glee club, everybody wins! Well, we all do, for a moment. April and Rachel belt Sally Bowles’s iconic solo of crazy hope and tragic desperation (“Everybody loves a winner, so nobody loved me” — sound like Rachel much?). No props, just a spotlight, and even Lea Michele gets whacked out of the park by Kristin Chenoweth. She’s no Liza, but her brassy, raw rendition gave us chills — along with the coloratura she tossed into the ending.
We always feel a little vindicated when certain eighties ballads, which we may or may not play on repeat when we’re home alone, make appearances in real life (or, you know, television). And when Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth sang one, well, we died a little from happiness. Yes, it’s slightly ridiculous that the bowling alley just happens to have a karaoke stage, and oh, how coincidental that Will always dreamed of singing with April! And we give up on connecting this number to the plot, other than the fact that it’s quite believable these two would’ve loved a theatrical lady-rock duo in high school. No matter — it is cheesy, over-the-top, and perfectly Glee.
Carrie Underwood, “Last Name”
There’s a whole lot of condescension going on preperformance: Will oh-so-benevolently wishes Rachel luck in the musical, and Emma (woo-hoo!) gives Will a much-needed dose of reality — that April’s setting an awful example and hogging the spotlight from a glee kid. We’re baffled as to how a song about getting drunk on Cuervo and going home with an anonymous date got past the principal (by the way — what ever happened to the luftballoons?). But once again Kristin C. rips it up, putting Carrie Underwood to shame, and the entire club dances in its best choreography yet (Kurt as cowboy = hilarity). We don’t recall Puck and his football buddies joining the club for real, but the group finally looks a little like what Rachel so snootily calls it: an ensemble.
Queen, “Somebody to Love”
Things tie up a bit too neatly at episode’s end. April suddenly realizes she needs to get a life! Finn gallantly comes to Rachel’s rescue, after not exactly lying to her but not telling the truth, either! And Rachel realizes having friends might beat being the star! (Well, this we believe, since her repeated “It’s tough being a star” monologues gradually become convincing.) And this number feels a little rote — Rachel and Finn circling each other, the group reaching skyward repeatedly ... we’ve seen it before, and it was called “Don’t Stop Believing.” Still, this Queen classic is an obvious a capella go-to, the group nails the ensemble sections, and Mercedes fabulously reminds us why she should get more solos.