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Glee: Driven to Distraction

Editor's note: Vulture took the Thanksgiving holiday off, so we bring our recap of last Wednesday's Glee to you now.

This episode was a little all over the place, but that’s okay — the theme, as we were reminded again and again, was distraction, as all the characters faced shiny, pretty objects (or in Rachel’s case, became one!) in an effort to ignore sad, sad reality. For awhile, it seemed like things were looking up for the New Directions crew. Puck and Quinn babysat together, successfully! Terri momentarily seemed to have a heart! Kurt making over Rachel surely meant we’d get a cutesy duet, right? But Glee, oxymoronic show title that it is, was just distracting us from the way things must go on a midseason, ratings-winning show (which only has two episodes left till a startling midseason hiatus). Instead of cleared-up plotlines, we got an assortment of songs (ranging from an Über-unfortunate mash-up to a promising showing from the heretofore vocally mediocre Dianna Agron), some inconsistent characterizations (Kurt and Rachel’s relationship seems all over the place, and Sue’s back to her early-season self), and tangled story lines working themselves out with mixed results (Mrs. Schue’s continues to make us want to scream; Quinn’s is getting more touching).

Destiny’s Child, “Bootylicious”
Pizzazz: 9
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 6
Sue’s back, though only briefly (“I’m a fine-arts administrator, or something”), but her sudden renewed interest in the New Directions set list rings alarms in even Mr. Schue’s naïve brain: She must be sharing it with the competition (which apparently only consists of a school for delinquent girls and another for the deaf). So off Schue goes to the Jane Adams Academy, where Eve turns in a sardonic cameo as a put-upon choir director with a Spidey-sense for when girls steal wallets. She agrees to a pre-Sectionals scrimmage, where her girls, dressed like sexy crossing guards, of course give a knockout performance of “Bootylicious” but otherwise exhibit what Rachel knowingly calls “hairography,” or using whizzing hair to distract from so-so vocals and choreography. We agree: The vocals were precise enough, but we kind of got a headache from the rest of the stage antics.

Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”
Pizzazz: 5
Relevance: 9
Absurdity: 7
Okay, Gleeks, take your moment to be very proud of having predicted that this song would show up at some point. Here we have an example of Glee at its best, showing that these kids often express themselves in song much better, and more genuinely, than in words. Dianna Agron’s vocals are a ginormous improvement over past numbers, even with some misguided attempts at Madonna dancing, and we admit to feeling a little proud of her when she came up with, “Hey kids, who wants to see a real, live music video?” Apparently Puck carries his guitar everywhere, ready to break into eighties hits at a moment’s notice, but we couldn't have been caring less about reality when he hilariously tells Quinn his usual Saturday-night plans: “Just the usual: stand outside the 7-11 looking depressed until someone offers to buy me beer.” That, we believe.

Mash-up: “Crazy in Love” (Beyoncé) and “Hair” (Ragni/Rado/MacDermot)
Pizzazz: 7
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 8
Let’s get one thing out of the way: No one ever, ever needs to hear this mash-up again. It may well rank as Glee's worst musical moment yet. But assaulting our ears was probably the point: The glee kids, and Mr. Schue, are so distracted by anything that seems like a way out of failure that they can only be horrific. Rachel (who literally qualifies as “crazy in love”) cowers under the harsh words of Kurt (“Most of the time I can’t stand to be in the same room with you. Especially this one, which looks like where Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobby come to hook up”), ditching her grandmother-slash-toddler look for one more Sandy from Grease meets “like a ho.” (We love that Rachel seems to have a tape recorder with backup music on hand at all times.) While she succeeds in momentarily distracting Finn from Quinn, she’s ultimately just pushing him away (and finding out he liked her the way she was). Brittany, continuing her series of magically delicious comments, instructs everyone in hair tossing (“It’s like cool epilepsy!”); thankfully, judging by the kids’ exhausted faces (and one deaf kid’s astute observation that they all look crazy), Rachel realizes the error of her hairographing ways.

John Lennon, “Imagine”
Pizzazz: 6
Relevance: 3
Absurdity: 7
While we enjoyed Michael Hitchcock’s mildly funny appearance as Dalton Rumba, the quasi-hearing-impaired leader of the choir at a school for the deaf, this number forced sentimentality big time, and though the harmonies were lovely, the number didn’t entertain or move the plot forward (on Glee, where camp reigns supreme until it seems pointless, one of the two must happen). We get it: The glee kids all need to occasionally ignore the distractions of their narcissistic little teenage worlds and acknowledge how lucky they really are — by learning sign language really, really quickly and spontaneously bursting into the Universal Anthem of Peace with their angelic competitors.

Cyndi Lauper, “True Colors”
Full version at gleethemusic.com
Pizzazz: 4
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 4
First of all, hurray for Tina singing! Whereas Rachel definitely would have overdramatized this ballad, Tina’s pleasant-yet-human voice, complete with occasional cracks, is perfect for the song, and we couldn’t help but be touched by how happy she looked singing it. Despite the random swirly computerized backdrop (this from a school with budget problems?) and coordinated outfits, we ultimately found this number winning because it felt like a true acapella arrangement. And though the message is a little literal, the sad undertone to the song is right for the moment in the episode; yes, everyone’s learned that being themselves is usually the most winning option, but there’s disappointment all around. Rachel and Kurt’s defeated little wave in the hallway felt pretty true to life (who hasn’t felt completely deflated, seeing your crush with someone else?), as, sadly, did Puck’s semi-humorous “sexting” episode with Santana (if he were a total saint, which he seemed to be at episode’s beginning, we’d probably eventually stop loving him). Next week In two weeks, at long last, Sectionals!

More Recaps:
At the A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff looks at how Glee is handling two super problematic story lines — Quinn's real pregnancy, Terri's fake one — in different ways, making Quinn's story increasingly believable, while Terri's remains, despite writer Ian Brennan's best efforts, continuously bothersome.
Raymund Flandez at Speakeasy agrees with us that the mash-up was the worst number of the season! He also astutely points out there's a bit of Beyoncé overload going on at McKinley High — time for girlfriend to make a cameo or be retired.

Photo: Carin Baer/FOX