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Glee Recap: Is It Getting Better?

We’re wriggling with happiness: This may well have been the best Glee episode yet in the back nine, and certainly one of the best in season one. The theme was simple and appropriate: The glee clubbers need some grounding, to re-find their true voices after the past couple weeks’ wackiness. And those voices? Well, the writers preempted our Rachel fatigue: We got an evening showcasing the myriad talents of People Other Than Rachel and a lengthy list of songs, each somehow more fabulous than the last, running the gamut from a guilty-pleasure pop hit to a Broadway staple to an epic rock anthem. Great tunes, believable and touching plot, and a healthy dose of absurdism: This is the way Glee should be. Onwards, Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan (and next week: Joss)!

Miley Cyrus, “The Climb”
Pizzazz: 1
Relevance: 3
Absurdity: 5

Stop the presses: Rachel Berry has acknowledged there’s such a thing as Too Many Solos! Is it too much to hope that this a tongue-in-cheek reference? As in: “Hello audience, it’s us, the writers! We feel your pain! And so do Lea Michele’s vocal chords!” Finn has started lip-synching, Puck’s had his Mohawk removed, and Rachel has tonsillitis, leading to a very funny half-performance in which we marvel at Lea Michele’s efforts to sound, well, not good. The song is weirdly appropriate, message-wise, for Rachel, but really, writers? Even in a moment of metaphorical inspiration, she’d never acknowledge Miley Cyrus’s existence as a vocalist of any repute.

Rick Springfield, “Jesse’s Girl”
Pizzazz: 5
Relevance: 8
Absurdity: 6

Let’s be honest: Since the moment Jesse St. James stepped into Rachel’s life, we’ve all waited with bated breath for this song to appear. Forget the fact that Finn is, absurdly, at Rachel’s doctor’s appointment — though we will admit that this week, the chemistry between the two of them simmers a bit more than usual. The moment that seductive opening guitar solo started, we squealed out loud (for the first of many times this episode). Miracle of miracles, it was a great choice for Cory Monteith! His voice sounded better than it has since “I’ll Stand By You,” and though it was a little weird to see Finn dancing all up on Rachel in the middle of what is ostensibly a class, we’ll consider this a win all around.

Rodgers and Hart, “The Lady Is a Tramp”
Pizzazz: 8
Relevance: 6
Absurdity: 4

“Get ready, black girl from glee club whose name I can’t remember right now. The Puckster is about to make you his.” Oh, Puck; you had us at hello! Despite the verging-on-bizarre feel of Puck’s loss-of-Mohawk story line, several elements were in fact quite realistic. The popular jock loses his trademark look? Sure, he’d feel his mojo was gone. Even Puck’s pickup lines (“I’m a sex shark; if I stop moving, I die,” and “Girl, you got more curves than a Nissan ad” are faves) are believably awful. His decision to get with Mercedes rings a little false, but the comic chemistry between Mark Salling and Amber Riley makes us want to believe in this short-lived relationship. That and, oh, only THE MOST AMAZING PUCK NUMBER EVER! Those super-impressive vocals, that adorable outfit, the smooth dance moves, and all to invoke the spirit of Sammy Davis Jr.? It’s almost too much happiness for one night.

John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses”
Pizzazz: 6
Relevance: 6
Absurdity: 5

We’re pleased that the Finn-Kurt–Mr. Hummel love triangle hasn’t disappeared, and Kurt’s continued victimhood leads to both comedy and drama gold. Despite an admirable ability to note that his voice has the range of a sixteenth century castrato, Kurt tries to play it straight, and his date with Brittany, plus her subsequent analysis of his soft hands (“I wonder what it would be like to date a baby”) are priceless. But his ultraangry, near growl of a performance stopped us cold: way to find every ounce of irony in those lyrics about the American dream, Chris Colfer.

Brandy and Monica, “The Boy Is Mine”
Pizzazz: 7
Relevance: 7
Absurdity: 6

And we’re squealing again. Puck’s jazz hands have Mercedes hot and bothered, and Quinn’s okay with that, but Santana sure isn’t. Cue a dead-on re-creation of this nineties girl-on–girl power classic, complete with the fantastic telephone intro and call-and-response. Plus, Naya Rivera?! Girl can sing! She’s more than a worthy vocal match for Amber Riley, which almost allows us to ignore the fact that for some reason, the actors’ voices and lips aren’t cued up quite right.

Styne and Sondheim, “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy
Pizzazz: 9
Relevance: 9
Absurdity: 7

No hyperbole here: This was one of the best numbers yet on Glee. The minute Kurt sings, “Why did I do it, what did it get me?” we were frozen; for once, a song perfectly integrated into the plot’s action, perfectly believable as what Kurt might be thinking and feeling right that moment. This is the ultimate anthem of want, of hurt, of the need to be the star of someone’s stage, and Chris Colfer’s performance is both show-stopping and heartbreaking (we especially like that the lyrics were adjusted to reflect his own world, and the light-up sign onstage — just like in Gypsy!). The only moment that could possibly be better? Kurt’s touching reconciliation with his dad afterward — another stellar acting moment from Mike O’Malley. “I have no idea what that song is about, but fine don’t sing like you just sung,” is, oddly, one of the more eloquent lines we’ve heard on Glee lately.

U2, “One”
Pizzazz: 6
Relevance: 6
Absurdity: 7

We’ve got to give Lea Michele a little pat on the back: This week, we felt Rachel’s character become a bit more shaded, as she faced an adversary a bit more challenging than the Glist (“I’m like Tinkerbell, Finn. I need applause TO LIVE”). But did we need a randomly inserted, tragically paralyzed character who just-happens-to-wanna-sing to show us Rachel is capable of humility? Eh, maybe not. The unusual arrangement is appealing; Rachel and Sean, acapella and vulnerably raw. We’re beginning to think that these big, outfit-coordinated episode-enders aren’t always meant to be taken literally. Perhaps they’re more theoretical than realistic; of course the glee club can’t afford all that, but perhaps realism isn’t the point here, and the emotion is. Confused? So are we! Until next week, we’ll be watching the other numbers on repeat.

More Recaps:
At the A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff starts a good discussion about how Glee is starting to settle in to a good rhythm in balancing fantasy and reality, and hopes the swerves between sentimentality and snark will follow suit (this episode seemed promising). He's a fan of the closing number, which does indeed show the writers willing to take more chances on how a number can balance the two.
EW's Darren Franich makes an excellent observation: we actually saw a real glee club PRACTICE this week! (Remember at the beginning, all those me-me-mes?) New Directions DOES practice! He also reminds us of Brittany's excellent reaction to Rachel's rendition of "The Climb": total deadpan happiness.

Photo: Michael Yarish/FOX