Well, color us amazed: It turns out that a dose of wacky Gwyneth Paltrow was just what the doctor ordered for this occasionally ailing season of Glee. Yes, we hate to admit it, but Paltrow impressed us with her better-than-average singing and heretofore untapped comedic abilities (how about that Mary Todd Lincoln impression?), and that loosey-goosey energy spread to all those around her. Lea Michele joined her (and, frankly, outshined her, but in a non-egregious way) in a charming number from Chicago; Sue’s momentary-school-takeover plot confused us but amused us just the same; heck, even Mr. Schue, whom we’ve been ragging on for the past few weeks, was more likable (though his stubble and rakish scarves may have had something to do with it).
Thanks to a mysterious Bornean flu that Sue apparently let loose on the school, Figgins is out, Schue is too, and Sue is back on the anti-glee warpath. In the meantime, substitute teacher (and brandisher of crazy Spanish accent extraordinaire) Holly Holliday steps in, impressing the New Directions crew (minus Rachel) with her love for tacos, medical marijuana, and Cee Lo (she had us at “Hola, clase. Nothing says bienvenidos quite like a buttered floor!”)! She’s the laid-back, cool-with-the-kids teacher Schue only wishes he could be: No sooner had we seen a flashback of Puck getting shot down when asking if the group could sing “Forget You” (and, ahem, we like to think Puck would have referred to the uncensored version) than Gwynnie’s twirling around like a respectable soul-sister-in-training. Pretty darn charming all around (including that crazed “Let’s go get some tacos!”).
In a dramatic yet somewhat inexplicable return, Terri’s back, taking advantage of Will’s weakened state (which he at least realizes this time around) with her debatable charms, creepy baby talk, and VapoRub. She also brings Will his favorite movie, Singin’ in the Rain (it figures: Matthew Morrison told us Will was going for a Gene Kelly look this season), a perfect excuse for a spot-on, even mildly insightful fantasy number with the Über-talented Harry Shum Jr. It’s a perfect aspirational vehicle — Schue can’t really make the kids laugh like Holly can — and a great reminder that Matthew Morrison has plenty of talent worth showcasing before his rapping skills.
“Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag”
There’s a great running gag this week about Mr. Schue’s fairly inflexible song-selection preferences (it took us a minute to note the “I found another Journey song we haven’t done!” trope), one that allows us to catch a glimpse of a more relatable side of Rachel. After Holly hilariously tells her “you suuuuuck!” Rachel shyly confesses she wants to do a full-on glamorous number, and, surprise, it’s not even a solo. Speaking of liberated teenagers with a predilection for show tunes, Kurt’s as corny as Kansas in August, raving about his Rent-centric plans with Blaine (whom he seems to think he’s dating, while we silently worry whether the feelings are mutual). Mercedes is unfortunately tasked with the episode’s least compelling subplot (we seriously can’t imagine girlfriend getting her nails dirty shoving tater tots up Sue’s car’s tailpipe), though her moment of Gay Best Friend Truth (i.e., she needs a boyfriend who’s straight) is a poignantly realistic one. Also touching? The oddly winning combination of Lea Michele and Gwyneth in this glitzy number — and the sight of Kurt enthusiastically mouthing the lyrics right along with them in the audience.
“Umbrella”/”Singin’ in the Rain”
We were initially a little nervous to see how this closing number would turn out — these songs don’t share much other than a precipitation theme — but, as with the rest of this week’s episode, we were pleasantly surprised. In the end, this mash-up felt like a compromise in a good way, adding a little modernity to a musical-theater classic in a way that didn’t terribly hurt either song. We didn’t get lost in the obviously ridiculous watery staging, maybe because the choreography approached impressiveness, but more likely because the episode actually ended on a pleasingly ambivalent note. For the first time in a while, the writers struck a good balance between potential-conflict plot points and allowing the episode itself to proceed at a more natural speed. We shuddered when Karofsky threatened to kill Kurt; we felt for poor Mercedes zoning out as the third wheel with Kurt and Blaine (and withstanding Kurt’s only slightly condescending “you need to stop eating and start loving yourself” spiel); we caught our breath a bit when Will gave Terri the heave-ho for good; heck, we even kinda sorta wanted to give Gwyneth a hug when we realized that, like the glee-club kids, a substitute teacher is really a constant outsider, too. Somehow, stunt casting actually helped Glee this week. So it’s with hope in our hearts that we hurtle toward the Hummel-Hudson wedding next week! Eeek!