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Glee Recap: Britney, One More Time

GLEE: Marley (Melissa Benoist, L), Unique (Alex Newell, C) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz, R) perform in gym class in the "Britney 2.0" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Sept. 20 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Adam Rose/FOX

It’s been 723 days since our last Britney Spears–themed episode of Glee, but the long wait is finally over! Since season two’s Britney episode centered on an irresponsible dentist who freely distributed hallucinogens, the bar should be reasonably easy to clear.

The episode opens on Brittany, walking down the hall and speaking in what she thinks is a voiceover. (Blaine has to be the one tell her it’s not.) “Now I know how Jesus feels in his house on the North Pole because I’m on top of the world.” Then she launches straight into “Hold It Against Me,” with the requisite, “It’s Britney, bitch!” introduction. There are too many good Brittany moments in this episode to properly list them all. Most of them are one-liners, but her dance performance here is pretty great, too. One of my major issues with last season was that Heather Morris’s dance solos were so infrequent, so it’s nice to see her featured this way right at the start.

Sue tells Brittany that because she’s failing algebra, she’s kicked off the Cheerios; she compares Brittany’s test to Becky Johnson’s to prove the point — way to squeeze in a sight gag about people with Down’s syndrome being unable to spell their own names, Glee! When Brittany tries to Skype with Santana for comfort, she’s too busy, and as Brittany sadly closes her laptop, she says to Lord Tubbington (who’s dressed in head-to-toe biker leather), “I’m not speaking to you. I know you joined a gang.” Well done, Glee. First true LOL of the season.

Brittany’s downward spiral causes her to wear orange Crocs, watch marathons of The Client List, and eat bacon with cashews in bed (I actually do 67 percent of these things while not in a downward spiral), and Mr. Shue declares another Britney Spears week in order to cheer her up, starting with Artie and Blaine’s “Boys/Boyfriend” mash-up. Look, I love Blaine, but it would be totally okay with me if he (and really all white people on Glee) stopped rapping forever. Still, Brittany claims it’s enough to inspire her, or, at the very least, put down her massive box of Oreos. But later as Tina, Joe, and Sam sing a fun acoustic arrangement of “3” (given that Joe is supposed to be an evangelical Christian, I’m just assuming someone told him this song was about the Holy Trinity and not threesomes), she staggers zombielike across the choir room and plugs in a set of hair clippers, all set to shave her head.

Britney Spears’s meltdown was five years ago, so “too soon” doesn’t really apply. But Glee’s very literal, explicit retelling of it is uncomfortable to watch, from the near-head-shaving to the screaming at the student paparazzi to the brandishing of an umbrella to the “leave Britney alone!” kid to, finally, the stumbled-through, lip-synced, disastrous performance of “Gimme More.” I’m not saying Glee can’t do this. I’m not even saying they shouldn’t. And later, when Sam finally manages to cheer Brittany up by promising her friendship, they do make a point of talking about Britney’s present-day redemption (with a plug for The X Factor squeezed neatly in), which is nice. Still, in an episode billed as a “tribute,” it all feels a little mean.

Back in New York, Kurt and Rachel settle into an improbably large loft in Bushwick, and as they talk about how much her dance teacher (Kate Hudson’s Cassie) hates her, Kurt reveals she was once the next big thing, but her Broadway career ended when she screamed at a man answering a cell phone during a show, a fact that Rachel angrily throws in Cassie’s face later.

Here’s the problem with Rachel’s story line — Cassie’s right. Rachel isn’t sexy (by extension, at least in this particular role, Lea Michele isn’t, either). Every criticism that Cassie levels against her is 100 percent accurate: She’s awkward, tentative, and moves like she’s ashamed of her body. So when she convinces Brody to help her and does a big “sexy” performance to “Oops!... I Did It Again,” she’s not proving how sexy she is. She’s doing sexy choreography and trying to seem sexy, which is generally the least sexy thing in the world. What’s frustrating is that it’s more likely all this will culminate in Cassie realizing she’s been too hard on Rachel, rather than Rachel realizing that there are things she has to learn.

When he’s not designing weird flashlight choreography, Brody continues to flirt mercilessly with Rachel, despite her insistence that she’s in love with Finn, who Kurt hasn’t heard from, either. Wait, so Finn was going to JOIN THE ARMY, but no one is worried that they haven’t heard from him in three months? Because not hearing from someone in the military for an entire trimester seems alarming at best.

Meanwhile  at McKinley, new girl Marley is falling for womanizer Jake, even as Unique and Tina warn her not to by singing — you guessed it — “Womanizer.” The arrangement is a little spotty in places — but by season four, I’m sort of done grading on singing quality. Now I grade on factors like fierceness, gymnastics, and minimal repeating of choruses, and this song has freaking balance beams, so A-plus, everyone. We still don’t know all that much about Marley yet, but we know she makes damn good ingénue eyes.

Despite all the womanizing, Jake likes Marley enough to sing “Crazy/(You Drive Me) Crazy” with her on the bleachers (it’s great chemistry and great harmony, too) and to stick up for her in the cafeteria when some of the jocks are teasing her mom. After he’s thrown a few punches, Mr. Shue takes him to the choir room, where Puck is waiting to have a heart-to-heart. Wait, so, if I understand this correctly, Mr. Shue told Puck he had a secret brother, paid for Puck to fly to Ohio from L.A., and then just had him … wait in the choir room quietly until the next time Jake got in trouble? This makes the moment when Mr. Shue yells at the kids for lip syncing and tells them the national show choir review board could revoke their right to compete if they find out seem downright logical.

Even after Jake agrees to join the Glee club at Puck’s urging, it turns out he’s dating Kitty, the new head cheerleader, making this the Quinn/Rachel/Puck triangle Glee’s earlier seasons deprived us of. Marley sings “Everytime” to show how sad this makes her, but not before Artie asserts that they’ve definitely “scraped the bottom of the Britney barrel.” Wow, no love for “Dear Diary” and “E-Mail My Heart”?

Photo: Adam Rose/FOX