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Glee Recap: The Fox Says Whatever

GLEE: L-R: "Santana", "Elliot", "Rachel" and " Kurt"perform in the "Puppet Master" episode of GLEE airing Thursday, Nov. 28 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

Another Thanksgiving, another Glee episode that ignores the holiday altogether. It’s hard not to be resentful – why not air a rerun if you don’t have a holiday special prepared? – but at the same time, it’s hard not to be charmed by puppet versions of every single character. Once again, Glee, you’ve put me in an impossible position.

Speaking of impossible positions, it seems particularly unfortunate – and possibly accidental? – that this episode played in the same time slot as ABC’s new special featuring Lady Gaga and the Muppets. On this particular Thanksgiving, my father expressed a strong preference for Lady Gaga, and I let it ride, because Thanksgiving is about a lot of things, but it certainly isn’t about follow-up questions. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what he might have preferred two or three or four years ago, when Glee was in its (arguable) prime. Would he have wanted Lady Gaga, or would he have embraced Glee as the television program that tried to make Lady Gaga a tiny bit more palatable? It’s impossible to guess.

All of that aside, it’s hard to watch this week’s episode without thinking about Amber Riley’s Dancing With The Stars win, which I’ve jokingly referred to as the best episode of Glee this year so far. Amber and Mercedes aren’t interchangeable, of course, but Amber’s win, and her assertion that women of any shape and any color can achieve whatever they want, felt like the best of old-school Glee: she was an underdog who worked, and worked, and worked, and finally made good.

To kick the episode off with a bang, the “previously on” voiceover (never known for its delicacy or sensitivity) refers to Jake as a “manslut.” Sure, Jake shouldn’t have cheated on Marley (although I think the two of them are poorly matched to begin with), but I don’t think that means that slut-shaming him is warranted. I guess male slut shaming is novel, at least, but that doesn’t make it okay. Jake’s performance with the Cheerios is clearly supposed to be “slutty,” too, but I’m too busy being relieved that Jacob Artist has finally, finally gotten a chance to really dance to care. When the entire performance becomes a straight-up remake of Janet Jackson videos, well, that’s just icing on a very, very flexible cake with nice abs.

Oh, Bree and Jake also have a fifteen minute long pregnancy scare, which is the most contrived thing I’ve ever seen or heard in my entire life and given that I’ve spent the past three years writing about Glee, that’s really, really saying something.

Meanwhile, Blaine is in a tizzy trying to make sure the New Directions are prepared for Nationals. Real talk: When. Is. Nationals? What month is it right now? Hell, what year is it? I know the Glee production team wanted to play fast and loose with timelines this year (possibly as a Fox experiment about scheduling programs outside the confines of new episodes happening roughly during a school year and moving to reruns in the summer), but it seems like it’s been “almost Nationals” since last May. Mucking about with timelines is great. Leaving your audience completely ungrounded is…not.

Even if Blaine’s guidance “feels like North Korea up in here” or “deja Warblers,” his assertion that he’s won more show choir competitions than anyone else in the choir room isn’t off base. Neither is Kurt’s assertion that Blaine is a puppet master – let’s be honest, Glee has felt far more like Blee for at least a year now. Blaine’s gas leak hallucinations feel a tiny bit like 30 Rock’s 100th episode, but I don’t mind seeing a puppet Ryder playing the drums (even if it makes me miss Finn) or puppet Artie’s little wheelchair or puppet Marley’s spot-on beanie or Blaine singing “You’re My Best Friend” in a heap of all of his puppet friends. It’s a gimmick, of course, but Glee pulls off seemingly-impossible gimmicks well enough that I’m not sure why they don’t tap into them more frequently. (See also: season three’s body swap.)

Blaine’s gas leak hallucination leads him to craft a (non-imagined) puppet of Kurt, which only serves to horrify Coach Sylvester. She confiscates the puppet, and when she catches Blaine trying to steal it back, she rolls her eyes and says, “Kindly remove your fist from Puppet Hummel’s butt.” Given that Glee is about to move back to an 8 PM timeslot, I’m pretty sure this is the first and last fisting joke we’ll ever see on the show, and, yeah, that’s probably okay.

Back in New York, Kurt’s band Pamela Lansbury has its debut gig, but the entire thing happens in Kurt’s head. Kurt sounds great on Madonna’s “Get Into the Groove,” but Madonna’s always been squarely in his wheelhouse. Still, the idea of his “band” is a little bit of a stretch, given that none of them play any instruments (aside from Demi Lovato’s character who apparently plays all the instruments). It’s not at all dissimilar to performances backed by the McKinley band in the choir room, and maybe that’s supposed to make us feel comforted by familiarity, but it mostly just makes me feel tired and a little bored. Also, one zillion hilarity points for the fact that the first time Kurt sings lead all year, it’s literally in his dreams.

There’s also an entire subplot about Sue’s quest to hold on to the principal position — including a bit of her track suit’s origin story and a fairly epic soft shoe number — but I watched A Mighty Wind recently enough to wish that Jane Lynch weren’t continually underused by Glee, so it was hard to pay attention rather than to be consumed in what might have been, which makes me actually, quantifiably sad. That’s a normal response to television, right? Cool. But at some point in that diatribe, Sue made a reference to “that crippled kid’s wheelchair.” I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the first time the show has dropped that particular epithet, and I’m really disappointed. Sue and Mr. Schue’s rendition of “Cheek to Cheek” is okay, though. I guess.

Blaine’s suggestion that the kids in detention sit around and discuss their “core wounds” is the Blaine-est Blaine that’s ever Blained. As is the fact that he smooths over the wounds he induced over the course of the episode by making non-hallucination-induced puppets for every single New Directions member and all of the New York kids. They join together in a rendition of “What Does the Fox Say,” and it’s hard to not be profoundly cynical about that, as it’s being performed on, you know, the Fox network. The variety of animal noses the production team has been able to procure is impressive, but still, it’s weird for Glee  to embrace a full-stop novelty song so whole-heartedly. It’s predictable, and it’s kind of cute, but it’s tiring nonetheless. Welcome to season five.

Next week, it’s Christmas! Pro: Christmas carols. Con: No, seriously, when is Nationals?

Photo: FOX