Shout-out to Kevin McHale — if he hadn’t warned us that this episode would be “different,” we might’ve been totally knocked over by its bizarritude; instead, we felt mildly prepared for its jolting mix of irony, utter sincerity, and full-on wackiness. The premise was simple enough: The Glee kids are so concerned with their squeaky-clean reputations that someone has created what Sue poetically terms the Glist, ranking who’s hot and who’s not in New Directions. Such are the petty insults kids inflict upon each other. But the result? Rachel goes over the edge! Sue gets warm and fuzzy! Emma screams! Puck sings! And the episode playlist follows suit. Bad songs of the world, unite!
Vanilla Ice, “Ice, Ice Baby”
After Sue designates the glee club “a petri dish of depravity,” Sunshine Schue of course embarks on a mission to teach the kids a lesson through song. Don’t become what you despise just to be cool! Find a song that seems awful, and rehabilitate it! Ever at the ready to show off his rap skills (was Mr. Schue ignored in high school? We’re starting to think so … ), Will hands out sheet music and launches what, against all odds, turns out to be one of the more charming numbers on Glee: The kids look appropriately confused by the song (they weren’t born yet when it was released), then clearly feel cool once they get a sense for the lyrics. The mini group dance-offs are rather adorable, and we love that Other Asian and Brittany (the two real dancers in the cast) get the spotlight.
MC Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This”
In a totally believable moment of cattiness, Kurt breaks into Sue’s drawer (filled with hormone-replacement injections, but of course) and finds a video of the Jazzercise fan dancing to “Physical” — which
he Finn promptly posts on YouTube. After a hilarious clandestine meeting with Tina, Artie, and Brittany (resulting in one of Brittany’s Top Five Lines Ever: “I forgot how to leave” is all we’ll say here), the motley crew comes up with a, er, fail-safe plan to prove its badass quotient: performing some once-controversial rap while wearing insane Hammer pants in the library. The utter lack of punishment for said performance is somewhat bittersweet: These kids will clearly never be remotely dangerous. Artie is about as street as they get (and we won’t demean that — his rapping and dancing-while-sitting moves are stellar).
Olivia Newton-John, “Physical”
This episode, during the few moments in which it attempted to delve into Great Emotional Weight, in some ways extended the message of “Home;” whether or not the world thinks you’re cool, embrace your own attitude and work it. Sue certainly did, after an impromptu phone call from (cue really frightening up-close) ONJ, some quality time with sister Jean (though their moments together were a little sappy, we’re glad Glee didn’t dispose of Sue’s sis after part one of the season), and a confrontation with Brenda Castle, the snarky, druggy new astronomy teacher played by Molly Shannon (and, we have to confess, a lightweight character so far). The video’s lovely and all, but we’re somehow more interested in Sue’s new role as therapist to Emma.
David Geddes, “Run, Joey, Run”
We’ll be brief: Rachel wants to move up the Glist. Puck ends up in her room wearing a Phantom mask, telling her “Jesse will never fully understand what it means to be a Jew.” AND PUCKLEBERRY REUNITE. We cannot contain our joy. Rachel, cunning little vixen that she is, declares her musical promiscuity to the world with this so-horrible-it’s-fantastic epic story song as music video, starring Puck’s killer pipes (and awful acting skills), Jesse’s faux badassness (he rocks a leather jacket like no other, we admit), and Finn’s general sense of unease. Plus, there’s a great cameo from Pedophile Sandy as the murderous father. Cap it all off with Brittany and Santana as omniscient, vapid angels, and it’s Glee gold: tongue firmly in cheek, yet giving us dead-on glimpses of each character’s personality — in short, impeccably done.
Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Ah, the return of the literal song choice — for once, we’re actually glad to hear it! Everyone, it seems, has experienced a drastic change of heart since last week. Quinn, too recently Queen of Loving Oneself, is unmasked as writer of the Glist and still deeply insecure. Sue decides to try being nice for a change (of course, for Sue this only goes so far), and Rachel learns that trying to flip her good-girl persona only hurts those who liked her as she was (apparently, “those” are the three hot guys she’s playing off each other). Best of all, Emma improbably learns a valuable lesson from Sue and has quite the change of heart regarding Will, shouting “Slut!” at him one too many times, and (we’re proud of our girl!) refusing his googly eyed apology. The solution to all this is clearly a remarkably awkward yet oddly apropos ballet routine: Rachel clearly sees herself as the tragic heroine in an epic of her own making (though we must note: Her ballet skills leave something to be desired — girlfriend is NOT on full pointe!), surrounded by a chorus of equally tragic suitors. And any episode that ends with the Groff exiting while singing “Turn around, bright eyes,” leaves us with a smile. As Rachel would say: Fin!
At the AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff points out that “Bad Reputation” was atypical for an Ian Brennan-penned episode (less all-out earnest than usual), but that one of Brennan’s talents seems to be making the “crazy mishmash of tones” work. Also, he seconds our own confusion as to why Sue was so steamed over the Glist, but makes the good point that she’s an “equal opportunity chaos agent.” Plus, where’d Terri go?
Darren Franich points out one extremely valid reason why this episode felt so great: it mostly disposed with the “self-congratulatory quality” of the first two of the back nine. “Last night, you could actually hear the psychic nuclear explosion sweeping the nation as ”Run Joey Run” suddenly became the awesomest song ever. Now this is the Glee I fell in tormented love with.”