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Monday, July 11, 2011

Glee makes a "Mash-Up"


     This summer, I'll be going back to review the season one episodes of FOX's Glee. These are fresh reviews, not reposts, and I hope you will enjoy reliving the first season with me.

Glee: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray]     FOX's Glee presents "Mash-Up," which actually features not a single mash-up song. But it does have several clashes, or mash-ups, between characters. Will (Matthew Morrison) helps Ken (Patrick Gallagher) and Emma (Jayma Mays) prepare for their wedding dance. Ken gets angry about being a consolation prize to his bride, so he forces the football players to choose between the team and glee club to get back at Will. Sue (Jane Lynch) also takes advantage of Will's dancing techniques, only to be disappointed in turn by her own beau, Rod Remington (Bill A. Jones), the reporter. Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Finn (Cory Monteith) seek to regain their popularity, while Puck (Mark Salling) takes a romantic interest in Rachel (Lea Michele).

     Perhaps the more appropriate title for this episode of Glee would be "Will Can Dance." Matthew Morrison certainly gets no shortage of time to show off his impressive dancing talents, as if a certain amount of doing so is required in his contract, and the writers decided to cram it all into one episode. He boogies through "Bust a Move" and "Thong Song." He sweeps Sue off her feet with "Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing)," and also does somewhat the same for Emma in "I Could Have Danced All Night." That's a full two thirds of the music featured in "Mash-Up," and in half of those, Will doesn't even sing. Morrison has the talent to pull off such a decision, but it also makes the teacher look a little like a show off. Thankfully only one number is in front of the New Directions.

     It's interesting that not a single one of the songs mentioned above, nor "Sweet Caroline" and "What a Girl Wants," two solos covered in this episode, are part of a mash-up. Glee uses the trick of combining two songs into one many times in the series, but ironically, in "Mash-Up," has not one actual instance, using the episode title metaphorically. It can be applied to Ken and Emma's personalities. The episode also features budding, and quickly ending, new relationships. Then, there is the case of conflicting school activities. Will does ask the kids to come up with a mash-up, and tries to write one himself. But none of those efforts ever make it on screen.

     Not one of the songs in "Mash Up" stands out as a Glee classic. Only two make the Volume 1 soundtrack, and they are more filler than feature. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, as not every song can be a break out hit. The only point here is that "Mash-Up" is not one of the most memorable music episodes of the series. That being said, there are no bad songs in the episode, either, that the Glee staff should regret including, so that's a bit of a triumph. Also, "Mash-Up" features Jayma Mays singing, a very rare treat that should happen more often, though the song itself isn't impressive enough to rave about.

     Another suggested title might be "Slushee Wars." After all, the episode opens with a panning shot of a slushee being carried, as numerous members of the glee club duck, fearing its cold touch. This shot is repeated twice more in the episode, with varying endings. Quinn and Finn are covered in the stuff as a sign that their popularity is waning. Finn is forced to slushee Kurt (Chris Colfer) in order to gain his status back on the football team. Which, by the way, leads to an amazing dramatic moment for Colfer. Finally, the New Directions give Will a taste of their daily torment. While having a slushee thrown on a character is not an infrequent occurrence on Glee, never has so much of the syrupy treat been worn in a single episode.

     The episode tackles some of the social issues Glee is known for speaking out against. Popularity is mentioned many times, and in "Mash-Up," Quinn and Finn even seek Emma's advice on how to gain their status back. She does offer help, but also questions why they care what others think. "Be yourself" is practically Glee's motto. In addition, the football players make insulting insinuations that their teammates who are in the glee club are homosexual. Glee spends much time going after gay bullying, and the seeds for such a campaign are planted in "Mash-Up."

     Despite this being only the eighth episode of Glee, a number of characters are already learning what 'be yourself' means. When forced to choose between football and glee club, only Finn chooses the former, while his fellow teammates that do both activities chose the one that is more enjoyable. Being that football broke that compromise, they may also be standing up for what is morally right. It's a heart warming bit that proves early on what Glee is really about.

     It most be noted that, in the end, Finn does what is right, too. He is not willing to give up the team, nor should he have to, but he speaks up for himself, making sure he is not a pawn. He shows he is the series's heroic male lead. He also causes Ken to change his mind about the ultimatum, redeeming the coach slightly for using his students as pawns against Will.

     Ken's choice to basically use students for his own gain comes on the heels of Will and Sue doing the same last week in "Throwdown." This pair of episodes does not make the teachers at McKinley look good, and their behavior is very unprofessional. Thankfully, these are isolated incidents, for the most part, instead of a larger pattern of behavior.

     "Mash-Up" introduces the two main antagonists for the anti-gay bullying campaign, Dave Karofsky (Max Adler) and Azimio (James Earl). They have little plot in this episode, other than to sling a few insults and frozen beverages, but they are the faces to represent the negative, bullying attitudes. It's not enough to just have a vague menace, so Glee develops two characters with two very different motivations to make the story more realistic. It's only the first appearance of both guys, so an introduction is really all that is necessary at this early stage.

     Sue engages in a romantic relationship in "Mash-Up," and it exposes a softer side of her personality not seen yet in Glee. Not only is she smiling and agreeable, but her happiness extends to her interaction with sworn enemy Will, as she actually enjoys dancing with him. It's a strange scene as they swing, but one that reveals that perhaps, some day, a friendship between the two will be possible. It's sad that Sue's glee is so brief, as it would be nice to see Sue turn over a new leaf for a little longer than one episode.

     Rachel and Puck also engage in a coupling that is over before the credits roll. They are such an odd pair, and "Mash-Up" makes such an impression, that there are still fans yearning for a Puck/Rachel reunion years later. The two Jews are pushed together by circumstance. Namely, Puck is seeking to please his mother by dating a Jewish girl. But it takes very little time for him to see Rachel as an actual potential partner, which opens up some deeper feelings and insights within him.

     This is the episode where Puck becomes a full-fledged character, worthy of fan adulation, rather than just a background member of the group. That's not just my opinion. Watch Quinn during "Sweet Caroline," and her reaction seems to agree.
 
Random Bits:

     Puck's mother (Gina Hecht, Hung, Mork & Mindy) and younger sister are seen for the first (and only) time. They are never seen again.

     After the football players drench Quinn and Finn in slushee, one slips and falls as he is walking away. There's a brief flash caught on camera, and the action is more heard than seen. It appears to be a mistake, but it is hilarious, which is why probably why it is left in. Or perhaps it's intentional, and I'm not giving the writers enough credit.

     Sue apparently will never stop living and breathing cheerleading for even a few hours. During her date with Rod, she has the Cheerios on the television in the background.

     Rod invites Sue to a swing dance competition. While this proves he is referring to the dance when he asks Sue if she's OK with swinging, his later tryst with co-anchor Andrea (Earlene Davis) implies a double meaning behind the term.


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Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "Mash-Up" on Blogcritics.

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