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Monday, April 28, 2014

Rachel's Big "Opening Night" of GLEE

Article first published as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Opening Night' on Blogcritics.

This week’s installment of Glee, “Opening Night,” has a couple of nice stories mashed together in a very unnatural way. Add to that a big list of what is missing from the hour that should have been included, and it feels uneven. Had this been split into two separate episodes, allowing room to add in some of the glaring omissions, it might have been really good. Instead, it’s a fair installment with some terrific moments.

The ‘A’ plot revolves around Rachel’s (Lea Michele) Broadway opening night in Funny Girl. Her friends rally around her, including Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), who has come to visit, but not Artie (Kevin McHale), who is out of town, so we trade one annoying character for another. Still, Rachel has severe nerves and has a hard time finding the will to get up on stage. It takes a former frenemy verbally slapping some sense into her before Rachel can perform. Once she does, as expected, she is amazing.

Rachel’s nervousness is understandable, and is well developed. It gives us the fun opening “Lovefool” with welcome appearances by former recurring players Karofsky (Max Adler), Jacob Ben Israel (John Sussman), and Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter). Those three are tormentors of Rachel’s previously, to varying degrees, so it makes sense to see them now. From here, we get to Rachel curled up in bed, unable to rise, doubting herself after reading online reviews of the preview shows. What nineteen- or twenty-year old wouldn’t be nearly paralyzed with fear in this situation?

G2It’s Santana (Naya Rivera) that manages to make Rachel see the light when her friends, including Kurt (Chris Colfer), Blaine (Darren Criss), Mercedes (Amber Riley), and Sam (Chord Overstreet) cannot. This works for the story, too. Not only does it solidify that Rachel and Santana are over their feud and really can be true pals, but Rachel needs a kick in the pants, not coddling, and only Santana can do that. Tina gives hard truths, too, but only unintentionally, not having the brass to back them up that Santana does, or wisdom to see what’s needed.

When Rachel takes the stage, she’s terrific. An audience kerfuffle tarnishes the first act a little bit, but Rachel’s chums remain supportive and the producer, Sidney (Michael Lerner), tells Rachel like it is, so Rachel rallies. Her opening, “I’m the Greatest Star,” is good, but her closing, “Who Are You Now?,” is even better. Rachel’s skipping of the cast party to hang out with her friends in a rowdy gay club, complete with a spirited “Pumpin’ Blood,” is a little rude, but she needs to let off steam her way. And the rave reviews in the papers the next morning are well-earned, the culmination of five years of story arcs for the female lead of the series.

The worst part of this storyline, though, is that Will (Matthew Morrison), who has come to New York specifically for the show, has to run home before it begins because Emma (Jayma Mays) is in labor. It’s not like Mays even appears in the episode, nor do Will or Rachel struggle with his absence, so what is the point of this? It seems gimmicky, like a bad sitcom, and the episode would have changed not at all had Will stayed, uninterrupted.

Or maybe the worst part is that Rachel’s dads, introduced as two men that would be mega-fans of their daughter, don’t show up, as they never do, their characters having been consistently wasted all throughout Glee. Nor do many of Rachel’s friends come, despite that fact that this person they know and like is starring in a Broadway show! Maybe Glee didn’t want another big reunion episode so soon after the ending of the McKinley plot, but “Opening Night” pretty much screams for one, and fails to get it.

Of course, Glee sticks a couple of touching Finn references in, as it is beginning to do way too often. Rachel thinks of Finn while singing, and Will gives her child the middle name of Finn. These are sweet, to be sure, and definitely fit for the moment. But do we have to be reminded of Finn week after week? Many shows don’t mention a character enough after their passing; Glee is almost doing it too much.

Sandwiched into “Opening Night” is a ‘B’ story in which Sue (Jane Lynch), criticized for lambasting New York City in her news segment because she’s never been there, tags along with Will. Unable to sit through Funny Girl, Sue climbs over the New York Times critic early in the show, then meets up with a man named Mario (Chris Parnell, Suburgatory, Archer), who walks out in a similar manner. The two fall in love over dinner, then have sex all over Rachel’s apartment (because they didn’t know Will had left an empty hotel room?). In the end, though, Sue won’t stay in the city and Mario won’t move to Ohio, so their affair ends, but leaves Sue with an appreciation for the Big Apple.

Sue deserves a romance, and I like her how and Mario connect, Mario even sticking by her after Rachel (justifiably) loudly and harshly tells Sue off. So why bring this up if it’s not going to be an ongoing arc? And why stuff it into Rachel’s episode? Sue’s “N.Y.C.” number with Will is great, but the fact that Sue shares Rachel’s big closer, “Who Are You Now?,” is jarring and weird. It’s nice to see Sue get story, and good story at that,  but it’s just sandwiched so unevenly into “Opening Night” that it doesn’t land as it should.

G1I’m also a little torn over the Rachel / Sue showdown in this episode. Sue is known to be supportive of her students, using her cruelty as a motivator, not because she’s truly mean. So why can’t Sue be happy for Rachel when Rachel has succeeded? Is Sue resentful that it has come about so easily for the girl? If so, explore that, don’t leave us wondering. Rachel laying into Sue feels good because, in the moment, Sue seems to deserve it, and yet, because we see Sue emotionally bare this week, it also feels a little rougher than it should be, creating unnecessarily mixed feelings.

Once more, “Opening Night” is superior to the NYC/McKinley split episodes, but does not completely fulfill its potential. It will be interesting to see how Glee ties up the New York arc in the next three weeks, and if its final season, which will feature a new format and setting(s?), finally figures out what the show should be. Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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