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Saturday, May 10, 2014

"New" GLEE Not Same as "Old"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Old Dog, New Tricks' on Blogcritics.

FOX’s Glee feels different this week in “Old Dog, New Tricks.” It’s almost like a two-dimensional representation of what the series is, taking a snapshot of each character, but missing the deeper essence. It’s hard to pinpoint specific examples for this opinion, it’s more an overall feeling that comes about when watching it. This is likely due to series star Chris Colfer writing his first episode, not quite experienced and polished enough to really capture the show yet. But it’s hard to find fault in the series allowing one of its family to give this a shot, and in the brave way Colfer makes the effort.

Perhaps it’s easier to rip apart the unseen writers than it is to criticize the work of someone who has graced our screens week after week, and whom I am a fan of, but in the spirit of writing a legitimate review, it’s necessary to pick “Old Dog, New Tricks” apart a little. The story is trite and simplistic, predictable from the start. The resolution is equally easy to see coming, and while the overall effort isn’t bad, it’s also not one of the strongest, a decently enjoyable story that is out of place in the bigger picture. It just doesn’t fit the current state of Glee.

G2One thread finds Kurt (Colfer) searching for some meaning, feeling like he’s been left behind by his friends when he is snubbed for a benefit concert Rachel (Lea Michele) is throwing. He finds this purpose in a retirement home where a number of the residents are putting on a production of Peter Pan, a choice made for its young spirit. When their Pan drops dead, Maggie (Academy Award nominee June Squibb, Nebraska), who is Wendy, asks Colfer to fill the role. Her co-stars (including Star Wars‘ Billy Dee Williams and The Carol Burnett Show‘s Tim Conway, both supremely wasted in this hour) make Kurt audition, but having hearing his terrific “Memory,” in which Maggie joins in, Kurt gets the part.

As if making a bunch of old people smile isn’t enough, halfway through the episode Kurt also decides to try to repair the relationship between Maggie and her estranged daughter, Clara (Melinda McGraw, Men of a Certain Age). Clara is loathe to listen to Kurt’s pleading until the lad trots out the dead mom card, and then she softens and shows up. It’s a sappy, emotionally manipulative development that happens way too fast to feel authentic, but it’s also the ending that viewers would be supremely disappointed if it didn’t occur.

Rushing things is actually a recurrent issue in “Old Dog, New Tricks.” Rachel is in full-diva mode, dismissive of Kurt, until she suddenly isn’t, with only a tiny catalyst and no screen time spent agonizing over her misbehavior. Sam. (Chord Overstreet) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) fight over a dog, and what will happen quickly shifts back and forth. While I don’t think the plot justifies a second half, Glee could use another fifteen minutes to really make this story work. Either that, or cut one of the subplots to make room for the others.

G3In the end, Kurt, Maggie, and the rest show us their huge opening number, “Lucky Star,” which relies too heavily on Kurt, since this is more their show than his. This transitions into the retirees going to Rachel’s benefit and doing a full-cast “Take Me Home Tonight.” Both songs are good enough, but not particularly memorable, which fits this episode. I will say the best part of the latter is there is a Jayma Mays look-alike front and center at the beginning, making me miss Emma a bit.

Moving over to Rachel’s intersecting story, the Broadway story wants to work on her tarnished image after missing a performance, especially now that the tabloids have dug up the truth. A drastically different looking Santana (Naya Rivera with plastic surgery?) proves to be a surprisingly adept PR agent, possibly setting the stage for a new career in the final season, and gets Rachel involved in a dog charity. This gives us “I Melt With You,” a fluffy, weirdly staged performance, though like those songs in the rest of the episode, it isn’t bad. Of course, this all only works if Rachel can start acting real, not just throwing up a facade, and this take awhile to sink in for Rachel, just in time to be there for her friend Kurt.

While fixing an image problem is understandable, how does Rachel find time to start a charity? I understand she has dropped out of school, but she is overloaded even before that. Glee needs to start being a little more realistic in budgeting its characters’ time. This goes ditto for Kurt, who still has his education, his internship, and his relationship to worry about. Are days in New York thirty hours long? At least Colfer matches the rest of the installments in this element.

G1Lastly, Sam wants to adopt a dog, which Mercedes doesn’t think he’s ready for. Sam and Artie (Kevin McHale) train the pooch anyway, to “Werewolves of London,” of all things, despite it being a small dog. Yet, while Mercedes is moved by Sam’s efforts, and does listen to Sam when he reminds us he once took care of his family, a fact forgotten, she still makes him give up the pet due to their busy schedules. I like the development this couple gets, but the canine seems superfluous to the larger story of Mercedes not taking Sam as a joke any longer, which she is guilty of.

The entire hour of Glee feels like it’s a story being told by Kurt. Colfer’s essence is present in every scene. On one hand, that’s kind of cool because it shows a distinctive voice of a talented individual. On the other, that means the story just isn’t true to the other characters, a problem more obvious in Rachel’s part more than Sam and Mercedes’. Colfer has one character down (his own), but struggles to uncover what makes Glee, Glee. I’d actually really like it if he tried again next season because he likely learned a lot from this experience, and given a chance to develop his skills, he would probably get it down the line. But for now, “Old Dog, New Tricks” just isn’t quite up to snuff.

Glee‘s season finale airs next Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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