Glee s2e1 review: “Audition”
|REVIEWS - TV|
It's back! Hurrah! And it...needs a bit of time to warm up.
Let’s take a moment to talk about meta-fiction, a self-referential form of storytelling where the - hell, I’ll just crib it from Wikipedia:
Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction, exposing the fictional illusion. It is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact ... usually using irony and self-reflection. [M]etafiction does not let the reader forget he or she is reading a fictional work.
Metafiction or metahumor can highlight things about a work that the audience could be thinking (or thought about between seasons or episodes), showing that our entertainment isn’t conceived in a vacuum and that the writers are aware of their creations’ successes and failures.
When used sparingly (and well), the effect can be cute and endearing and/or incisive and savvy, like Mercedes pointing out how she never gets solos and that her function in the club (and thereby on the show) is to be “trot[ted] out at the end of every number so I can wail on the last note,” or Will making a joke about how Finn’s dancing is uniformly terrible, mirroring audience opinion. When it’s overused, you get tonight’s second season premiere: a pile of references that add up to one big “look-how-clever-we-are” self-congratulatory reach-around.
"The episode is dotted too many times for my taste with overt references to itself, fan issues and author tracts. Just tell me a goddamn story!"
We begin with the nebbishy blogger-Jew harassing several glee clubbers with issues from a “post on my blog,” such as Rachel’s diva behavior (referencing the rumors Lea Michele has supposedly erupted into a self-important bitch), complaints about the show’s song choices and Will’s terrible rapping. All this before the title card. If this was the extent, I could let it slide, but the rest of the episode is dotted too many times for my taste with overt references to itself, fan issues and author tracts. Just tell me a goddamn story!
Getting on with it, though...
It’s a new school year and the bulletin boards are filled with sign-up sheets for all the clubs. Chemistry club, fruit sculpture club, gardening club - all have multiple pages of names while not a single student wants to join Nude Erections. You don’t even have to audition, just show up and you’re in. What happens if someone who can’t sing signs up, though?
The episode actually gets underway (if by “underway” you mean “rehashes the first season’s plot”) when Sue and Will are summoned to Figgins’ office to be informed their budgets are being cut for no real explained reason. The scene serves to introduce the new football coach, Shannon Beiste (Dot Jones), a championship-winning coach there to replace Ken, who had a nervous breakdown over the summer.
So following the anticlimactic announcement that Matt is no longer among us, the club needs a new member to have enough for competition. However, no one wants to sign up not only because they are still giant losers, but because they see themselves as a family and don’t care what anyone else thinks, which alienates outsiders even more. This momentary deconstruction of the “nakama” only flies for a second before a musical number needs to be wedged in.
In an effort to drum up interest in their club and draw attention to the national-level competition being held in New York they will obviously now get to, the group performs “Empire State of Mind” (chosen specifically because it’s not a show tune or classic rock hit) in what’s supposed to be an outdoor seating area of McKinley High, but looks suspiciously like a community college in California. They look like a bunch of tourists in their NYC hats and matching t-shirts, the kind of people who would be scoffed at then ignored if they were actually dressed like that anywhere in the five boroughs - much like right now. Only two students paid even the slightest attention: a jock with a nauseating Bieber-cut and a tiny Asian girl. These are obviously our new cast members because this show does not point its camera at people who will not impact the plot in some way.
Our single-serving subplot is filled when Sue convinces Will to tease and torment Beiste (pronounced “beast” - I know, they really reached for that joke) in the most juvenile ways imaginable to awaken memories in the woman of the abuse she must have suffered when she was in school to make her quit, as if that would get glee and the Cheerios their ten percent budget cuts back. What’s ten percent of glee’s budget anyway? Fifteen bucks?
It’s a cruel idea and Will only goes along with it for a little while when he sees that it is affecting her. Being a decent human being and seeing that Beiste is a little odd but not half the monster Sue is, he apologizes, incensing Sue and setting her up as Will’s enemy once again. I was really uncomfortable with this for the short time I was subject to it and was very glad to see it end as soon as possible.
Finn, in a throwback to the first episode, sees Bieber-cut singing an eighties AOR hit in the same shower stall Will saw him singing. Rachel, meanwhile, is hanging fliers in a girl’s restroom when the tiny Asian, Sunshine Corazon (Charice Pempengco), enters. Rachel racially condescends to her and encourages her to join glee as a back-up singer until Sunshine starts singing Lady GaGa’s “Telephone” to herself. Rachel is astonished and terrified when Sunshine’s voice is as good as hers, leading to a sing-off where Rachel is angrily trying to exert her superiority and the new girl is just having fun until Sue rushes in and yells, “Shut up!” Thank you, Sue.
So Beiste cuts the whole football team to make it a fresh start. Not an entirely outrageous idea, but it doesn’t serve any story purpose since the only characters that matter on the team all make it back on. In fact, Artie (in a flight of fancy that’s odd even for this show) wants on the team and enlists Finn’s help. See, Tina left him over the summer for Mike for reasons that only become clear later (he’s not a very attentive boyfriend and Mike has abs she could grind out an orgasm on), and Artie thinks if he can get on the football team, he can win her back. His idea is that Finn can push him down the field like a battering ram and Finn is dumb enough to think it could work.
Finn and Artie convince Bieber-cut, whose name is actually Sam Evans (whose name is actually Chord Overstreet), to try out for glee. He sings some song I’ve never heard of by some guy I’ve never heard of and inadequately mimes playing the guitar, but not quite as badly as Jonathan Groff pretended to play piano. He does well and the guys like him, so they invite him to try out in front of the whole club.
Next, Rachel attempts to convince Mercedes and Kurt to get slushied with her in front of Sunshine to dissuade her from joining the club. Rachel claims to be doing this because Sunshine is so good it will take solos away from the others, who already suffer in her own shadow. Kurt and Mercedes see through this right away and refuse, saying outright, “That’s awful! You’re awful!” Unabashed, Rachel gives Sunshine fake directions to the auditions, leading the diminutive Filipino (“She’s shorter than me, which I didn’t think was possible and is very unnerving,” Rachel complains) to a crack house.
"Let me get this straight - being really hot and at the top of the school’s social order wasn’t enough? Sue needed what I’m told are bigger tits? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense nor is it explored any deeper to try and explain."
After Sue and Will ostracize Beiste in the teacher’s lounge, she is visibly upset in the locker room and cuts Finn from the team when she believes he is trying to make her look bad by refusing Artie. No, he’s just stupid enough to think you’d actually go for a genuinely terrible idea. In other athletic news, Quinn shows up to try out for the Cheerios and logics her way back onto the team just before Finn’s embarrassing excuse for an audition. Since he’s not on the football team anymore and only being in glee is a social death sentence, he figures if he can be a Cheerio, maybe he won’t be at the absolute bottom of the totem pole (“This is embarrassing,” Becky, the Cheerios’ Down’s Syndrome-affected member, opines).
Speaking of the bottom rung, Sue gives Quinn back the head cheerleader position and banishes Santana to the bottom of the pyramid after she learns the latter got breast implants over the summer. Santana’s new bust, which looks no different to me, goes against Sue’s “no plastic” rule and her reason for getting the surgery, “I wanted people to notice me more,” shows Sue she doesn’t have the confidence to be head Cheerio. So let me get this straight - being really hot and at the top of the school’s social order wasn’t enough? She needed what I’m told are bigger tits? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense nor is it explored any deeper to try and explain.
This leads immediately to the only emotionally satisfying scene of the episode. Santana bum’s-rushes the newly-reuniformed Quinn into a bank of lockers. After calling her out on telling Sue about her boob job, Santana roundly slaps Quinn in the face, triggering a throwing match which gets broken up by Will. This would’ve been a good fight if it hadn’t gotten stopped - they were slamming each other into lockers and Santana even bodily threw Quinn a good seven feet.
The Changs find out what Rachel did to Sunshine (“The Asian community is very tiny,” Mike says) and tell Will, who orders her to apologize after she belittles them in the same self-centered, self-serving, faux-caring way she has everyone else she’s spoken to this episode. They seem to be trying very hard to make our ostensible female lead unlikable. If that’s their goal, they’re succeeding. To this point, Rachel has been tolerable because we understood where she was coming from and where she was trying to get, but now she’s gone beyond inconsiderate and self-absorbed to be just mean and possibly sociopathic.
"This show seems to like undoing itself after every hiatus - the pattern has now emerged"
Why would they want us to hate her, though? By driving a wedge between Artie and Tina, Quinn and Santana, and Rachel and everyone who isn’t Finn, they have completely broken down the “family” Mercedes claimed they were at the beginning of the episode and they seemed to be at the end of last season. This show seems to like undoing itself after every hiatus, though - the pattern has now emerged. We spend months caring enough to watch in order to get to an emotional point, then as soon as there’s a break in episodes, we come back to square one. It happened after last winter’s hiatus, it’s happened now and I don’t like it.
The next day, Sunshine finally gets her audition (even though it’s established that anyone who wants into glee club is automatically in) and she blows everyone away. Sam, however, skipped his slot when Beiste made him quarterback in Finn’s place, conscious of how the glee kids get harassed and wanting to avoid it.
Further disappointment arrives when Will tries to give Sunshine the fall rehearsal schedule (rehearsal, what’s that?) only to find out Vocal Adrenaline’s new coach, Dustin Goolsby (Cheyenne Jackson), has bought her family for a condo and a green card, so she’ll be singing for them this year. Naturally, Sue breezes through the scene to tell Will she set it up as retaliation for his not cooperating with her juvenile taunting of Beiste.
The episode wraps up by shoehorning in Rachel soloing “What I Did for Love” while Artie mournfully watches the Changs dance and Santana glowers at Quinn from the bottom of the pyramid. The song is somewhat troublesome, though; what she did was done out of love for herself and here she is singing about it like it was some act she did out of love for someone else. The only way this makes sense is if she’s really going crazy. That would actually be kind of awesome.
“Empire State of Mind” - Jay-Z and Alicia Keys
“Telephone” - Lady GaGa
“Billionaire” - Travie McCoy
“Getting to Know You” - from The King and I
“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” - Poison
“Listen” - from Showgirls
“What I Did for Love” - from A Chorus Line
Promoted to the main cast - Santana, Brittany and Burt.
Shitcanned - Matt and Ken. They explain away Matt’s disappearance as having transferred, but let’s call a spade a spade. I would have bought a better in-universe explanation, even one as simple as “his family moved.” But transferred? Transferred where? How many high schools does Lima have?
Missing but still listed as cast - Emma and Terri.
The Changs - I kinda called it in my recap of “Dream On”: “Don’t be surprised if his first subplot comes as a result of someone thinking those two are dating just because they’re both Asian.” I’ll have my cookie now, thank you.
The high school exterior - we will never see this location again.
“Telephone” - it’s a little absurd how they were singing in Auto-tune in the middle of that restroom.
The pizza delivery prank - The played-for-laughs loser pizza guy says his manager will have him pay for the order (twenty-five “everything” pizzas) if he can’t get payment. That’s not how it works. First off, that’s over $400 in food - a credit card would have to be charged before they even started making the first pie since an order like that is usually a prank. Second, a delivery guy would never have to pay for an order he couldn’t collect on - no one would work at a shop where that was the rule. Whoever wrote this has neither worked at a delivery restaurant or personally placed an order that cost more than fifty bucks.
Kurt being referred to with feminine pronouns and adjectives - I’ve had a problem since he referred to himself as “an honorary girl” back near the beginning of season one, but tonight Rachel walked up to him and Mercedes and referred to them as “ladies.” A good article that articulates my problem with this better than I can here can be found here.
Tina’s clothes - the black dress she wore when confronting Rachel was tres goth. They’re doing a lot better with her costuming; at least now she wears things that actually are goth more often.
Sunshine’s voice - is better than Rachel’s. Charice sings, Lea generally yells harmonically.
Sue - Hey, why so glum, William? Cat crap in your coffee?
Sue - (after her pager goes off) Oop, time to feed my gimp.
Beiste - You’re all coffee and no omelet. Sue - (whispering) That doesn’t make any sense.
Will - (reading the defaced sign-up sheet) Buttface McBallnuts, Assberham Lincolon? They’re not even funny! Sue - Now don’t be rude, William, I put a lot of thought into those.
Tina - I think you’re great, Artie, but you’re a terrible boyfriend! You ignored me for weeks this summer and then when we did get together, all you wanted to do was watch Coming Home over and over.* Mike tries to be into what I’m into... like his abs!
Puck - (to Sam) Dude, your mouth is huge, how many tennis balls can you fit in there? Sam - I don’t know, I’ve never had any balls in my mouth, have you?
Sue - (dismissing Santana) Now take your juicy, vine-ripened chest fruit and get the hell out of my office.
Brittany - (deadpan while Santana and Quinn are fighting) Stop the violence.
Brittany - (in her usual deadpan) Coach Beiste didn’t touch my boobs; actually, I really want to touch her boobs.
*The joke is that Coming Home is a movie about a paralyzed Vietnam vet who, in the film’s sole pop culturally relevant scene, goes down on Jane Fonda since he can’t have “normal” sex.