September 27, 2011

Episode Review: GLEE, "I Am Unicorn"

While "I Am Unicorn" was not a laugh-out-loud episode of Glee, it did have an old school vibe and pushed the larger story arcs along. In the long run, I'm all for a well-crafted and emotion-filled version of this show than the one that relies too heavily on one-liners and top 40 pop songs, so I was happy with the direction it went in. That doesn't mean it was free of questionable moments.

It's almost to be expected that one episode of Glee will have at least two episodes worth of story, and "I Am Unicorn" delivered on that promise. Unlike previous outings, all of the plot threads added up to a somewhat coherent 45 minutes of television. I know it sounds shocking, but the writers reminded us of what this show is capable of.

If I had to pick the A-plot, I'd have to go with Shelby Corcoran's return to Lima and how she affected Quinn, Puck, and Rachel. Now, I'll fully admit that the device the show used to bring Elphaba back (having Sugar's dad pay for the creation of a second glee club at McKinley) was beyond idiotic, but her presence was the catalyst that was responsible for those "classic" Glee scenes. With Shelby and Beth back in the picture, Quinn and Puck were inspired to grow up and prove that they're responsible enough to be apart of their daughter's life. Oddly enough, Puck was the first to show that he's willing to do whatever was needed to spend time with Beth, while Quinn still struggled with figuring out which version of herself she wanted to be. Thanks to some tough love from Shelby and Will, she decided to go back to her Donna Reed facade, but there are some darker motivations lurking beneath the surface.

In the latest episode of "The Small Screen Podcast" (hitting iTunes soon), I talked about how one of the biggest gripes I had with Glee was the fact that Murphy, Falchuk, and Brennan could not write effective female characters except for Rachel and Santana, and Quinn suffered the most because of this ineptitude. Apparently, having some other voices in the writing room has paid off because she's finally getting a story line that actually has meaning and doesn't rely on her status. If they can keep the momentum of this plot going forward, I might be able to trust this show again.

What was more impressive than Quinn's return to relevance was Puck's. It could be argued that Puck has suffered even more than Quinn from a character/story perspective. He went from the bad boy, to neutered puppy dog, to non-existent within a season. Seeing him interact with Shelby and Beth was a reminder of his wasted potential but also a glimmer of hope that Glee can recapture some of its past glory. This scene wasn't just successful because it was sweet, but it also had humor and it was a believable character moment.

Shelby's reappearance probably should have had more of an impact on Rachel, but I'm glad that this episode didn't dwell on their shaky relationship. It would've been odd for the show to ignore it all together, but the single scene they shared was able to have all of the right emotional beats without drawing them out. Spending more time and energy on Quinn and Puck was definitely the right call.

Quinn and Puck were not the only members of New Directions being challenged to question their identities because Kurt was also forced to look at how he and others see him. After the NYADA debacle, Kurt decided to run for student council president and received the full backing of Brittany. She believed in him so much that she even volunteered to be his campaign manager, but her approach focused too much on his unicorn-ness (i.e.what makes him special). While the intentions were good, Kurt felt that Brittany's ideas highlighted his sexual orientation instead of him as a person and it didn't go over well. His insecurities were elevated even more when he found out that the co-directors of West Side Story didn't feel he was masculine enough to play Tony, and that they wanted Blaine for the lead. In the end, it took Burt to kick him in the pants to make him realize that he should embrace what makes him unique instead of hiding from it. Unfortunately, his epiphany was too late, and Brittany decided that she was going to run for StuCo President as well.

I wasn't that much of a fan of Kurt and Brittany's plot. While it did deliver some of the episodes best jokes, it felt like old territory. It seems like Kurt's been spending the last two and half years figuring out who he is, and while I know that self-discovery doesn't happen over night, his journey has been drawn out. I'm not saying that I'm disinterested in Kurt's path towards his true identity; we just need to see more sides of him.

Another minor quibble with the unicorn sub-plot had to do with Brittany. I'll be the first to admit that I'm in love with Heather Morris, and I was stoked when Brittany was given more to do, but I'm starting to think that she's becoming overexposed. I understand that when you have a breakout character, you want to utilize him or her to the fullest, but they always end up taking over and hurting the show. How I Met Your Mother was better when it was about Ted and not Barney, and I have the feeling that the same will be true for Glee. That being said, I was happy when she told Kurt that she was also running for president because it will give a her a real story instead of having her shoot off some classic one-liners.

"I Am Unicorn" had its share of C, D, and E-plots. Some worked and some didn't. While it was only a blip on the radar, I liked the idea of "booty camp" but it wasn't given the time to really go anywhere. There was also the continuation of the "Sue for Congress" nonsense, but at least it played a role in Quinn's more entertaining story. Even the West Side Story auditions were entertaining thanks to Beiste.

On the Music Front: Only three songs this time around, and the first one didn't start until 20 minutes in. That has to be some kind of record. Thanks to the West Side Story backdrop, "Somewhere" was another solid duet that actually made sense (unlike "Poker Face"). Blaine's "Something's Coming" was proof that he's the perfect Tony unlike Kurt's "I'm the Greatest Star". The latter was too busy, which I guess was the point of the performance.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • I still don't think Season 2 was THAT bad, but I'm definitely more supportive of the reinvigorated approach of Season 3.
  • I'm glad that Mike Chang's role is more prominent, but is it too little too late?
  • Mike Chang Line Count: 8
  • This two glee clubs gimmick has to go.
  • Kurt Hummel's Bulging Pink Fun Sack!
  • Mark Salling nailed it tonight!
  • Was I the only one who got that Lea and Idina's duet was a fantasy sequence?
  • Mr. Schuester definitely has his problems, but he had his share of highlights. His tough love speech to Quinn was tops, and I missed his bond with Finn. Can they make us root for him again?
  • The answer to the above question: Maybe, just as long as they don't put him in another triangle with Emma and Shelby.
  • Too Beth
  • I love it that Kurt had to get permission from Rachel to sing a Streisand song.
  • Only true Gleeks will understand why Kurt busted out his sweet ninja moves.
  • The slow-mo dancing was a little odd.
  • I already miss Punk Rocker Quinn.
  • "Wipe away!"
  • "It turns out Napoleon, not just a dessert. He was a real dude."
  • "You look like a Real Housewife of Reno."
  • "She's Jewish, but I think that helps with the whole Puerto Rican thing."
  • "He owned that song like it was his prison bitch."
  • "Listen. I love the kid, but I want a Tony that excites my lady parts."
  • "You're gay, and you're not like Rock Hudson gay. You're really gay. You sing like Diana Ross, and you dress like you own a magical chocolate factory."
  • "Change the rules. Write your own history."
  • "You know what they call a unicorn without a horn? A freakin' horse."
"I Am Unicorn" probably didn't take the bad taste that Season 2 left in the mouths of millions of Gleeks, but it was definitely the step towards redemption. Now, I just need to place my faith in Ryan Murphy and his staff and hope that they can right the ship completely.


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