May 1, 2012

Episode Review: GLEE, "Choke"

Glee took a break from the happier side of life and gave us an episode that had its share of singing and dancing but mixed it with a sense despair, failed expectations and dreariness which has become mostly absent on this show. I've always liked my Glee with a hint of sadness, so I should have really enjoyed "Choke," and I did for the most part, but there were some issues that I couldn't overlook.

"Choke" essentially only had three storylines: Kurt and Rachel's NYADA auditions, Puck's struggles with school and the rest of the glee girls learning about domestic violence. Three very different ideas and themes that really didn't combine into a cohesive episode of television which was ultimately the biggest shortcoming, but they did have their own set of strengths.

Let's go ahead and start off with the plot that I liked the most. Finn caught Puck talking to a sophomore cheerleader about how he might not graduate, and when confronted about it, Puck played it off like it wasn't a big deal. He's been doing OK in most of his classes except for European Geography, but he just planned on seducing his teacher for a passing grade. When that didn't work, he decided to turn to his bros for help since he didn't want to end up being a deadbeat like his father (who showed up for a split second). The glee guys helped Puck cram for his exam by singing songs from My Fair Lady, but it wasn't enough in the end and he failed the test.

I've always been a fan of the scenes where the guys just hang out and support one another, so I immediately liked the idea of Finn rallying the troops to help out Puck because it not only said a lot about him but about the rest of the bros as well. Another reason why I liked this plot thread had to do with the fact that it reminded us that happy endings don't always happen. Sure, it was nice watching the gang help Puck cram for an exam (so much so that I actually enjoyed the Ramons-esque version of "The Rain in Spain"), but it would have been hard to believe that he'd pass the test, and I'm glad that Glee didn't cop out by having him magically become smart because that move's so worn out. While we all know that Puck's going to get a last second reprieve that will allow him to graduate, it could be compelling to watch him struggle with the possibility that he won't be moving on like everyone else and reflect on where he went wrong. Or he can just bone his teacher (again) and pass anyway, which is more likely knowing Glee.

While Puck was cramming for his Euro Geo test, Kurt and Rachel were cramming for their NYADA auditions, which were going to be evaluated by some Broadway big wig by the name of Carmen Tibideaux (played by Whoopi Goldberg). The thought of having to perform for such an esteemed person caused Kurt to have some pre-rehearsal jitters, and he even thought about abandoning his Phantom routine because it was too safe and boring, but Rachel was able to convince him to stick with it even though it was the easy choice. Once on stage, Kurt realized that Ms. Tibideaux wouldn't be impressed by a number she's seen millions of times before, so he called an audible and performed "Not the Boy Next Door" from The Boy from Oz. It turned out to be a good move, and she was won over by Kurt's outside of the box thinking. Rachel was up next to sing her standby "Don't Rain on My Parade," but ended up botching it not once but twice, and Ms. Tibideaux refused to give her another chance.

Honestly, I don't know how to feel about Kurt and Rachel's auditions because I've lost interest in their quest to New York. It's just been so drawn out that it's lost any real meaning, and I'm glad that we don't have to worry about some ill advised NYC based spin-off. I know that Glee's so invested in the futures of these two that I feel like I should care more than I do, and I should have been shocked by Rachel's choking on stage, but even that was so telegraphed and lazy that I saw it coming from a mile a way (the fact that the episode was called "Choke" was also a big clue). Yet, I'm intrigued by the possibilities that this move has created. I'm more interested by the idea of Rachel not making it to New York than I ever was by her ending up on Broadway because it goes back to the reality that not everyone's dreams get to come true, and it'd be fascinating to watch someone like Rachel come to terms with that sad truth. Unfortunately, much like Puck, I have a feeling that everything's going to work out for her in the end, and she'll be back on track to the Big Apple before season's end. You'd think I'd be used to Glee wasting opportunities by now, but I'm not.

Finally, there was the sub-plot about Sue, Roz and Beiste teaching the rest of the glee girls (sans Quinn) about the horrors of domestic violence. You see, Coach Beiste showed up to school with a blackeye that caused Santana to make a crude Chris Brown joke that was overheard by Coach Washington. After tearing into the girls, Roz and Sue decided to take a move from Will's playbook by assigning them to perform songs about women taking back their power. The first attempt, "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago, was a flop because it was about crazy women killing their husbands over silly reasons, but it did stir some emotions in Beiste. The message behind the assignment made more sense when Shannon admitted that her black eye wasn't from a punching bag and that Cooter really did hit her. She shared her story with the girls, which led to a decent rendition of "Shake It Out," but in the end Beiste couldn't follow her own advice because she returned to Cooter and gave him another chance.

This was the storyline that I had the most issues with. First off, I do want to applaud Glee for addressing the very real problem of violence against women, and how it's portrayed by Hollywood and rationalized by the younger generation. That being said, I couldn't help but feel like the message was lost due to the clumsiness of the storytelling. Adding Roz to the mix didn't quite make sense to me, and it seemed like her addition was a way to capitalize on even more stereotypes. As for Coach Beiste, her story was both heartbreaking and frustrating. I understand why the writers would use Shannon as the vehicle for an anti-abuse message because she has such a tough exterior but a soft and lovable interior, that it's both unfeasible and understandable that she would have to endure this kind of torture, but we never really saw enough of her relationship with Cooter so introducing the fact that he beat her felt like shock for shock's sake. Admittedly, the show was able to spin it into a fairly positive message, and having her go back to Cooter was such a realistic twist, but it was one of those moments that stuck out because it came out of nowhere. Usually, I can forgive Glee for these kind of missteps, but I would have appreciated it more if it had spent more time and attention on such an important topic.

Other Odds and Ends:
  • Even the Real Housewife and Coach Beiste are handing out glee assignments. Man, Will really is irrelevant at this point.
  • Just when I thought Tina was going to be given a meaningful moment, she was once again relegated to the background. At least the show was somewhat meta about her lack of development.
  • I'd like to see more of those biker chicks that Puck was rocking out with.
  • Blaine's grooming advice to Mike was by far the highlight of the episode.
  • I always thought "Cell Block Tango" was a bit off. Fun, but just off. Watching Beiste re-live what happened to her during that performance was inspired though.
  • Can we stop using the term "cra-cra?"
  • I'm sorry, but Rachel's crying face was hideously bad.
  • I still think a spin-off about the boys starting their own band's way more interesting than New York.
  • The boys nervously waiting for Puck to finish his test was too cute.
  • It wasn't a surprise when I found out that Marti Noxon wrote this episode since she was responsible for the "Spike tried to rape Buffy" arc.
  • Now that I think about it, we should have seen the warning signs when it came to Cooter. He did string along both Sue and Beiste, and this kind of emotional abuse could have indicated that he'd be capable of worse behavior.
  • "I might not graduate, but that's okay because gowns and for ladies and tassels are for strippers."
  • "Oh God no. No more candles."
  • "Tell me Liza's okay."
  • "What's the difference between a shrub and a bush?"
  • "Did he break his hand?"
  • "Wait, that's not in the song."
  • "Does your head hurt? Sometimes, after I take a test and my head hurts, it's usually a good sign."
What it comes down to is Glee can be at its best when it mixes the sad with the happy, and "Choke" should have been a prime example of this show doing just that, but it fell just a little short due to the mishandling of some of the more serious moments. I'm not going to say that this episode was horrible, but it was another wasted opportunity, and it a lot of ways that's harder to admit.


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