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Throwback Thursday: Glee “Sectionals”

My roommates decided to start rewatching Glee last month, beginning with the final two seasons. None of us had bothered to finish the show after its steep downhill slope, but for some reason the mood struck, and I spent late nights seeing how McKinley High’s most musically talented students ended up. And when that was over, we went back to the beginning. While trying to figure out what show to revisit for this week’s Throwback Thursday, I figured why not go back to Glee‘s first season before it drowned in its own ridiculousness and became unbearable. To be fair, that happened rather quickly, and there’s no season that I can look at as being mostly enjoyable except for season one. That being said, I enjoyed “Sectionals” and was surprised by how much I still enjoyed it years later even after I’ve become thoroughly fatigued with Ryan Murphy and his ideas of comedy. The series premiere of Glee aired in May of my freshman year and officially premiered the following fall, and while the series loses it way as it nears its end (which was in March), “Sectionals” holds up well even now.

“Sectionals” isn’t a perfect episode, but it’s one that reminds me what it was I loved so much about Glee (and a few things I hated). Fresh off Will Scheuster’s removal as Glee faculty sponsor, the club is headed to Sectionals with Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays)  in his place. “Sectionals” was meant to be the series finale, should the show not have taken off as it did. Since it did in fact win over audiences at the time, there were another nine episodes to go before the season wrapped itself up. But “Sectionals” still had a lot to work to do in wrapping up some of the largest arcs. The preceding episode had already revealed Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) and her fake pregnancy, but this episode still had to contend with Emma’s impending marriage to football coach Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher) despite hers and Will’s obvious attraction. And somehow, someway Will would have to return to the glee club as its director. Not to mention figuring out some end for the comically offensive (and sometime just plain offensive) Sue Sylvester and her vendetta against glee club. Yes, the road to Sectionals is complex indeed, but it’s greatest obstacle is the truth about Quinn’s baby.

Finn’s rage at finding out he isn’t the father of Quinn’s bun in the even is well-acted by Cory Monteith, and the abrupt shift from Rachel beginning her confession to him beating the crap out of Puck is especially well done. It’s an emotional reveal, at least on Monteith’s part. Glee had a more than talented cast that took time to grow into their roles so it can be a toss up to see how they handle these moments, but Monteith encapsulates Finn’s profound hurt and anger at having been lied to.  And it’s a moment of seriousness uncharacteristic of Glee, which had already featured a scene of the rest of glee club conspiring to continue to hide the truth from Finn to better their chances of a win at Sectionals. Glee often went back and forth on moments of seriousness being filtered through comedy, and this didn’t always work. It doesn’t even work that well here. While a heartbroken Finn is trying to kill Puck, the rest of glee club watches and then quickly tries to shift blame about who spilled the beans, the only people who seem to care about Finn’s shattered feelings being Will and Rachel. Common decency doesn’t always apply in the world of Glee. In season two, Rachel will try to cement her status as lead soloist by sending potential competitor Sunshine Corazon to a crack den for her “audition”. But nothing they do is ever bent in such a way that we’re supposed to allow it to affect our understanding of them. Or at least it’s not supposed to.  It does of course, and I know many a person who ditched Glee partly because of the selfishness and cruelty of several of its main characters, ones we are supposed to sympathize with and root for.

“Sectionals” glosses over the whole glee club keeping such a massive, life-changing secret to throw itself into the general gloominess following Finn’s departure. They board the bus with long faces, sans Finn, and when they arrive at Sectionals, they learn their set list has been leaked and stolen by competing show choirs. The competition itself is a bit of a mess. The opposing team’s performances are short, and while it’s kind of interesting to see other club’s takes on the New Directions’ numbers, it’s hard to care aside from the fact that their set list was stolen and of course, that Eve stars as the director of one of them.

And that Amber Riley’s performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” isn’t going to be performed before an audience, which remains one of my biggest Glee gripes all these years later. Unless you’re Lea Michele or Cory Monteith, solos are painfully hard to come by so Mercedes being gifted with the ballad solo and then it reverting to Rachel is a bit of a slap in the face. Even moreso when one considers the show’s insistence on maintaining this imbalance in future seasons despite the Rachel Berry fatigue that plagued many viewers. As I type this, my roommates and I are watching the season one finale, in which Rachel and Finn sing “Faithfully” at the Regionals competition. My roommate has just turned down the volume to spare herself another go of what might as well be a Rachel/Finn duet.  Though Lea Michele has an excellent voice, one well-suited to perform Broadway hits like “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, there’s only so much of it one can hear before wanting something more. In season one this isnt’ so much of an issue, as there’s an expectation for the show to correct this when it returns, but it’s disappointing to see Mercedes’ talent go ignored. Even the followup “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is led by Rachel and Finn, with the other vocalists as glorified backup singers. Mercedes only gets a few of her customary riffs. That’s not to say that “Don’t Rain On My Parade” isn’t excellent. It definitely is. Michele is a Broadway vet, and it is never as apparent as when Glee is allowing her to revisit her roots. It’s a perfect song for her, and for Rachel Berry. The performance itself is polished and certainly Sectionals worthy (and my favorite part is still when the whole glee club emerges on “I’ll march my band out”), but it’s bittersweet to watch the rest of the glee club’s talented vocalists get pushed to the backburner.

Such is the plight of Glee in general. Much of “Sectionals” faults can be forgiven when there’s still half a season left to correct them, and the first half was undeniably entertaining, but it’s less a show about New Directions and more about specific people in New Directions. Even Will Schuester’s romantic life takes precedent over his students, and Will Schuster is not interesting enough for that. And his hair does look like a brillo pad.

Stray Observations

  • And here is the episode in which we first learn Brittany and Santana are having sex with each other. Flashforward a few seasons, and they’re getting married.
  • “Regionals” at least allows Santana and Puck a verse of their own before allowing Rachel and Finn to take center stage once again. But that’s all we’ve got.
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2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Glee “Sectionals”

  1. Meh can’t take you serious with the Lea Michele dismissal. Never get why people act like Rachel took away from Mercedes when in reality it was Santana who did. Mercedes was the #2 female lead in songs until Santana took over. Santana even took over Mercedes big story line in season 3. Santana was the 5th female lead and leapt over Mercedes, Tina and Quinn. Yet Rachel who was the lead from the start ( and did nothing to show she wasn’t the lead and was critically acclaimed) somehow is the one always blamed for all of glee problems. And lets not get started on Blaine who took over songs and screen time from everyone including Rachel.

    Glee fans just never got the concept of what a supporting character is suppose to do.

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    • Amber Riley wasn’t supporting. She was a series regular just like Lea Michele and even Darren Criss. I clearly stated that Lea Michele is an excellent singer so I’m not sure why you qualify that as dismissal just because there are other characters who should have also had their chances to perform. Other people being capable doesn’t negate Lea Michele’s talent. In actuality you are being more dismissive of Amber Riley and Mercedes Jones

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