‘Glee’ Recap (Season 3, Episode 3): A for Effort?

“Asian F” is getting a good reviews from a bunch of people. A word in advance: this recap won’t be one of them. Following last week, where Glee showed a kind of unseen finesse in its storytelling, a deft hand at character development and a notable, thankful aversion to the kind of sledgehammering weirdo-humor that’s becoming Glee’s trademark, this week’s episode was a gigantic step backwards. Aside from fantastic performances by Harry Shum as Mike Chang and Jayma Mays as Emma, this episode was all about hackneyed storytelling that moves nobody forward (why is Puck even speaking to Quinn after all her duplicitous dealings last week?), a slim, obvious script, and both a kind of ugly tendency to highlight its characters’ absolute worst traits and the even uglier insistence that the sugar-coated drivel being forced down our throats is some kind of profound, world-shattering moral. Really it boils down to the same shit this show’s been serving up since Day One: Follow Your Dreams And Love Yourself, only the increasingly hackneyed ways Ryan Murphy and Co. go about delivering it have gone beyond just boring and straight into cloying.

Look, the message is good. It always will be. But this is a television show. Storytelling is required. Glee’s storytelling has been, historically, on the weak side, shunted to the wings in favor of razzle-dazzle and spectacle for its own sake. Potentially never more so than tonight, one week removed from a bout of really strong storytelling. The whole thing is enough to get a visceral reaction out of a viewer (and I’ll admit, I got choked up here and there) but doesn’t take it any further than that, which really, is Glee at its emotionally-manipulating worst. I’m actually kind of disgusted by it.

Anyway, because I must indulge further bullshit if I’m to continue recapping the show, I better just get on with the plot. Our main focus tonight is Mercedes, who ostensibly unleashes a shitstorm of bullshit on the Gleeks that seems wildly out of character, even for all the faux-diva prostrating that has become her one dimension as a character. She shows up late, refuses to put in any effort into Booty Club, and incurs the wrath of Big Boy Schuester, who has thrown out the do-your-best mantra and transformed instead into Al Davis by way of Justin Timberlake, preaching the eternal gospel of Win, Baby, Win with hair gel firmly in place.

But wait: development! You see, we find out tonight that Mercedes Resents Being In Rachel’s Shadow. Except we found that out two years ago, if I remember correctly, before we took that crazy-ass detour into the Season 2 bramble patch. But the West Side Story thing (and the unyielding, slightly over-aggressive support of Tinker from Friday Night Lights) is a good chance for the writers to re-establish this by having Rachel and Mercedes compete directly for the role of Maria.

The Artie/Emma/Beast triumvirate is torn between Rachel, who’s the perfect choice, and Mercedes, who’s the risky one. Really, it seems like that’s no choice at all. But since this is a Very Special Show with a Very Special Message and Very Limited Ways Of Building Dramatic Tension Other Than To Repeat Plot Points, a diva-off callback is scheduled to settle the matter.

The matter, of course, remains woefully unsettled. Despite the fact that Mercedes blew Rachel’s prim ass off the stage during the sing-off, the directors remain wary of usurping Rachel’s star power. You see, even the people in this show realize it’s Lea Michele’s turf. Mercedes, fed up with this bullshit (just as I am fed up with hers) gives the Gleeks a one-fingered salute and heads over to join Shelby’s rogue Glee Club alongside the chalkboard stylings of Sugar Motta. I’d be excited if I thought that plot was going to go anywhere remotely interesting.

Aaaanyway, in the interim between this week and last week, Santana has secretly re-defected to the Gleeks (ho-hum) and Kurt has decided to run for student council on a platform of basically making life easier for kids like him, which I would take to mean the gay kids, which is kind of odd since, last I checked, there are four gay students at McKinley and only one of them isn’t at peace with that fact and by the way, where the hell is Karofsky? The one interesting thing about Season 2 and he hasn’t shown his face yet. In any case, Rachel, sensing Mercedes is close to surpassing her onstage, decides to run for President as well, so now we’ve got that clusterfuck to deal with. At least Finn has something to be conflicted about now, although it’s kind of a moot point what with Brittany’s booty-dancing campaign that even has Sue shaking it for the briefest of seconds. That woman sure knows how to win hearts and minds.

Schuester and Emma get a nice little subplot tonight wherein Mr. Hair Gel is chomping at the bit to meet Emma’s parents, but the mere mention of them sends Emma into these kind of twitchy panic-spells. Rather than get the hint, Schuester takes it upon himself to invite them to dinner, which is the worst idea ever. Number one, because it’s horribly intrusive and number two, because Emma’s parents are “Ginger Supremacists,” which is just Glee’s fancy, isn’t-that-funny way of saying they’re card-carrying racists. Never mind that if they’d just written her parents as white supremacists, it’d be a big insight into Emma’s condition and an ACTUAL OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH KIDS ABOUT A REAL FUCKING THING BECAUSE GINGER SUPREMACISTS DON’T EXIST. Anyway, they’re complete nuts, she freaks, Schuester is left to stew in his stupidity when her OCD starts to relapse. Serves him right.

Finally, the “Asian F” bit is a reference to Mike Chang, whose father descends upon Figgins’ office demanding that Sonny Boy remove himself from the Gleeks and Tina’s embrace because the kid got a Chem test back adorned with the grade of A-minus, aka, an Asian F (this, all ranting aside, is a really funny joke). Mike promises he’ll do better, but he was born to dance, goddammit, not be a chem wizard, and so it goes that he confesses his dreams to his mother, who is OK with it because she was deprived of her own dancing dreams once, and then they dance together and I swear to God all of this happens in the span of five minutes when it would usually take YEARS for families to reconcile this kind of inner conflict.

That said, there’s actually a really beautiful (if ham-fisted, but I’ll take what I can get) scene with Mike Chang where he dances alone and imagines Tina and his dad in the room with him.

Turns out it was all worth it: he gets the role of Riff in West Side; Santana gets Anaita, Rachel gets Maria and Blaine is Tony, with something from Kurt that almost sounds like real encouragement. Maybe there was some character development after all.

The songs:

Jennifer Hudson; “Spotlight”: Mercedes takes it. This is her theme song for the episode or something. Great performance, but way obvious, and something tells me it’s not too much of a stretch for Amber Riley to hit this one. Too easy. At least it’s not a fucking showtune. C

http://youtu.be/tcbBkWXG5ro

Beyoncé; “Run the World (Girls)” Brittany’s grrrl-power anthem that’s the anchor of her presidential campaign. Actually a really interesting cover. They don’t lean too heavily on the “Pon de Floor” sample, which is good because it gives the much-underused Heather Morris a chance to go H.A.M. on a rare solo performance. Really strong, energetic, and not so much like the original as to be a straight-up copy like “Spotlight” was. The real star of this performance, BTW, is Brittany’s dancing. As good, if not better, than Mike Chang. A-

http://youtu.be/b2ryIJasB1o

West Side Story; “Cool”: Mike Chang’s first non-joke singing number. It’s not bad! I mean, it’s a little on the easy side as far as vocals go, but I guess that’s kind of the point here. And the performance itself, which leans heavily on Harry Shum’s balls-to-the-walls dancing, is pretty remarkable in and of itself. Watching it I’d say it’s a B+, but just as something I’d listen to on headphones, it’s more a B-.

http://youtu.be/RT8J7EFbeDQ

Dreamgirls; “It’s All Over”: Number One: absolutely hilarious that everybody in the Gleeks gets a speaking part in this goofy, high-school-ified adaptation of the Dreamgirls song. Number Two: as far as Mercedes songs go, THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. A

http://youtu.be/SzLJGjjveZU

Fame; “Out Here On My Own”: Again with the GOD DAMN SHOWTUNES. AAAAAGH. Rachel and Mercedes both get a shot at this one. Kind of a typical choice for this song, and they both kill it. Happily, and because this show is doing everything this year short of actually traveling back in time to Season 1, the two performances get meshed into a “Defying Gravity”-sounding duet. Easy but fun. A-

http://youtu.be/wq_gI1KzZrc

Coldplay; “Fix You”: Exactly like the original. I’m a fan of the original, so I can’t say I’m all that upset about it (and that last bit is kind of chillingly good in Matthew Morrison’s hands), but if this show wants to find itself again, it needs to get more adventurous and really, really fucking fast. B

http://youtu.be/82oGYccE8qw

READ: More Faster Glee recaps:

Season 3:
-3×1 “The Purple Piano Project”: Glitterbomb
-3×2 “I Am Unicorn”: I’ll Make a Man Out of You

Season 2:
-2×22: “New York”: New York City Serenade
-2×21: “Funeral”: Putting the F-U in Funeral
-2×20: “Prom”: Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
-2×19: “Rumours”: Rumour Has It
-2×18: “Born This Way”: Corny This Way
-2×17: “A Night of Neglect”: Nobody Likes You, Either.
-2×16: “Original Song”: Everyone Loses
-2×15: “Sexy”: Sexy Time, Very Nice
-2×14: “Blame It On the Alcohol”: They Be Actin’ Like They Drunk
-2×13: “Comeback”: Biebermania
-2×12: “Silly Love Songs”: A Friggin’ Ohio Lovefest
-2×11: “The Sue Syvester Shuffle”: The Championship Game

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