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TV Review: Glee – “Ballad”

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As the summer goes on, I’m continuing to review the season one episodes of FOX’s Glee. These are fresh reviews, not reposts, and I hope you will enjoy reliving the first season with me.

The season one episode “Ballad” finds the New Directions tackling the all important staple of ballads. Rachel (Lea Michele) gets a crush on Will (Matthew Morrison) after they sing together, and Will tries to discourage her. Speaking of relationships that will never happen, Kurt (Chris Colfer) likes Finn (Cory Monteith). The boys grow closer as Kurt helps Finn figure out how to tell Quinn’s (Dianna Agron) parents about her pregnancy. Unfortunately, this backfires, as Quinn’s father (Gregg Henry, Hung, The Riches) kicks Quinn out. And her mother (Charlotte Ross, NYPD Blue), who knows about her pregnancy, but never says anything, does nothing to stop him.

“Ballad” has a lot going for it as a Glee episode. There is feel good music (“Lean On Me” and “I’ll Stand By You”), an emotionally compelling story (see: good music), and some really funny bits. The biggest issue with the episode, however, is that it feels like the story is tailored to the music they wanted to use. There is no indication that Rachel is attracted to Will prior to, or after, “Ballad.” Thus, that particular plot in this episode feels forced and phony the entire time. Sure, he is a talented, attractive man. But Rachel has very specific ideas about the type of guy she wants, and a much older, married, high school teacher does not exactly fit her bill. Plus, Rachel singing “Crush” is just over the top.

The weirdness is at maximum threshold when Rachel and Will sing “Endless Love.” I do not remember any other song ever done on Glee with so much voice-over interruption. Yet, the awkward, disturbed facial expressions with which Will reacts only have so much power to hold interest, so hearing a variety of characters’ internal monologues are necessary to make the scene continue to flow, and be tolerable. As such, the whole thing ends up being pretty successful as a musical number, if very odd, other than that Rachel takes no notice of Will’s very clear disinterest in her.

Will’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me/Young Girl” is better. His gestures at the start of the song are patronizing, but after that, it’s easy to see why both Rachel and Emma (Jayma Mays) swoon. Even when trying to communicate a message to turn off the girl, Will is working his sexy magic. He’s so convincing, that both women even forget to be jealous of each other’s attentions towards him, and concentrate only on the way they feel about Will. Perhaps he should have said things with something other than a song.

Which brings up the other major problem with this episode, besides bending plot to fit selected music. It is perfectly understandable that sometimes characters in Glee will choose to express themselves through music, rather than talk it out. It is less understandable when those characters keep making a point of saying that only a song can communicate what they want to say. It’s simply not true, and by doing it so blatantly, and talking about how they are doing it, so much in a single episode, it comes awfully close to ruining the device. “(You’re) Having My Baby” is honestly the final straw, as Finn could say something far more elegant than performing that particular ballad in front of Quinn’s parents. Too much.

The other unrequited romance story is quite a bit better, and fits the characters. Kurt plainly has a thing for Finn throughout season one, though Finn will never see Kurt as a sexual interest. Poor Kurt has to understand that Finn can never be with a guy the same way Kurt has no desire to be with a girl. But as a naive, lonely teenager, Kurt is taken in by Finn’s talent and looks, rather than thinking logically through the situation. It’s a bit sad, as both guys deserve to be happy, and if Finn was gay, Kurt could likely make him so.

But at the same time, just being friends is also beneficial for the pair, so it works out. In “Ballad,” the real beginnings of that friendship are apparent, as they bond over having a deceased parent. Though different people, their family situations of one adult gone by circumstance, not choice, and the other doing their absolute best to love and take care of the child, are very similar. It’s something they can both relate to, and it really makes their bond seem real and strong. Obviously, to those who have watched Glee past this point, the seeds are planted here for their long-term relationship.

Random Bits:

Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) is referred to as “other Asian” when choosing ballad partners. Surely, there is a deleted scene where Sue (Jane Lynch) switches out his name in the hat. Yet, the mildly racist label is actually charming in this context.

When did Kurt learn to play the piano? And how come he almost never does again, even though there is ample opportunity to use this skill?

Finn’s facial expression when he thinks Quinn catches him looking at Rachel’s butt is priceless, and one of the best moments Monteith gets in the series.

Will’s former pursuer, Suzy Pepper, is played with a perfect mix of geeky and crazy by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Sarah Drew. It’s a shame she didn’t recur on Glee, but she was a bit busy. Best line, said to Rachel: “We’re both mildly attractive and exceedingly grating.”

Check back for another season one Glee review soon!

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com