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TV Review: Glee – “Props; Nationals”

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Glee went for the double dose last night, presenting two new episodes the week before its third season finale. Why make the penultimate week a two- hour special, and leave the finale a mere 60 minutes? Well, for one thing, the last episode will be paired with American Idol. And secondly, after an hour of high excitement Nationals competition, wouldn’t the softer toned goodbyes seem to drag on? Glee made the right decision.

To the episodes! The first, “Props,” opens with an understated Rachel (Lea Michele) performance of “I Won’t Give Up.” It’s a fantastic song, not in your face, that allows Michele to emit the pain and determination of this struggling diva-wannabe. Rachel becomes sympathetic in a way that she rarely is as she vows not to quit on her dreams. With this number, her NYADA future is sealed, even if there is no clear path for her to get into the school yet.

It really changes the tone of Glee to begin with a song like this. It adds some weight and heft to the episode, letting viewers know the show means serious business this week. It actually works really well.

A handful of supporting characters get their dues in “Props.” Most prominent is Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), who delivers a startling rant about being shoved into the background for three years, and threatens to quit the New Directions. She has a point, in that she is a founding member of the group who never gets her due. Then again, Tina is a boring character, and does not need any more plot. This episode will suffice nicely for covering the base. She cannot possibly be the lead next year. Please, no!

The best part of Tina’s story in “Props” is when she bumps her head. Suddenly, she is Rachel Berry. Better yet, Finn (Cory Monteith) has become Kurt and Puck (Mark Salling) is Blaine! In fact, all of the New Directions members, including its coaches, have switched bodies! This may be gimmicky, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. Some of the actors really capture the spirit of another character, while some fall a little flat. But any way you slice it, this is a brilliant move.

Of course, the whole ordeal has a purpose. After performing an acceptable, but not Rachel-level, quality “Because You Loved Me,” Tina comes to the conclusion that Rachel’s life is hard, too. To make up for her meanness earlier, Tina drives Rachel to confront Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg), who gives Rachel the appropriate smack down. But at least Tina believes in her! To celebrate, they duet “Flashdance… What a Feeling.”

But as central as Tina’s story is to “Props,” Bieste (Dot-Marie Jones) and Puck steal the show. Bieste struggles with her relationship, not finding the strength to leave Cooter (Eric Bruskotter), even though he continues to be abusive. Meanwhile, Puck is being bullied by hockey captain Rick ‘The Stick’ (Rock Anthony). Their plots come to a head as Bieste catches Puck pulling a (fake) knife on Rick.

This is a startling moment for Glee. Prop or not, there is no coming back from Puck with a knife. In this scene, it’s clear that Puck has no future. He will end up dead or worse. He has nothing left to lose, and has grown desperate. It mirrors the way Bieste feels, as she considers stabbing Cooter while doing the dishes. These two are on the brink of no return.

And then realization, in the form of Bieste, smacks them. Seeing her emotions reflected back at her startles Bieste enough to act. She gets Puck a make up test so that he might graduate, and she leaves her hubby in a moment of sheer strength and bravery. It’s a triumphant moment for her character and the series.

True, as a teacher, she should have reported Puck for the incident. And in reality, some student might have told, getting her in trouble, too. But for the purposes of this story, realism is unnecessary.

Jones and Salling deliver their best performances of the series in “Props.” This entire arc really hits every right note, telling a perfect story for two talented actors. Jones proves herself practically every time she gets on screen, but this is the first episode in a long time where Salling delivers. Their duet of “Mean,” as Glee must turn everything into song, is a wonderful capper. Give them a couple of awards, pronto!

Finally, Sue (Jane Lynch) wants to add props to the New Directions’ Nationals performance to help them against their competition. At first, Will (Matthew Morrison) listens to her because, after all, she has won several national cheerleading titles, and his glee club didn’t even break the Top Ten at Nationals last year. But, of course, in the end, Glee repeats its oft-heard message of being true to oneself, and avoiding the unnecessary gimmicks.

Then it’s time for the second hour, which finds the New Directions, with Emma (Jayma Mays) and Bieste in tow, heading to Nationals in Chicago. Rather than flitting around the city this time, though, the New Directions erupt in a fight amongst themselves. Surprisingly, this is not them coming apart at the seams, but rather, demonstrates their passion for what they are about to do. As such, Santana (Naya Rivera) and Will are able to pull them back together.

And pull together they do! Their set list of “The Edge of Glory,” “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is spectacular! Most of the members of the group are featured, and the dancing and singing is fantastic! It’s easily one of, if not the, best sets the group has ever put together. Finn, in particular, shows just how much he’s grown in the last three years, and by extension, Monteith has improved as a performer. It’s no wonder they win!

Should that have said, SPOILER ALERT, the New Directions win Nationals? Nah. This victory is a foregone conclusion from the “Pilot” of the series. There is never a single doubt that they will take the title befoe the original leads graduate, which may be why there is less build up before the actual “Nationals” episode. But that doesn’t make their victory any less sweet, and after these numbers, well deserved.

The only regret is that Kurt (Chris Colfer) is kind of shoved into the background for all three songs, while Carmen is in the audience. Hopefully, this won’t affect his standing with her when he attends her school next year. He’s already in, so it shouldn’t. She’s seen him shine by himself, and now she also seems him being a team player.

Of course, there must be competition. Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) returns to talk smack, before genuinely putting in a good word for Rachel with Carmen. Not that Jesse’s recommendation probably means much, considering he failed his own audition with Carmen. But she remembers him, so that’s something. This also provides a little bit of redemption for a character who is self-absorbed enough to not be so well liked.

Jesse’s star singer is Unique (Alex Newell), who is used as a tool to win, but could not be further in personality from Jesse. Which makes one wonder how their rehearsals go.

Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Kurt have a friendship with Unique now, and visit him/her before his/her performance. It’s a touching moment that sticks to Glee‘s spirit of inclusion and fellowship. No petty words are exchanged, and their encouragement even sparks the hope that Unique might transfer to McKinley next year. In a perfect world, this will happen. Might the Glee writers be dropping hints? After all, with Rachel gone, McKinley needs a new powerhouse, and, despite words spoken in the first hour, it won’t be Tina.

Powerhouse is a great description of Unique! His/her “Starships” and “Pinball Wizard” are amazing! In fact, there is some serious doubt about victory from Rachel and the others after witnessing it. Thankfully, using the entire group beats one voice and some props, but Unique gets the MVP award, and so is recognized appropriately.

Every time Glee embarks on a competition, they bring in some celebrity judges for an amusing, though unimportant, decision scene. “Nationals” is no different, with Lindsay Lohan (herself), Perez Hilton (himself), and Rex Lee (Entourage, Suburgatory) as a glee club-obsessed politician. They are every bit as effective as any past panel, though don’t add much to the episode. In fact, the conversation viewers see in the judges room doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the trio are not leaning towards the New Directions at the time. Ah, well. In an episode this good, Glee can have its tropes.

With Nationals over, the New Directions head home. A quiet school is waiting, kids lining the hallways, hockey players approaching with the familiar slushie cups. One can be forgiven for assuming the Figgins (Iqbal Theba) has made them turn up, but that the kids’ standing has not risen. Then the slushie cups are revealed to be full of confetti, and applause erupts. The New Directions are heroes! “Tongue Tied,” sung by them, but on playback, not with mouths moving, takes them through this celebration.

It’s hard to say how realistic this is. Students love to support their peers who bring glory to their school, but it’s not likely that the New Directions will be regarded as much cooler tomorrow by most of their classmates. This is a temporary recognition, and not one that will last. However, it will change the opinions of a few, which should be enough to beef up the roster and replace the graduating seniors next year.

With the kids getting their dues, there is still time to turn the attention to Will. The graduating seniors thank him for everything, giving him credit for changing their lives. And it’s true. The glee club is what it is because of Will. He fades into the background for much of these final episodes of this season, but he deserves recognition for getting the kids to the point where he can do that. They stand on their own because he helped them get to there.

As such, Will is honored with a Teacher of the Year award, with the New Directions singing “We Are the Champions” to him. Even Sue is impressed and believes that Will deserves it, an appropriate reaction, given that she actually demonstrates her affection for the students in “Nationals” and the episodes leading up to it. Emma takes her appreciation a step further, rewarding him in the bedroom. All of this is an acknowledgement of everything that Will has worked so hard for, and he takes it well. Very heart warming.

So what’s left? Next week is “Graduation,” time to say goodbye to many of the popular characters (except Rachel and Kurt, whose college life will share screen time with McKinley High next season). It’s sure to be full of tears and bittersweet song. Tune in to FOX next week at a special time, 9 p.m., for what will surely be a wonderful episode of Glee.

A quick bit of casting news: Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) and Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) are joining Glee next year on a recurring basis! Neat-o!

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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
  • AJ

    “Then again, Tina is a boring character, and does not need any more plot. This episode will suffice nicely for covering the base. She cannot possibly be the lead next year. Please, no!”

    That’s not the character’s fault. It’s Ryan Murphy’s fault for being a crappy writer who ignores the character for three years and at the most giving her thin, flat plot lines that does nothing to develop the character.

    Jenna can act, and we got a glimpse of what Tina could be with her rant. But it was too little too late. The fact that she relented twenty minutes in and apologized to Rachel goes to show he doesn’t take the character seriously.

    I feel bad for the actress (Jenna) at how bad Murphy treats the character. It’d be better for her to leave and do something else other than be ignored for another year next fall.

  • DRB

    I agree with you, AJ. In fact, the bias of this “reviewer” goes against my grain because Tina was being “mean?” As Tina herself rightly pointed out, when Rachel throws tantrums, it’s chalked up to her claiming her star power, but when someone else does it, it’s mean, or selfish? That’s just B.S. And in what universe would Tina NOT dump Mike Chang for being such an unsupportive jerkwad, even going so far as texting her that Rachel is one-of-a-kind? If I had been Tina and he had texted that to me, it would be the slap in the face that ended that relationship, expecially after all I did to help his sorry butt.
    I am looking forward to more Tina next year and far, far less Rachel – Ryan Murphy better deliver on the implied promises he placed in this episode.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Tina picked a bad time to throw her tantrum, as Rachel points out. But no, I don’t think Rachel should throw tantrums either. If you notice, I mention that Rachel is rarely sympathetic, though she is in “Props.” So I am not bias pro-Rachel anti-Tina. Though I think Michele is a much better actress. And I wish Tina, who is a lame character, whether by fault of writing or acting or both, would go away.

  • Liz

    Rachel acting incredibly selfish AGAIN is somehow sympathetic? You are not pro-Rachel, Anti-Tina but believe Tina is a lame character who should go away? You blatantly brush off the episode because you do think Tina is boring but then ignore an episode for character development?

    AJ is correct- the viewer is basically badgered into wanting Rachel to succeed even at the cost of others. Tina had nothing to apologize for. Rachel’s a spoiled brat who hasn’t changed a wink and who’s had everything handed to her on a platter. And Michele is a one note actress. Bias is what bias does and the review is dripping with it.

  • Jerome Wetzel

    I like what I liked. You are free to disagree. :)

  • Lainie

    Calm down, Liz. Jesus…