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TV Review: Glee – “Sectionals”

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We continue with season one episodes of FOX’s Glee, this week, “Sectionals.” This episode is iconic for a number of reasons. Coming as a winter finale just before a four-month hiatus, it is the first hour to feature the New Directions in performance competition, something the initial thirteen episodes all build towards. “Sectionals” not only finds the group having to come together as never before. With the outing of Quinn’s (Dianna Agron) baby daddy, Finn (Cory Monteith) must find his heroic qualities to save his friends. Plus, Will (Matthew Morrison) and Emma (Jayma Mays) make big decisions about their romantic lives. And Sue (Jane Lynch) suffers her first significant defeat.

Glee is a music show, and in an episode like “Sectionals,” the songs are front and center. While there are campy portions of the other competing clubs doing “Don’t Stop Believing,” “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” and yes, even “Proud Mary” in wheelchairs, “Sectionals” is a chance for our main characters to shine. Given the stakes in the episode, and the emotional heft that those scenes carry, every New Directions number is top notch, and among the best the series offers. For the primary group, there is not a single weak number among their set list.

The first example is Mercedes’s (Amber Riley) rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” It comes early in the episode, likely both to space out some of the bigger singing numbers, and also to feature Riley, who the writers have scant time for later in the episode. It’s nice that she gets to shine at all, considering Mercedes isn’t as central as some of the other characters. This performance proves she can hang with the top dogs. Besides being just as exciting as the other characters’ reactions indicate, it also makes viewers long for more from the powerful diva, who often gets overlooked more than she should be.

“Don’t Rain On My Parade” does something similar for Rachel (Lea Michele), though, of course, Rachel never has any shortage of opportunities to showcase her talent. Still, it’s an awesome moment, as she strides down the aisles and captivates the audience with her ballad. The song is a perfect example of the girl’s talents, and is staged in an interesting way. Though one does wonder how appropriate lighting is arranged so quickly, but only if one nit picks, which one tries not to do with such a great scene.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” solidifies the New Directions predictable first place trophy. Since the group’s third and final piece is not shown in this episode, even though it is mentioned to be a repeat song from an earlier installment, the second number has to prove that the group deserves the win in very little time. Though some arguably corny dialogue from Will spurs Finn to choose the particular song, it is still quite effective, showcasing a number of the group members in Glee, as well as being a very enjoyable performance. Simple choreography helps it come off as believable for a last minute fill-in, but at the same time, is also appropriate for the piece.

Finally, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” despite boasting cheesy, uneven choreography, including line dancing with cowboy hats and fair flipping, is both effective and moving. Some of the lyrics are quite appropriate, and it’s hard not to tear up. For the teenage characters, Will makes a very important impact in their lives by forming this glee club. Even Santana (Naya Rivera), while admitting to being a spy for Sue, says she is glad to be there. It’s a fitting ending for the initial batch of episodes.

Despite the glowing evaluations of the musical selections performed, there are a few things wrong with the Sectionals competition. First and foremost, setting aside that this system doesn’t actually exist, at least in present day Ohio, why are only three groups performing? It’s not economically sensible. Many choirs in the state compete for ratings, but these are days long events, with dozens of schools coming together. Putting on such a big thing for only three small groups seems unrealistic, especially considering the current state of budget cuts. And the auditorium audience is full for three dozen kids? Nope. Never going to happen. Not to mention, none of the parents shown in Glee so far are at the event.

Not only that, but there would never be long lulls between the groups, so much so that the New Directions can put together an entire new set. The audience just sits for long silences staring at an empty stage? It just doesn’t make any sense at all, the way it is portrayed. To accept what is shown, belief must be suspended, and one must look at Glee‘s competition system as operating by its own rules, strictly for the purposes of the series. Which is possible to do, but it does take one out of total immersion, reminding us that Glee doesn’t actually take place in the real world.

The scene with the Sectionals judges is out of sync with the rest of the episode. Perhaps it’s kind of fun to see Rod Remington (Bill A. Jones) in this unexpected setting. Patricia Forte (Happy Endings) and True Blood‘s Anna Camp are not unwelcome as the other judges, either. But their scene debating the winners is fluff. It makes no sense to include it in the episode from a storytelling perspective, and serves no purpose to do so. Should Glee want to feature Sectionals judges, give them something to do, as in done in other episodes, or just don’t do it.

Even more bizarre is Will being reinstated as head of the New Directions at the end of “Sectionals.” While it’s unfair that Will must quit, the rule he breaks to be taken away from New Directions is not caused by anything that Sue does. Even exposing the Cheerios’ coach’s manipulative, cheating ways would not lead to Will being allowed to work with the kids again. The two have nothing to do with each other, and the explanation given just doesn’t hold up.

“Sectionals” features some pivotal moments for principal characters. Finn really gets a chance to shine as an heroic lead. He’s still flawed, of course, as he cannot bring himself to forgive Quinn and Puck (Mark Salling). But really, who would in his shoes? It’s enough that he steps up as a leader and helps the group win the competition. Monteith handles several pivotal moments better than expected, and shows he has real acting chops for a wide range of emotions, including anger and disappointment.

Agron also continues her trend of making a complicated Quinn sympathetic. Her torn feelings between her two men, as well as not being truly angry at Rachel, someone Quinn always seems to hate, make for a very good performance for the young actress.

Rachel’s plot reveals some fundamental truths of her character. She is able to overcome her own personal desires for the good of the group when stepping aside to let Mercedes sing the ballad. Initially, anyway. But when it comes to the Finn situation, Rachel is OK with risking the glee club’s chances in order to sabotage the relationship between Quinn and Finn for her own possible gain. This is a duality that will come back later in Glee. Rachel can be kind and work well with others, probably because it also helps her own goals in a way. But her feelings for Finn cloud her judgment, and ultimately put her future as a performer in jeopardy. The seeds are planted for an arc that is not yet finished, a year and a half later.

Will’s love life is now a full-blown triangle, as he leaves Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig), and Emma professes the depth of her feelings. Again, Gilsig makes the character slightly sympathetic, reminding Will (and viewers) that she didn’t always act so crazy, she’s seeking professional help, and the couple once had a real relationship. Will can’t be with her, though, because her betrayal is too deep. At the same time, although Emma wants very much to be with Will, and thinks of Terri as repulsive, she is smart in recognizing that Will is still upset over his wife, and this is a bad time to start a relationship. Sure, there’s the cheesy, predictable kiss at the end as Will seeks to stop Emma from quitting her job. But overall, the trio is handled very well here.

Sue touches on being out of character in “Sectionals.” This is because her revulsion for, and efforts to destroy, the glee club are later explained as a personal vendetta against Will. While not being kind to the glee kids, Sue is not usually nice to the students she likes, either. But Sue does care about kids, or so we’re told down the line. Yet, in “Sectionals,” Will is no longer part of the New Directions, and she still tries to screw up their Sectionals performance. Perhaps this is because Sue knows Will will eventually be reinstated, or it will hurt him to see them fail, but both seem a bit far fetched.

Random Bits:

  • Rachel claims to be a little psychic. Really? How so? Just because she senses that something doesn’t feel right between Finn and Quinn? As enjoyable as Rachel’s eccentricities usually are, it’s good that this one is not explored further in future episodes.
  • Brittany (Heather Morris) actually admits to many members of the group that she and Santana have sex in “Sectionals.” Talk about a bombshell spoiler that is treated as a throw away line! Which works because of how insane many other things that Brittany says are.
  • Having the various New Directions members talk on a party line in their cell phones in school, with many walking right beside each other, is silly and insipid. Yet, it allows many minor characters to get small bits in a busy episode, and it funny enough that it can easily be forgiven.
  • When Rachel is lecturing the glee club, she mentions trying out for community theater productions. Kurt (Chris Colfer) puts her in her place by pointing out that Rachel never wins those parts. Seriously? Someone with Rachel’s immense talent cannot score a role in community theater? I don’t believe it.
  • Why is Emma in her wedding dress when Will arrives to the empty reception? Glee shows before that Ken (Patrick Gallagher) is furious at her for postponing the wedding slightly. Does she really not know he’s not coming until she arrives?
  • Plus, where are all the guests? They might have gone home, but it seems unlikely some family members wouldn’t stay to offer comfort. A kitchen worker is still there waiting. Why?
  • And Emma knows Will is still coming and waits just to tell him they can’t yet be together? Setting the dialogue aside, the entire scene is full of plot holes.

 

Check back soon for another season one Glee review!

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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
  • JIm

    You do know the choreography for You life would suck are bits and pieces of choreography from all the songs they had done thus far right?
    Sorry they way you format you reviews do not give a persona sense of the show at all. Straight away the music with no build up is just awkward.

  • konnie

    Oh geez the judges scene is pure black comedy. Her this competition is everything to these kids but the judges care less. It doesn’t mater to the judges, but the kids never know that. In none of the judges rooms doe sit ever really matter or are there rules.

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

    konnie – Not true! In the Regionals competition, Sue is in the judges’ room, and it very much does matter what goes down.

    Jim – Stop with the personal insults. If you don’t like me reviews, don’t read them. I do not at all agree with you calling the format awkward, but you are entitled to your opinion, as long as you aren’t just being insulting.