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TV Review: Glee – “Wheels”

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Episode nine of FOX’s Glee is “Wheels.” Themes of equality and fair treatment are prevalent throughout Glee, but “Wheels” is the first episode that centers on the issues. From Artie (Kevin McHale) needing more wheelchair access, to Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Burt (Mike O’Malley) dealing with homophobia, to Tina’s (Jenna Ushkowitz) stutter, to Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter) joining the Cheerios, to a girl on the wrestling team, “Wheels” is bursting with such stories. It’s also a great episode for story, acting, and music.

Equality is a tricky issue to tackle. It is certainly not fair that the school won’t pony up the money for the New Directions to take a bus accessible to Artie to Sectionals. But neither is it fair that schools must spend so much extra money on a few children. The problems are the same with special education and non-English speaking learners. In these cases, financial inequality is needed to give the same opportunities across the board. One would never argue that children should not get equal access for risk of sounding like a heartless monster, but there does need to be some sort of balance, or all of the school’s funds could be tied up for things that do not benefit most of the student body. That would be a problem, too.

Funding comes from a variety of sources, and as Will (Matthew Morrison) rants against the unfairness of the Cheerios flying all over the country, Figgins (Iqbal Theba) points out that Sue (Jane Lynch) has boosters that pay for all of that. Is the booster system fair? Obviously, individuals working hard to raise money for a certain cause should be allowed to use it for their intended purpose. But when such a disparity exists in a system, such as the one between the Cheerios and New Directions, isn’t it only right that some of the funds by siphoned off to other groups? Your point of view on the subject surely reflects political and social views, as both sides are arguable to some degree.

One does have to wonder, though, how McKinley can afford special lighting in the choir room, as well as costumes, props, and a unique ramp stage for a glee rehearsal, but can’t pay for a bus that is surely already owned by the district. In “Wheels,” Will even finds the money to buy eleven wheel chairs! They are used, but have to cost some amount of money. Why not share a few instead of each student getting their own? The point would still be made. Perhaps this is a bit nit picky, but as much as the New Directions complain about not having funding, they sure look like that’s not the case. Of course they must look good to drive up the production value of the show, and keep people entertained. But this contradicting with realism is a problem I wish would be addressed. Perhaps the group receives special grants that must be spent on lights and costumes?

Money aside, isn’t it illegal for McKinley to discriminate against Artie? There are laws in place to make sure students get fair treatment, and certainly one of them requires the district to provide adequate transportation for all participating members of a school-sponsored activity. Only so much can fit into an hour of television, but there are elements of the situation not even addressed in “Wheels.”

Another form of discrimination in Glee that actually comes up quite a bit is the way homosexuals are treated in current social culture. Things are getting better, but it’s a slow process. In “Wheels,” Burt receives a malicious phone call because of his son, Kurt. How Burt deals with it, suggesting Kurt might tone his personality down a notch, is another thing that can be debated. Burt’s feelings come from a place of paternal protection. He wants Kurt to be true to who he is, but also wants him to avoid pain and suffering. It’s hard not to sympathize with Burt, and Kurt does, choosing to throw an audition rather than cause more trouble.

Having to act a charade is not fair. Being treated like an outcast for the way one is is not fair. Glee understands that, and focuses on themes of acceptance. Life is not fair, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try their hardest to make things a little better for those around them.

Surprisingly, Sue understands this, and even donates money for new ramps for McKinley. “Wheels” finds Will and Sue conducting tryouts for Cheerios, and Sue chooses Becky, a girl with Down Syndrome. Will is convinced that Sue is up to something, but it is revealed that Sue has a sister named Jean (Robin Trocki), whom Sue loves dearly, who also has Down Syndrome. This might just give a tiny peek into the inner workings of Glee‘s resident villain. Perhaps Sue is the way she is because she wants to toughen kids up to handle what the world has in store for them, knowing fate can be cruel. Sue is shown to care about students, and thus, one must conclude Sue is acting in what she thinks are their best interests. This seems to be confirmed by Sue treating Becky just like any other cheerleader, which is much fairer than giving her special treatment.

There are only three songs in “Wheels,” but each one is quite good. First up, Artie’s “Dancing With Myself” is incredibly moving, and showcases his rich, deep voice. Though, it is odd that the original version of the song partially plays just a few moments later in the episode. That is followed by the big diva off between Kurt and Rachel (Lea Michele) in “Defying Gravity,” still a fan favorite from the series. Finally, “Proud Mary” gives solos to many of the more supporting members of the club, as well as makes viewers feel good with its interesting staging. Musically, “Wheels” is a strong, but small, entry for Glee.

“Wheels” marks the start of serious flirtation between Tina and Artie. They bond over shared disabilities, but when Tina admits that her stutter is faked, Artie breaks things off. It’s sad, as Tina may not have a speech impediment, but she does suffer from crippling shyness that she is just beginning to get over. It’s too bad Artie doesn’t see that as something to relate to, because the seeds are there for them to continue to share common ground.

The love triangle between Quinn (Dianna Agron), Finn (Cory Monteith), and Puck (Mark Salling) erupts in “Wheels.” However, given Quinn’s poor attitude and demand that Finn cover all medical bills, while not seeking employment herself, begs the question, why would either guy want Quinn? Sure, she is pretty, but she isn’t nice. It’s confounding that Finn and Puck fight over her, when they both could do so much better. It’s a shame such a cold girl can get in the way of the warm friendship that the boys share. No wonder Finn is spending so much time with Rachel!

Random Bits:

The aforementioned girl who joins the wrestling team is Lauren Zizes (the wonderful Ashley Fink) in her first appearance. She also tries out for the Cheerios. Though she is not mentioned by name or credited on imdb.com for “Wheels,” Zizes will become a popular recurring character and member of the New Directions.

“Wheels” also marks the first appearance of recurring characters Becky Jackson and Jean Sylvester.

Quinn admonishes Puck that they are “not going to take money from a friend in a wheelchair,” then immediately turns and takes money from Finn, who is sitting in a wheelchair at the time. Ha!

When Artie breaks things off with Tina, he claims that being in a wheelchair is “not something I can fake.” Ironically, McHale, who plays Artie, can walk just fine, and is faking it.

Fans of the iconic web series The Guild should recognize Finn’s new boss, though he is shown only briefly. Yep, that’s Jeff Lewis, a.k.a. Vork, and he will never be seen on Glee again.

Check back here 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