How can a show that so consistently hits the right notes emotionally and musically be so bad at a cohesive, believable story? This week’s installment of FOX’s Glee, “City of Angels,” delivers when it memorializes Finn (Cory Monteith) and shows how much the kids care, but falls flat on its face when the story takes wrong turn after wrong turn. Will next week’s big 100th episode be any better?
“City of Angels” finds the New Directions heading to L.A. for the Show Choir National Championship. The group sings “I Love L.A.” as they transition from the choir room to the streets of the city the show films most of their scenes in, even though it takes place in Ohio. It’s as much a tribute to the town as the glee club did when they arrived in New York, so it seems appropriate, even as viewers understand the actors actually live in L.A. so their enthusiasm, as believable as it does come across as being, is faked.
The missteps begin right away, though. Since the New Directions are three members short to compete, and the show is exhausted with cheeky jokes to bring supporting characters back after long absences, three new faces are stuck into the ensemble just for “City of Angels.” They don’t have names or lines. Never acknowledged, they are complete filler. What a shame.
Other ridiculous stuff follows. Will taps Sam (Chord Overstreet), without warning, to be the group’s leader at the last minute. Upon arriving at the hotel, Will (Matthew Morrison) is told that Sue (Jane Lynch) has messed with their reservations, although this is a throw-away occurrence that never goes anywhere and is quickly forgotten. Mercedes (Amber Riley) shows up with one of the most unrealistic (second) success stories ever. The chaperones for the trip, Burt (Mike O’Malley) and Carole (Romy Rosemont), irresponsibly take off without even informing Will they’re going. And a deaf woman, Marlee Matlin (herself), judges the singing competition.
If you think all of that is terrible, and it absolutely is, things go from bad to worse when Will and the gang bring home a second place trophy. Sue, surprisingly sympathetically, disbands the club. She lists a bunch of organizations staying intact, but declares the New Directions’ status as number two in the entire country not good enough.
Are we expected to believe that the rest of the teams she mentions won at a national level? I mean, Roz (NeNe Leakes) manages to help the Cheerios get there, but they’ve won lots of times before. Surely the rest didn’t hit that mark. That’s simply ludicrous, and while what Glee is trying to do comes across well enough, the plot–which ends with the only New York scene of the night in which Kurt (Chris Colfer) tells Rachel (Lea Michele) and Santana (Naya Rivera) the news–just doesn’t make sense.
Yes, there are some amazing things in “City of Angels.” The tribute to Finn during the club’s performance, interspersed with clips of the character, is beyond touching. Carole’s struggle with keeping her son’s memory alive and facing Finn’s friends again is moving and raw. The four seniors singing solos, ending together, is great. Even the tiny subplot about Jake (Jacob Artist) and Ryder (Blake Jenner) repairing their friendship, then recruiting Mercedes to help restore Marley’s (Melissa Benoist) faith in herself, works. But balanced with all the crap, this week’s entry doesn’t live up to its potential.
Most of the music in “City of Angels” revolves around the competition. As usual, we get one song from a rival, this time an all-girls choir doing a weird yet good “Vacation,” and two from the main antagonists, Throat Explosion. The latter does an inspired “Mr. Roboto” followed by a very good “Counting Stars,” though as we’ve come to expect, the performance lies solely in the hands of a single individual, the guest character representing everyone else, Jean-Baptiste (Skylar Astin, Pitch Perfect, Ground Floor).
Jean-Baptiste is no better or worse than past foes. He isn’t cruel about Finn, cutting the group some slack and returning a stolen plaque. But he also is a bit of a jerk with the smack talk and is full of himself, though admittedly with the talent to back up such an attitude. I wish he or the group had been introduced before “City of Angels,” but since he fills such a familiar role at this point, I guess that isn’t necessary, as Glee fans will immediately understand what he represents and his purpose for being there.
The New Directions’ numbers themselves aren’t that spectacular, making one wonder why they even got second. We’re told that “More Than a Feeling, “America,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are Finn’s favorite songs (though that has never been established before now), and so the emotion it invokes in the characters and viewers alike lands. But to the judges, it’s puzzling how they would possibly understand or get anything from it, even with Sam’s raised drumsticks at the end.
It’s also worth noting that Carole mentions Finn didn’t have the best rhythm, which makes no sense given that he played the drums. Drummers are notorious for having great rhythm; in fact, it’s impossible to play the instrument if you lack it. So I don’t know why this slips through.
Next week’s 100th episode is sure to elicit a lot of feeling. I just hope it does a better job with the writing than this one, or else it will be just as disappointing. This sloppiness is inexcusable for a show on this level, especially when it wouldn’t take all that much effort to fix it.
Glee airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.