The season one Glee episode “Dream On” is about dreams, obviously. An old nemesis of Will’s (Matthew Morrison), Bryan Ryan (Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother) is the newest member of the school board. After having his own dreams of being a performer dashed, Bryan decides that the glee club should be cut, as a favor to the kids who are in it. Will fights him on it. Jesse (Jonathan Groff) encourages Rachel (Lea Michele) to seek out her mother, while Artie (Kevin McHale) struggles anew with his crippling condition.
Neil Patrick Harris is amazing in “Dream On,” even when given a mediocre character, which Bryan is. This is because Bryan changes his opinion and motivations every few hours on a number of whims. Some people are flighty, to be sure, but to go from wanting to cut the arts, to championing them, back to cutting, then to ambivalence, in a few short days does not a realistic character make. Yes, Bryan has more than a few issues to work out. In the end, trading his favors for a part in a community theater production? Not acceptable. Which begs the question, how did such an unstable man get onto the school board, and why is he given any power at all over which programs get money, and how much, at McKinley High?
Thankfully, Harris saves the Glee appearance from being a waste with his duets with Will. While Bryan makes a great friend or foe to Mr. Schue, but can’t make up his mind which he is, his plot falls flat. But his musical ability soars. The two first sing together in a bar to the classic “Piano Man.” Later, they war with “Dream On,” trying to get the same part in a production of Les Miserables. Both songs, even with such different tones, are great numbers, with terrific vocals. As such, Harris’s guest spot in “Dream On” is at least partially a success.
Also, in a too brief sequence, Bryan goes up against Sue (Jane Lynch). He defends the actual merits of arts education, something that is far too often forgotten about in school budgets. Sue argues the pros of athletics. Both get their facts right on the benefits research touts for both of these extremely important fields. Unfortunately, Sue gets reality completely wrong when she claims districts are much more likely to cut sports than music. It’s far more often the exact opposite, a real shame in this reviewer’s opinion. With an obesity epidemic happening, yes, physical education is important. But so is nourishing one’s mind and soul, and the pluses the fine arts add to other academic areas are extremely valuable. Schools need to realize that these things are core, not extracurricular, and they should not be pawns on the chopping block.
Plus, angry sex between Sue and Bryan! It’s both regrettable and charitable that the carnal acts they engage in, or are hinted at engaging in, are never shown on Glee in any manner. While such a scene would be hilarious, and likely well handled by the wonderful Lynch and Harris (funnily enough, both homosexual in real life), it would also be deeply disturbing. It’s probably a good thing that Glee backs off from showing too much, especially at the relatively early time of the evening at which the series airs. It’s still a family-friendly show, for the most part, after all.
Slightly confusing is, why is Will able to give Bryan his part in Les Miserables? We’re talking a lead handing his reigns to an extra with no input from the people making the show. It couldn’t happen. “Dream On!” Not only that, Bryan is almost as good as Will, if not even with him. Why is Bryan given such an unimportant role instead of one of the other leads? While both may want Jean Valjean, it makes sense, given their levels of talent, that one gets that part, and the other is given Javert, an almost equally important role. Plus, the two characters are foes, so it works for Will and Bryan, storywise. It is just not possible Lima is teeming with such talent that Bryan should be regulated to a nothing part.
Ironically, it’s not Will nor Bryan that end up singing any songs from Les Miserables in “Dream On,” but Shelby (Idina Menzel) and Rachel that do. Their “I Dreamed a Dream” is both memorable and stunning. No less than one would expect given both ladies’ statures in the Broadway world. It’s a bold, brilliant choice for their first duet together. While not actually being in the same room, continuity-wise, despite appearances, it’s a cool way to show mother and daughter in that relationship for the first time on Glee, and emphasize what Rachel has inherited. Great job!
Backing up slightly, the story leading to Rachel finding Shelby is actually quite interesting. It now makes sense why Jesse gives up Vocal Adrenaline for the New Directions – he’s being loyal to a director that has helped him win several national titles. His falling for Rachel is convincing, too. There clearly is a definite attraction between the pair, and while Shelby only asks Jesse to “befriend” Rachel, a reasonable request, it’s funny how Jesse twists that into “seduce” when he begins to have feelings for his fellow show choir star. This gives weight to Jesse’s later argument that his love for Rachel is real, not an act.
Somewhat confusing is why Artie allows Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) to reawaken hope in him in “Dream On,” long after he gives up believing he will ever walk again. Artie’s dream of dancing seems to come out of nowhere, since he seems accepting of his fate up til now. Tina’s looking into promising medical research, sparking Artie to hope, is even more confounding. Which is it? Is Artie OK with how he is, or not? If he’s not, and dancing is his dearest wish, than he would already be doing the research himself. If he is, as appears more likely, given the character’s overall arc in Glee, why allow himself to be swayed so quickly and completely? The only possible explanation, flimsy as it is, given the weight of the situation, is that Artie is entranced by Tina, and for a pretty girl, men will do almost anything.
That being said, Artie’s “The Safety Dance” is an incredibly moving scene. At first, it may seem bizarre that, one day after Artie’s doctor starts “all” of the experimental treatments, he is able to get up and dance around. However, as more of Artie’s friends suddenly show up and join in on the flash mob, it quickly becomes apparent that this is Artie’s dream. And in a perfect world, one in which a dream lives, things would go exactly like that. As the music stops, and Artie falls dejected back into his chair, one’s heart breaks in sympathy. It’s quite a well done bit, made even better by the lack of special effects, since actor McHale can actually walk and dance just fine.
It’s really a shame that McHale and Ushkowitz are not very good actors. Their inability to express the emotions in a dramatic way take away from the episode, and make the whole thing less effective than it should be. Artie’s number succeeds because of the music and direction, not McHale’s acting ability, or lack thereof. It really baffles that these two continue to be main characters on Glee when the awesome Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) and fun Sam (Chord Overstreet) are cut from the New Directions in season three, and their portrayers can’t get full-time contracts, leaving the latter to depart the series. Loyalty is noble, but giving fans the best should also be a goal of Glee.
- “Dream On” is directed by the legendary Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse). Joss also directed Neil Patrick Harris in his internet musical sensation, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog.
- Seeing Bryan and Will in flashback may be slightly gratuitous, but it is more than welcome. That hair! Those clothes!
- In the flashback, Bryan does a brief magic trick. Neil Patrick Harris is a known magician.
- As will talks to Bryan in the bar, trying to convince him that dreams are worth believing in, “Dream Weaver” plays in the background. Perfect!
- Brenda Castle (Molly Shannon, Saturday Night Live) makes her second and last appearance on Glee in “Dream On.” It’s very brief, and she doesn’t even get to interact with any of the main characters!
- Brenda does interact, though, with Russell, who is played by John Michael Higgins (Happily Divorced). This is cool because Higgins played Shannon’s love interest in her failed sitcom Kath & Kim the year prior to this episode.
- Rachel hypothesizes that Broadway great Patti LuPone might be her mom. Funnily enough, in the season two finale, Rachel meets LuPone in New York City, guest starring as herself.
- Making Quinn’s (Dianna Agron) biggest dream “No stretch marks,” and Puck’s (Mark Salling) “3some” may be funny, but it trivializes two characters Glee has tried to give depth to. It’s not surprising they want those things, but the writers could do better with their “biggest dreams.”
- In the sweet closing number of “Dream On,” Tina dances with Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.). Perhaps this is the moment she begins to fall out of love with Artie, and into it with Mike?
- Worst line ever, in the cheesy department. Will says, “I’m trading my one dream for the chance that all thirteen of you might find yours.” I’m sure this is supposed to be touching, but instead, it’s gag inducing.
- Glee finally gets something about Ohio right! Lima IS in Allen County! Also, while Cedar Point is much closer to Lima, and a far superior theme park, King’s Island does have the better shows, so Bryan’s tenure there also works.
Check back for the final three Glee season one reviews later this weekend!