“Glease” is the word this week on FOX’s Glee. Which is funny because it isn’t actually a word. Nor does it deserve to be. In an entire episode that serves as a mashup between Glee and Grease, the music from the musical remains as classic as ever, but some of the performances are an inferior echo of the original, not because of lack of talent, but because it’s such a blatant copy. It’s a good thing that there’s some actual Glee character development plot included, too.
“Glease” works best when the cast isn’t trying to recreate scenes from the movie. Sure, Finn (Cory Monteith) taking the guys to a mechanic shop to practice “Greased Lightin'” and Kitty’s (Becca Tobin) girls’ sleepover “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” bit may enact scenes that look just like the John Travolta / Olivia Newton John film, but they stretch the plot a little too much towards the cheesy side. Similarly, the set design in McKinley’s production is way too advanced for a high school budget, though it makes “Beauty School Dropout” and “You’re the One That I Want,” the former a favorite moment from this episode, look nearly identical to the inspiration.
This continues a trend in season four of things that seem like a good idea on the surface, but don’t quite work right when they are played out. I am referring to the way that alumni keep returning to McKinley and acting like they are adults, while still socializing with their younger student pals. Most high schoolers can’t wait to move on after graduation, and those that don’t are not generally regarded so highly as the ones on Glee. Letting Finn serve as Will’s (Matthew Morrison) temporary glee club replacement actually does all right by the character, but Mercedes (Amber Riley), Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), and Santana (Naya Rivera) really need to find some new friends and activities to get involved in.
That’s what Rachel (Lea Michelle) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) are doing. They do come back to watch their friends do the musical, but they are also beginning to break ties and look towards their futures. Things have changed, their chums have moved on, and the duo feel it. It’s hard to imagine them flying home again for the next minor event. And that’s a good thing. Whether Glee opts to shift even more into a post-high school focus next season, or drop a large number of original cast members, this balancing act often feels forced, and cannot continue indefinitely.
The continued presence of the older crowd also steals focus from the newbies. Marley (Melissa Benoist) and Ryder (Blake Jenner) barely open “You’re the One That I Want” before being replaced by Rachel and Finn, and soon Kurt and the others are imagined into the scene, too. Yes, it’s nice to see some more resolution will all of the recently dissolved couples, but not at the expense of some characters that are just beginning to grow on us.
Unique (Alex Newell) gets the biggest shaft in “Glease.” His parents (including Chuck‘s Mark Christopher Lawrence) pull him from the show because they are worried about bullying, since he has a female part, even though they do accept their son for who he is. This seems a step backwards from the Kurt days, with Unique having to re-fight some of the same battles. It also means that s/he only gets a few lines of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” a crying shame, no matter how good Rivera can handle the number.
Also, I don’t care how dumb Brittany (Heather Morris) is, we cannot honestly be expected to believe that she thinks Mercedes and Unique are the same person.
Quick side note, Jenner is just not doing it for me as Ryder. I felt let down at his take on Danny Zuko, and his acting just isn’t up to par with his cast mates. He may grow into the role, as others have done, but it seems like he got a little too much focus, a little too quickly.
I also did not care for Marley’s bulimia plot. She is a gorgeous, thin girl, and while Kitty’s ability to trick her into puking makes sense, it also ventures a little too far into after-school-special territory. It will be awfully hard to make Kitty sympathetic after she goes to such depths, and Marley’s “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)” ends up being heart wrenching at a time when she should be enjoying her chance to shine as the musical lead. It works for the story, but I wish that the writers chose to take her in a happier direction.
Speaking of terribly evil villains, in “Glease” Cassandra July (Kate Hudson) tricks Rachel into skipping town, then seizes the opportunity to seduce Brody (Dean Geyer). It would not be surprising to learn that things didn’t quite go down as Ms. July describes them. But seeing her act all sleazy, then picking up Brody’s phone when Rachel calls to rub it in her face is absolutely awful. Sue (Jane Lynch) can be a bit of a monster, but even she has more humanity than Rachel’s new teacher.
Not that “Glease” is a bad episode, by any means. All six of the musical numbers are very well done, no matter what my complaints are, plot wise. Blaine (Darren Criss) and Sugar (Vanessa Lengies), in particular, are perfectly cast in Grease. Newell and Benoist, and, to a lesser extent, Tobin, are solidifying their roles as the new stars of Glee, and they definitely have the chops to do so. It’s awesome to see Santana and Brittany together again. Almost every actor gives a fine performance, and most of the story choices make sense, even if a few are regrettable. As such, despite my nit picking, I liked the episode a lot overall. There just needs to be some tweaks to the larger arcs to make the season gel a little better.
Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.