It’s finally here! We’re done with Ohio, a state I dearly love, but which has been played out on FOX’s Glee, and the story has shifted entirely to New York City. I’ve mentioned for weeks in these columns my hope that things will improve when this happens. Now that the first episode solely in the big city has aired as of last night, has the show gotten better? In a word, yes.
“New New York,” the most recent installment, is not the best episode of Glee ever. Other than a great, big opening number, “Downtown,” which shows Blaine (Darren Criss), Sam (Chord Overstreet), and Artie (Kevin McHale) joining Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) in New York, nothing huge happens. It settles into what will likely be the fairly conventional stories of these people for the near future. Yet, it lacks most of the stuff that didn’t make sense before, as well as the cheesiness, making for a higher-quality series.
Rachel’s plot in “New New York” is about losing who she is. Talk about white girl problems! Gifted a town car and driver by her production, she suddenly realizes that she’s locked in a gilded cage, not experiencing the city or its people. In Rachel fashion, realizing this does not mean she truly grasps reality, still wrapped up in her sheltered, privileged attitude, but at least she makes efforts to work on this, and ends the episode with a terrific “People” performance, beautifully staged on the street.
Rachel enlists the help of Artie to keep her reigned in. Artie is having his own problems. We don’t yet see where he lives (not a dorm, since he has to commute to school), but he does spend lots of time hanging around the other McKinley grads, the new clique in New York, and has to ride the subway. This goes south when he is mugged. Rachel decides riding with him will help him feel safe, and he is a straight talker, so he can call her on her crap.
I have to admit, it feels mighty strange to see Rachel and Artie together, since they’ve shared very little screen time in the past. They are not close friends. But I guess in a city of millions, you cling to the familiar, and so it makes sense they’d begin to hang out more now. Their “Don’t Sleep on the Subway” duet is surprisingly fun, and even though it’s pretty far-fetched that they find Artie’s mugger and get revenge (as well as his stuff back), that is a hallmark Glee plot twist, so it doesn’t feel tonally off.
The rest of the players aren’t getting along as swimmingly. Kurt and Blaine start off fairy tale-perfect with “You Make Me Feel So Young,” but things quickly deteriorate from there. Kurt feels smothered by Blaine, now together all the time, in class and at home. Blaine doesn’t feel like the loft is his home since Kurt won’t let him make it his own. It’s hurting their relationship, and unless they can change the status quo, they risk losing what they have, something neither of them want.
Both end up going to Elliott (Adam Lambert) for advice. Kurt, because Elliott is one of his best friends, and they jam out to “Rockstar” together. Blaine, thinking Elliott may be trying to steal Kurt, but quickly finding a new pal in his own right as they share a moment and a little guitar improv. Elliott is not only wise, but he cares about them both, and so he helps them find a solution, which just reinforces that he should be upgraded to main character immediately. In the end, Blaine decides he needs to move out, it being too soon for the couple to live together, especially with the pressures of school and Blaine having just moved to the city, and then they can continue to happily date.
The dissolution of Blaine and Kurt’s co-habitation is well-handled. It would be very easy for this to seem like a step back or the first stage of a break up, but that’s not how it comes across. These guys are pretty self aware, at least when they have a sounding board to help them see themselves, and they’re smart not to rush things. This is a very dynamic time in their lives, and it’s not a bad thing if they both want to work on themselves as individuals before spending the rest of their lives together. This not only makes sense, but is more than most guys of their age could ever figure out. They will survive this.
Sam is also a source of tension between the two, though Kurt likely uses Sam as an excuse more than actually being annoyed with him directly. True, Sam is crashing on their couch and playing video games all day, but Blaine fixes that when he takes him out to sing “Best Day of My Life,” an energetic performance that inspires Sam to cut his hair and go back out on the job hunt, soon landing his first modeling gig. Unfortunately, the agency-provided housing is full of drugs and bad peer pressure, so that doesn’t solve all of their problems.
The solution may be a bit too-neat, but it works in rounding out the new cast. Mercedes (Amber Riley) announces she’s moved to the city that never sleeps to join them, and conveniently has a spare room she’s willing to let Sam and Blaine share, thus solving the housing crisis. Perhaps there isn’t a real good reason to bring Mercedes back now, but she’s been missed and I hope she sticks around. The tension between her and ex-boyfriend Sam is interesting, and she herself has always been a character I’ve liked, even when the show takes her arc in unrealistic directions, as her recording contracts have done.
Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris) are absent from “New New York,” so the hour doesn’t give us a full picture of what Glee: New York Edition will be. However, the make up of the group they have now is fantastic, the songs are all wonderful, not a dud among them, and it feels right to get back to the basic chemistries that first compelled the show. Artie still drags things down a little, but since he’s the only lame character left, that can be overlooked, especially the way they use him to balance out Crazy Rachel. I am not ready to declare victory for the reborn show just yet, but early signs are positive.
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
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