FOX’s Glee presents a very frustrating installment this week in “The Back-Up Plan.” Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) is a Broadway star, earning rave reviews for her leading role in Funny Girl. A month into the run, though, she isn’t satisfied and begins to look elsewhere, despite her new agent (Richard Kind, Luck, Spin City) telling her she has a “face for radio” and can’t make it in TV or film. When Rachel catches the eye of a Fox executive (Community‘s Jim Rash), she risks her job to chase the next dream.
Throughout all of Glee, Rachel has wanted to do Broadway. Fewer than 50 shows, and she’s ready to give it up? It just doesn’t make sense. Had this episode taken place a year after opening, sure, I would buy it, and her stylistically cool “Wake Me Up” would work. True, Rachel’s heroes have crossed from stage to screen, so she’d eventually want to follow in their footsteps. But to finally achieve success and then risk it so carelessly, not appreciating what she’s accomplished? That doesn’t seem like Rachel.
I think Rachel’s producer Sidney (Michael Lerner), has it right when he says (I’m paraphrasing here) she’s a stupid, spoiled, bratty child. The only way to accept what Rachel is doing, lying to Sidney so she can fly to L.A. for a screen test and missing a performance, is to chalk it up to the brashness of youth. She doesn’t understand how badly she’s hurting herself, losing all respect and friendship from Sidney by the end of “The Back-Up Plan.”
It is to Rachel’s credit that she confesses what she does. That, combined with the reviews and ticket sales and a good friend are what save Rachel from being fired, barely. I really, really, hope she learns from this mistake and never tries something so boneheaded again.
Except, just when Rachel is at her lowest, the Fox exec calls again, telling Rachel she didn’t get the science fiction series she tested for (good, because sci-fi almost never thrives on Fox; see: Almost Human, Dollhouse, Firefly, etc.). Instead, he offers her a development deal. This means everything is still going right for Rachel, whipping her right back up another hill on the roller coaster. It’s a great moment for her, but I worry it will wash away any lesson she might take to heart in this situation.
The bad screen test could be another learning opportunity for Rachel. It’s hilarious how the execs squirm as Rachel delivers a fantastic rendition of “The Rose” because it’s so inappropriate for the role. This is what Hollywood is, where even greatness doesn’t mean anything in the wrong room, and Rachel should be humbled, even if her lack of preparedness isn’t really her fault here. Hopefully, she will understand she isn’t all that, but given the end result, it’s not likely.
Credit must be given to Jim Rash for a memorable turn. “The Back-Up Plan” is chock-full of big name guest stars, as next week will be, too, and yet, he stands out. It’s likely because his executive role could so easily have been a caricature, but he finds an authentic way to play it. He’s never a jerk, even when he could be, and is as supportive as he is rambling. There’s something likable and charming in the man that just shines through. Awesome.
Rachel isn’t the only character in Glee this week, of course. Kurt (Chris Colfer) invites Blaine (Darren Criss) to sing with him in front of a wealthy benefactor, June Dolloway (the amazing Shirley MacLaine). June only has eyes for Blaine during their fun “Story of My Life,” though, and sets her sights on making him a star, practically ignoring Kurt. This begins right away when she drags Blaine along to a fundraiser (the organizer of which is played by a completely wasted Eric Roberts, The Dark Knight), where they perform together. Then, she schedules him a showcase.
I love, love, love MacLaine, and I think June may be an interesting part for her. Unfortunately, her duet performance with Blaine, “Piece of My Heart,” is lackluster at best. Her voice does betray her age, even if she dances around like someone ten years younger. However, it’s the lack of energy in the song, inherent to this particular number, that does her in. Couldn’t someone have gotten a better musical choice for someone deserving of more? Plus, the way she looks equally at both Kurt and Blaine during their performance and talk after is teasingly cruel, not suited to her part, just done to build dramatics in the story.
Even worse, June means more strife for Kurt and Blaine. Blaine is determined to take Kurt with him on the train to stardom, and Kurt is more supportive than most would be in his situation. But June tells Blaine Kurt can’t be in the showcase, and Blaine lies to Kurt, unable to let down his fiance. Will Blaine choose Kurt or success? This could put a serious damper in their romance, either way.
Finally, Mercedes (Amber Riley) is faced with a similar choice when she wants to duet with Santana (Naya Rivera) on her album, but the producer (Gary Dourdan, CSI) wants a more famous singer, even after the two kill it with “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Santana tells Mercedes it’s fine, she should do what the label wants to give her record the best chance of success. Will Mercedes choose friendship or a chance at fame?
In the end, Mercedes doesn’t have to decide; she wins Santana a contract. This is just as much a cop out as Rachel being rescued at the last minute by the Fox exec. While Glee has only one more season to show us how these characters end up, and it’s always given their characters happy endings as much as possible, it still feels weak to have triumph come so easily now. Why can’t the characters spend the next year struggling, and only find what they seek at the end? It’s cool to see them doing well, but it just doesn’t feel realistic, sadly.
Disturbing are the rumors this week that Rivera has been fired from Glee. While unconfirmed, its been widely reported. The series would suffer a blow to lose her. She and Michele share a terrific scene in “The Back-Up Plan” as Santana saves Rachel’s bacon in the musical, then asks for nothing in return. After finally getting these ladies on good footing, it would be nice to see this friendship continue. I guess Rivera leaving means Santana and Brittany could finally have their happy ending, though if the actress is fired, we may not see the couple run off together, which would suck.
I’m also disappointed that Rachel’s leading man and director are still MIA even though the last two installments have featured major Funny Girl stories. Were the actors just not available? Why cast them earlier in the season if they couldn’t return when needed? It just makes the world seem less fleshed out and more fake.
Still, at least the story is moving and the actors remain as interesting as they ever have been. I love the more narrowed focus of a handful of players every week, giving them more room to breathe and develop than when ten story lines are being juggled. Three threads seems to be the perfect number for Glee, and overall, “The Back-Up Plan,” while frustrating, is a solid episode.
Glee has two weeks left in its fifth season; it airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00JY0EG2K,B00JVP56OK,B00FGEO8WQ]