This summer, I’ll be going back to review the season one episodes of FOX’s Glee. These are fresh reviews, not reposts, and I hope you will enjoy reliving the first season with me.
“The Rhodes Not Taken” introduces recurring character April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth, The West Wing, Pushing Daisies). April was a senior when Will (Matthew Morrison) was a freshman in glee club, and he always admired her. After Rachel (Lea Michele) quits the New Directions, Will discovers April never officially graduated, and convinces her to take Rachel’s place. April jumps at the chance, having been squatting in an empty house, imbibing heavily, and presumably sleeping with many men. April has a fantastic voice, but she’s an irresponsible alcoholic, and that does not mesh well with the high school kids. Finn (Cory Monteith) sways Rachel into returning, and April heads off to try to fix her life.
Chenoweth is amazing, of course, both musically, and with comedy chops. She is the perfect actress for Glee, so it’s no wonder she’s been asked back twice more since “The Rhodes Not Taken.” I would never say a word against Chenoweth’s personal contributions to the series, or the talent she wields with such grace and charisma. Chenoweth’s presence will always be welcome, and something to look forward to, and I hope she returns to the halls of McKinley many, many more times. In fact, should Morrison ever decide to leave the series, she would make a perfect glee club director.
That being said, the character of April is far from appropriate in a school setting. In a twisted variation on Never Been Kissed, April recaptures her high school glory by giving Kurt (Chris Colfer) alcohol and showering, and likely sleeping, with the football players, including Puck (Mark Salling). Emma (Jayma Mays) comments on the bad behavior to Will, disapprovingly telling him that April’s backpack is always “clinking with empties.” If Emma notices, surely other teachers do, too, and they do not share Emma’s loyalty to Will. Glee sometimes goes down outlandish paths, but this is one of the most unrealistic. April would never get away with acting like this in high school, especially with the extra scrutiny that she surely faces, being an adult in a typical childish setting.
But the inappropriateness does not end with April. I remember being shocked that a high school would allow Will to stage a production of The Rocky Horror Show in season two. Not only is Sandy (Stephen Tobolowsky) doing Cabaret, which has at least as much adult content as Rocky Horror, but he speaks of putting on Equus, including the full nudity aspect. Even if Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) gives his staff a very loose leash, none of this would ever happen. Figgins would likely lose his job, and so would all of the teachers that went along with the schemes. Suspending disbelief only goes so far.
“The Rhodes Not Taken,” like a handful of other episodes of Glee, is particularly sex obsessed. Besides April sleeping with students, Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman) tries to trade a good review in return for seeing Rachel without her shirt on, and Finn plays on Rachel’s sexual attraction to him to get her to rejoin the New Directions. This is not a complaint. At times, Glee can actually seem a little chaste, since it follows the “good” kids at McKinley High, and has an innocent, crackerjack quality to many of its musical numbers. I applaud the inclusion of an adult topic, when kept between students, as sex truly does rule many high school minds and bodies.
Well, that, and gossip. At this point, none of the non-jocks are friends with Quinn, or very close to Finn, so it’s forgivable that they take such delight in the pregnancy scandal. Luckily Glee will soon correct that, and many students will face the realities of such an occurrence, not just scoff about it.
Unfortunately, it’s really unfair of Finn to play on Rachel’s attraction. Finn is many things, but his devious side is not one that comes out all that often, and hurts his character when it does. He was not raised to act like this, and even though it’s in service of the glee club, it’s hard to forgive Finn for hurting Rachel in this way. Rachel is willing to set aside a lot of her own interests for Finn, and if he cares about her at all, he shouldn’t ask her to, let alone trick her.
Rachel angrily tells Finn, after being hurt, “My dreams are bigger than that… They’re bigger than you.” I’m not convinced this is strictly true. The same issue crops up at the end of season two. Rachel is torn between singing on a Broadway stage and her desire to be with Finn. Even though her words say that her professional goals come first, her actions often make Finn more important. It will be interesting to see how she eventually chooses. If she, and fans, are lucky, she will not have to pick. Finn should allow her to be a star, and stand by her as she is.
Rachel isn’t all selfish. She claims friendship is the reason she returns to the New Directions. This is debatable, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She is still new to having peers care about her, but as the series goes on, Rachel will form close bonds with several of the others.
It doesn’t seem like there is a ton of music in “The Rhodes Not Taken,” yet the songs that are performed are above average, if not including a couple of the best numbers in all of Glee. Interestingly, this episode also contains some actual songs used as background music, sung by their original artists, not the cast. Other shows do this all of the time, of course, but Glee rarely does so.
The beginning of the episode has yet another rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” with Quinn (Dianna Agron) standing in for Rachel. It sounds good, though it is cut very short by Quinn’s morning sickness. As such, it’s hard to tell if Quinn is up to the task. Her fellow students certainly don’t think so.
The New Directions later perform “Last Name” with April, which is good, but not great. Country music is fine for Chenoweth, but it’s not exactly in the wheelhouse of the cast. They do a serviceable job, but it’s quickly forgotten. This is probably because the number that follows, “Somebody to Love,” is downright amazing. The power and vocal talent showcased among several of the group shakes the rafters, and is a top notch example of what the kids can do.
Will and April sing “Alone” in the bowling alley, and much like “Last Name,” it’s good, but not particularly memorable. The pair need a sweet moment to show how they have bonded this week, and Will finally gets to sing with his former idol, something that is expected in such an episode. There’s not really anything specific to complain about, but not much justifiable praise to heap, either.
Rachel also performs part of “Cabaret,” which is hard to enjoy because of Sandy’s incessant interruptions. Rachel and April do “Maybe This Time” from separate rooms, and that, along with “Somebody to Love,” is the highlight of the episode. Both women have very strong belting voices, and kill a song meant for a diva, which they arguably are. Chenoweth has plenty of experience on the Broadway stage, but Michele holds her own, and proves that she has a future in this field. Wonderful job!
My Weekly Random Bits:
Jacob Ben Israel is slightly stalking Rachel throughout season one. It’s too bad he’s reduced to a very occasional cameo in season two. Sussman is very funny.
I understand Puck and Matt (Dijon Talton), whom we never find very much out about, sleeping with April, but Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), too? Even though Mike is on the football team, he always comes across as a very unusual type of athlete, and certainly not just a boy who would chase anything in a skirt, like his teammates. Chalk this one up to the creative team not yet knowing who Mike is, or his place in the show, yet.
Emma tells Finn that there are far more music scholarships available than athletic ones. While much google searching has not given me exact numbers, this statement seems circumspect. Wwhen broken down to Divison I football scholarships versus number of kids competing for them, as compared to overall music scholarships at every college, the figure is definitely correct. However, many music scholarships only give a little bit of money, far from a full ride. And both represent very different levels of success for the future. Basically, what Emma says is incomplete, at best, and irresponsible, at worst.
Glee has a love affair with Wicked. There is nothing wrong with that, as it is a fantastic show, and still relatively new, as compared to many other musicals. Both stars of the original Broadway version, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, play recurring roles on Glee beginning in season one. Some of the most memorable Rachel and Kurt songs from the first two years are from Wicked. Rachel and Kurt even get on the Wicked stage during the New York-set season two finale. “The Rhodes Not Taken” begins that love affair, which shows no signs of abating. Is it too much to hope for a Joel Grey guest spot next year?
Check back in this column for another Glee review soon!