Saturday, November 14, 2009

Glee Episode 9: Wheels

Sorry for the couple of days delay in my Glee review; for whatever reason I was really dragging this week.

Anyways, "Wheels" was one of my favorite episodes to date. Written by Ryan Murphy, it combined humor, melodrama, and music set against an absurdist background worthy of David Lynch. My favorite combination of things.

"Wheels" had a number of continuing story threads running through it and highlighting some of the real break-out characters, making me think that Ryan Murphy is finally solidifying what works and what doesn't. Notably, there was a refreashing lack of the two characters I find the most irritating: Mr. Shue and Rachel. Now, I don't know if it is because they come from theatre and have yet to learn how to act for television but I tend to tune out when Mr. Shue and Rachel take center stage.

Rather than the boring will-they/won't-they Finn and Rachel vs. Mr. Shue and Emma (or "Irma" as Sue calls her) stories, we got a nice variety of human pathos.

The "Wheels" of the title mainly refers to Artie, who finally gets a chance to be center stage. (And before I go further, let me reind you that 90% of the emotional confrontations that take place in this episode have the participants in wheelchairs - giving a delicious David Lynch feel to many of these scenes.) While the visual of Artie in his wheelchair has been one of the staples of the promotional materials, emphasizing the band of misfits appeal of Glee, Artie as a character has not yet had a chance to become fully rounded. He's had little moments, like the secondary solo in the "It's My Life/Confessions" mashup but nothing to really make him stand out. "Wheels" changes all of that and we get to see Artie as a person. And, honestly, he's just a regular high school guy.

Sue Sylvester has a subplot about treating handicapped people just like everybody else, which I'll get to in a minute, but I think that the Artie story also plays into it.

First we get a visual representation of Artie's lonliness with the sweet picturization of "Dancing With Myself," as Artie wanders through the school isolated from everyone else. The one bright spot in his life is Tina, the shy goth girl, whom he has a crush on. Tina has slowly opened up through the season and we see her bloom a little in "Wheels" as she finally confesses both her feelings to Artie and another secret. She's been faking a stutter since 6th grade.

Artie, rather than taking her confession as Tina opening up herself to him, see it as a slap in the face. In his mind, Tina is now "normal" whereas he is still "damaged." I hope we do get a change in Artie's way of thinking, eventually, because he totally owes Tina an apology. While, yes, Artie was a selfish d-bag by bitterly throwing the "normal" tag at Tina - as if it's not enough to just be extremely shy and awkward, she needs to be disabled for him to feel good about himself - it does show Artie to be very normal. Very teenage.

Tina explains that she faked her stutter because she was shy and didn't want people to get close and Artie retorts that the wheelchair pushes people away and that he never needed help. But, I wonder if Artie isn't putting too much blame on the wheelchair. As my sister says, the wheelchair didn't force him to wear dorky outfits.

I really hope we get to see more of this story, which treats Artie very much like a regular guy. His douchey behavior isn't excused away because of his wheelchair. It's all him.

And, yes, Sue Sylvester. Awesome Jane Lynch - if she was willing to cougar up this 30 year old filmi blogger, I would jump on that immediately. My dislike of Mr. Shue is matched by my extreme love of Sue, and I enjoy seeing her foil him from week to week. This week, she is forced to hold open auditions for the Cheerios and surprises him when she picks a girl with Down's Syndrome for the squad.

Mr. Shue is convinced that she is up to something and chastizes her for being hard on her new Cheerio to which Sue replies, "That's just how I roll. I'm hard on everyone." And calls Mr. Shue out for wanting to treat the handicapped girl as if she was special when it seems to Sue that she'd rather just be treated like everybody else.

Sue may be a bitch but she's an equal-opportunity bitch. I really liked the take-down of Mr. Shue's politically correct and weak willed ideals - much as she did in "Throwdown."

Now, let's talk Kurt. Kurt has emerged as one of my favorite characters, with Chris Colfer consistently stealing the spotlight even when he's only the back-up dancer doing scissor kicks in "Hate on Me". "Preggers" introduced us to his father, Mr. Hummel, a gruff blue collar auto mechanic who is supportive of his son, even if he doesn't exactly understand him. Mr. Hummel is back this week, fighting for Kurt's right to be treated like everybody else - the theme of "Wheels."

You see, Mr. Shue decides to do a more traditional glee club song - "Defying Gravity" from the Broadway show Wicked. He automatically gives the solo to Rachel, which annoys Kurt (and myself) greatly. Why should Rachel automatically have all the solos? When Kurt protests, Mr. Shue shuts him down and insists that Rachel will sing the song.

Here is where Mr. Hummel steps in. Seeing how unhappy Kurt is about the whole situation, Mr. Hummel goes to the mat for Kurt and secures a try-out, despite the fact that Mr. Hummel has been getting harrassing phone calls about his son. The glee club will have a 'Diva Off' for the right to sing "Defying Gravity."

The picturization for "Defying Gravity" was also really well done - alternating shots and audio of Rachel and Kurt seemlessly throughout the song. Chris Colfer really nails it, emoting the lyrics and giving definant looks to both Mr. Shue and Rachel where the lyrics demand it. Chris has a beautiful voice and contrasted with Lea, it is no contest. Lea's voice is just so bland. She can sing but it's nothing distinctive and I wish that Glee played more with this idea because it is the only interesting thing about the character of Rachel. Hard work and determination only get you so far - you either need real talent or real emotion after a while and Rachel has yet to show either one.

Kurt throws us a curve ball, though, and he deliberately blows the final high F.

Why? Because as he explains it to his father later, he values his dad's feelings more than he wants to be a star and he sees that his father needs more time to adjust to what it means for Kurt to be who is he is in the context of the wider community.

It's a bittersweet moment because we all know that Kurt does deserve to be in the spotlight but it's almost as satisfying to see Mr. Hummel tell Kurt that Kurt reminds him of Kurt's (dead) mother and that like her, he is the 'strong one' in the family.

(Just a small side note from FG - Chris Colfer's "Defying Gravity" is up on iTunes and it does NOT have the blown F, so please, please download it and listen for yourself. His countertenor is really beautiful. He has this pure tone to those high notes with just a hint of vibrato. And I don't know if this was on purpose but the song plays perfectly into the transition of his voice from chest to head voice. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's the money transition that the Beach Boys used in, like, every Brian Wilson solo.)

Finally, we get to the love triangle of glee (of Glee). How I love me some Puck. And dopey Finn. And uptight Quinn. Mark Salling, whether intentional or not, has the deadpan Puck one liners down cold and he didn't disapoint this week, speculating on what their bake sale money could buy. ("
$1,200. That's enough for the short bus and two cases of Natty Light for the ride home.") He and Quinn have a very nice chemistry and their little love triangle with the amiable and dopey Finn is oh, so, delicious! And I, for one, am extremely glad that Ryan Murphy realized the talent they had on hand in Mark Salling as Puck.

The finale with "Proud Mary" was acceptable but nothing special.

I can't wait until next week!


mukiecakes said...

Great review! I too really enjoyed this episode but I think in the end it fell short of what I thought it was trying to do and the message got lost in the end. I wish Kurt had not blown the F, that now I read you review I understand Artie better that he had reacted differently and that Finn got a job using the wheel chair was just not right. I loved the scene with Sue and her sister. I agree with you about Mr Shue and Rachel totally! Ok I could go on and on but I wish it had been even more...great as it was but could have gone that final push and it was poorer for me because of it. -Stacey

JaneHeiress said...

I have to admit to liking Mr. Shue for very shallow reasons--even though he acts like a jerk alot. He seems to me to be a pretty realistic depiction of someone who had everything in life come easy. It is extremely refreshing to get a break from the whole wife/counselor/coach love quadrangle, though.

Completely agree with your assessment of Artie. I hope he gets over himself too! And I'm loving Sue more every episode!

Great review.

shell said...

argh, i missed this episode. I'm going to have to add it to the list on my pvr to record every week. Thanks for the recap. It's almost like I got to see it!

Filmi Girl said...

Thanks for the comments!!

@Janeheiress I hadn't realized it but you are totally right about Mr. Shue acting like a guy for whom everything is easy! And that is exactly why I can't stand his character. It's nice to be able to put a reason to it.

Also, MM cannot rap to save his life and wish they would stop giving him hip hop songs AND not that gay men can never play straight characters, but he seems so awkward with the actress who plays his wife...

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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