I love Ian Brennan’s vision for “Glee.”
“Makeover,” which “Glee” co-creator Brennan wrote and Eric Stoltz directed, wasn’t a Very Special episode like last week’s “Britney 2.0.” There was no musical icon to celebrate or serious social issue to tackle. There was a special guest star in Sarah Jessica Parker, but Brennan knows how to write to that having previously penned Gwyneth Paltrow’s debut episode “The Substitute” and Ricky Martin’s “The Spanish Teacher.”
More importantly, Brennan knows how to keep “Glee” light on its feet. “Makeover” was both the most relaxed and best episode we’ve seen so far in Season 4. We’re still making progress.
This was the first week where the show felt like it had room to breathe while also servicing both sides of its newly split focus. In Ohio, Blaine decided to run against Brittany for student council president, with Sam and Artie as their respective running mates. In New York, Kurt applied for an internship at Vogue.com and found an instant connection with Parker’s Isabelle Wright, a stark contrast to the bitter taskmaster Kate Hudson’s been playing at NYADA the last two weeks.
Both locations also had a simple secondary subplot — Mr. Schuester’s creative crisis, Rachel’s escalating flirtation with Brody — and left it at that. By “Glee” standards, that’s positively restrained. Even better, almost every one of the storylines succeeded as fun (the election), sweet (Isabelle’s improbable but delightful mentoring of Kurt) or simply overdue (Schuester realizing he needs more to do). The least successful moments all involved Dean Geyer’s unrelentingly poor performance as Brody, but the good news is that he was the only one of the significant new additions to play a major role in the episode.
Once again, I’ve got to say that Finchel fans are fighting the good fight on the Brody situation. Not because there’s no reason Rachel shouldn’t at least try dating someone else — I’d actually love the idea of a credible, truly conflicted college love triangle a la “Felicity” — but because after three episodes of Brody there’s no question the character is an unequivocal dud. What a relief it was to see Finn turn up on Rachel’s doorstep at the end. If only for the hope that Lea Michele will soon be back to sharing romantic scenes with someone at her level.
Back to the positives, I appreciated the way Brennan kept drawing connections between success and disappointment through Isabelle’s concern that she’s not good enough for her job, Will’s inability to find inspiration after scoring at Nationals and Blaine’s realization that winning the election only meant something if he had Kurt to share it with. Very often, “Glee” is a show about chasing your dreams. And “Makeover” was an episode that very maturely considered how achieving a dream isn’t always enough.
But mostly this was an hour that was as playful, witty and charming as “Glee” gets. Even the music selections were looser and more lighthearted than normal. There wasn’t a current Top 40 hit anywhere in earshot. The picks only got as contemporary as Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” from 1998 and Sheryl Crow’s “A Change Will You Do Good” from 1997 — both released near the end of Brennan’s teenage years, which may have lent them a certain sentimental value with the writer.
I liked both of those, plus Blaine’s spin on Tears for Fears’ ’80s anthem “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” but the musical highlight was a boldly old fashioned production number set to a mashup of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” from “Annie” (the musical which helped launch Parker’s acting career on Broadway). Parker — who was terrific throughout the entire episode — collaborated with Michele and Chris Colfer on the highly theatrical rendition, which proved far more memorable and winning than the rushed “How soon can we get this on iTunes?” selections increasingly dominating the show.
So yeah, I wish there were more episodes of “Glee” carrying Brennan’s “written by” credit. But I’m almost always happy with the ones we get.
– While I appreciated seeing Jake and Marley reduced to virtually non-speaking extras, I wish Vanessa Lengies actually had a reason for her guest appearance. Maybe the reveal that the show hasn’t abandoned last season’s random Artie/Sugar romance was enough.
– I’m not even going to touch the “hate watch ‘Treme'” joke. I’ll just mention that it was there.
– Although this season has already been an improvement for Matthew Morrison over last, “Glee” still has a Schuester problem (there’s just less and less for him to do). And it was surprising to see his planned “Mister Monotony” number with Sue cut from the episode. (Fox even posted two promotional stills from the performance on their press site.)
– Add George W. Bush and John Wayne to Sam’s list of impressions, “hilarious 100% of the time.”
– Next week’s episode has the title that sent shippers everywhere into a frenzy: “The Breakup.” Who will it be? Rachel and Finn? Kurt and Blaine? Santana and Brittany? Why does it feel like it’s just going to be Mr. Schu and Miss Pillsbury?