Stars: Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Jessalyn Gilsig, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Matthew Morrison, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Jenna Ushkowitz
Writer: Ryan Murphy
Director: Bradley Buecker
Network: Fox, airs Tuesday nights
Original Telecast: May 18, 2011
Characters should be the backbone of any TV series. They should move a series forward, they should connect with an audience and there should be some consistency in their actions as well.
With GLEE in Season 2, it’s proven to be a topsy-turvy ride character-wise with random motivations, left-field personality switches and a heavy reliance on romantic pairings that are wholly unbelievable and lack any real chemistry.
That said, when GLEE is good, it’s great and in the case of this week’s episode “Funeral”, the series hits a home run dealing with regret and loss in a way that seemed completely impossible considering how disjointed the series has been the last half of the season.
The show starts off with typical Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) shenanigans, as she plans to re-route show choir’s plane to New York to Libya in order to ruin their chances at Nationals next week.
Then things take a tragic detour when it’s revealed that Sue’s older sister with Down’s Syndrome has passed away.
The ongoing storyline between Sue and her sister has given her much more character and heart than we’ve seen from her in the past. It sheds some light as to why she’s so against the Glee club (as well as being so bitter and mean), but it also shows a chink in her solid gold emotional armor.
The reveal of her sister passing away comes about in an incredibly believable backdoor way. When Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) finds out that Sue has kicked Down’s Syndrome high schooler Becky (Lauren Potter) off the Cheerio squad, he goes into a tailspin and confronts her as to why. That’s when Sue reveals she got rid of her, because she reminds her of her sister – and her sister just passed away.
From here, the Glee club decide they’re going to help Sue sort through her sister’s things and plan a funeral service. Sue does not know how to function through this – she’s not used to dealing with her emotions and this is a big thing for someone so closed off to go through.
It’s during this rare bonding between her, Mr. Schue and the Glee club that really makes this episode special. When Sue mentions that her sister’s favorite movie is WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the Glee club make the funeral service into a mini-WILLY WONKA motif. They conclude the ceremony by singing “Pure Imagination” from that film.
Another touching moment comes when Mr. Schue helps Sue get through her written speech about her sister, by coming on stage to finish it for her. This culminates in Sue grabbing Mr. Schue’s hand for comfort during the song “Pure Imagination.”
By the end of the episode, Sue says she’s done with trying to destroy the Glee club, and I hope this is true. It would be an incredible disservice to have her attack them again, after how much they’ve helped her. Hopefully going into next season, they give her another antagonist to continue her wicked ways. She does offer up a “Good Luck” to Mr. Schue as well.
Meanwhile, the episode is somewhat torpedoed by a totally annoying subplot involving Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) showing up as a “consultant” on Nationals. He wants to turn the Glee club into a high school version of AMERICAN IDOL and wants the singers to compete for the top solo spot. This turns ugly as Santana (Naya Rivera), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Rachel (Lea Michele) all compete against one another. Jesse is brutal in his critiques, except to Rachel, and Mr. Schue decides at the end of the episode by not splintering the group dynamic. They’ll work together as a team – no solo spotlights.
Okay, so I can understand them planning a funeral a week before Nationals (something Jesse says they shouldn’t do), but then, for Mr. Schue to allow some outsider to come in and ruin the group dynamic – and then decide his advice is useless, it’s totally ridiculous. It’s the kind of detours, just for the sake of creating unnecessary conflict, that irks me so much about this show this year.
Other big revelations – Finn (Cory Monteith) breaks up with Quinn (Dianna Agron) (again) and now he’s pining for Rachel (again!). Is it me, or is there zero chemistry between Finn and Rachel? That said, there’s zero chemistry between Rachel and Jesse, who they’re trying to push back together again too (let’s not forget that Jesse is older than Rachel, so that means he’s courting an underage minor – doesn’t anyone pay attention to these details in the writers room?)
Oh, and Mr. Schue decides they’re going to write some more original songs for Nationals. I love the idea of original songs again, but really, in one week a bunch of high school students are going to write songs that will blow classic songs out of the water on a New York stage? Only if they get help from super-producers (which they do off-screen, but on-screen). Not buying it either, but it’s the one gimme in this episode I’m willing to allow.
Mr. Schue has also agreed to go to Broadway after school lets out to join April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth). He hasn’t told the Glee club he’s doing this, because he feels the show will close before school starts up again in the Fall.
It’s clear Emma (Jayma Mays) still has feelings for him, but she’s happy he’s following his dream. There’s also Mr. Schue’s ex-wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) coming to her own revelation that she needs to move on as well. She just got a management position in Florida, so she’s moving on too. This makes sense, because they’ve hardly used Terri this season even though Gilsig has been listed in the main cast all year.
Songwise, “Pure Imagination” was a perfect use of the entire Glee club. It’s very touching too. Kudos there.
The other four songs are wrapped around the “auditions”. It’s just an excuse to show how ridiculously talented everyone is in the cast, but it slows the episode down considerably. Rivera gets all gravelly with the Amy Winehouse song “Back in Black.” It’s a solid for Rivera, though her highlight this year really was “Songbird” a few weeks back.
Kurt belts “Some People” from GYPSY, and it’s another good song for Colfer, though, personally, I’m getting sick of hearing so many show tunes on this show.
Giving another emotional performance is Michele with the Barbra Streisand tune “My Man” and it’s clear she’s singing it about Finn. Michele really gives the song her all – it’s quite impressive.
Even though Jesse says she’s the clear winner is Rachel, I would have to give it to Riley for her incredible rendition of the Otis Redding classic “Try a Little Tenderness.” She really has those big Aretha-style pipes and takes this song to a whole different level. Aretha reworked Redding’s “Respect” and made it a signature song, and Riley comes close to doing the same with “Tenderness.”
“Funeral” is a great GLEE episode, featuring the kind of storytelling it should be doing week in and week out. The characters, for the most part are acting like they should (and not acting differently just for a random plot point purpose) and the emotion is real.
Ironically, the way the show has pulled the rug out from underneath viewers all season will silly twists, I almost thought Sue Sylvester was pretending her sister was dead in order to trick the Glee club. That’s how much trauma the show puts on to viewers – something so heartfelt and sincere has to earn its sincerity by having to prove to the audience that’s what’s really going on. It’s a sad indictment of how uneven Season 2 has become, and again, I only hope going into Season Three, Sue remains her caustic self, and instead pushing her anger toward a new target (which is hinted at this episode).
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