Just when you thought Glee couldn’t get any more ridiculous than a mother-daughter “Poker Face” duet, it breaks out choreographed pregnant teenagers and Matthew Morrison seducing Jane Lynch. But instead of pulling us out of the action like any good ridiculousness does, it just makes us rubberneck—like a particularly bad car crash—so we miss a lot of what makes it good.
Not to say that this episode was bad. The writers were back on with dialogue, delivering classic Sue Sylvester gems (“Trophies are like herpes, you try to get rid of them but they just keep coming.”) She came strong out of the gate after her absence in last week’s episode. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Glee attempts to tell a story with its musical choices by focusing on a central theme; in this episode, we see the kids are down about their chances in the upcoming regionals, bullied by rival championship group Vocal Adrenaline and trying to find an outlet for the anger that comes from regret. But the show had to keep reminding us this by dropping the phrase “in a funk” several times, so how successful was it?
We open with Jesse St. James, Rachel’s diva ex, revealing that he’s transferred back to Carmel High and rival group Vocal Adrenaline because neither Rachel nor New Directions gave him the ego boost he required. The group commandeers the auditorium (which they think is small but, considering how many of the central conflicts of Glee episodes have to do with funding for the club, they’re doing pretty well for themselves) for a stilted performance of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust.” I wish Jonathan Groff would never leave.
Then we have Will and Terri finally legalizing their divorce, which sets up the other main conflict in this episode—how they deal. We’ve seen a lot of Will’s dealing, which includes making out with Emma, making out with Ms. Corcoran and having sleepovers with high school buddy April. Now we see Terri diabolically flirt with an awkward high schooler.
While it’s believable given past characterizations that Finn and Puck would slash Vocal Adrenaline’s tires while in payback mode and end up having to work the debt off, Will’s sudden decision to seduce Sue is forced and incredibly awkward. After preaching to the Glee club about funk music being “soul meets anger” with a lot of passion and emotion, we see him going to Sandy for drugs (the same guy he got some from in the pilot to frame Finn and convince him to join the Glee club.) It highlights his flaws as the kind of guy that doesn’t practice what he preaches. Moreover, if funk is about passion and emotion, where’s all the passion and emotion in this episode?
Quinn Fabray’s performance of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” was the closest we felt to emotion, but was destroyed by the awkward pregnant teenager choreography. I kept waiting for one of them to pull an M.I.A. and have a water break mid-performance. Her anger at being cast aside, looked down on because of her pregnancy is something that could be real and raw and powerful, but instead we get a cast-off comparison to racism and a feel-good moment where Mercedes and Quinn bond.
The most potential was Puck and Finn’s Beck performance, singing “Loser” while walking through the aisles of Linens n’ Things. It was a dream sequence, but it was seamlessly integrated into the narrative of the show, the overproduction of the music worked for the song, and you have all the drones in the store singing along.
Will’s decision to take a page out of Jesse’s book and seduce Sue in order to “teach her a lesson” or “keep her distracted” or whatever reason seems to fall in line with him being a complete man-slut. So do those jeans he was wearing and unnecessarily lingering camera shots. Matthew Morrison has an incredible voice (and a record deal to prove it) and Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good” was all the better for it. But the expression on Sue’s face probably mirrored what it felt like to watch: awkward, one part abject horror, one part fascination.
It’s funny to see how Sue handles it, though, and how she shows up to a date wearing a track suit and a pearl necklace. We did see her desire for companionship—and how it changed her attitude—back when was crushing on the news anchorman. But her self-loathing completely ignores her sister, whom we’ve been introduced to in touching moments where we can actually see Sue as human and not just evil cheerleading robot.
As a testament to golden quips and curveballs, “Funk” teetered on the edge of success. It illustrated the pitfalls of everyday life—dead-end job, bullying, failure, loneliness—in a way that was relatable, but distracted from the truer parts of the episode with outrageous stunts and barely-explained decisions. I don’t want you to pull stunts, Glee, I want you to tell me that you love me.