And lo, Glee is back. I mean the great Glee — the Glee that left me awestruck last season with its bold, brash musical fantasy, which managed to be meaningful and heartfelt while also wildly weird, wackily comedic and sensationally entertaining.
After a hit-and-miss start to Season Two — albeit amid flashes of greatness in Grilled Cheesus and Never Been Kissed — Glee has begun sustaining such greatness with this week’s The Substitute, a solid, richly satisfying show which didn’t sacrifice the series’ core values by yielding to a temporary guest star.
That guest was Gwyneth Paltrow, making her first scripted TV show performance as Holly Holliday (does any show concoct better names than Glee?), a substitute Spanish teacher and show choir coach when Will becomes ill. Luckily, I had such teachers in high school — ones who related stale subjects to kids with verve and imagination. And what better way to teach Spanish than to rant about Lindsay Lohan’s drug rehab history en espanol, as Paltrow did adroitly, having picked up the language while living in Spain.
As for her musical muscle, forget country, Gwynnie, and stick to pop songs and show tunes. Though Glee has indulged too much of its traditional Broadway bent of late (making the show itself no better than Mr. Schue with his Journey myopia), Holly and Rachel’s duet from Chicago was a dance-driven winner (more Kander and Ebb, please), and tapping musty movie musical Singin’ in the Rain worked well in one case: the splashy, vibrant, show-ending mashup of Rihanna’s Umbrella with the film’s title song. (Make ‘Em Laugh was too cookie-cutter and corny for me. Why not just watch Donald O’Connor do it again?)
Of course, no way a meager glee club with pitiful resources can instantly stage numbers with such dazzling production values — but that’s part of the fantasy of Glee. We shrug off the illogic because we appreciate the dazzle so much. On with the show!
But back to Paltrow, who had the best guest-starring role ever on Glee and played it to the hilt, from acting to music-making. Holly’s enthusiasm was infectious, as embodied by her impromptu Forget You with the kids. And when we learned she has another side — a deep, dark hurt beneath her giddy heedlessness — that made her all the more interesting. Plus, she had some of the night’s best dialogue on a show known for witty one-liners and ripping repartee.
The issue of Figgins being ill and Sue taking over as principal (this cannot last) wasn’t quite resolved at the end, though I believe Sue used the past tense in referring to her terrifying tenure. At least Will wound up back in the saddle.
But why is it, Will, when confronted by angry women, that you never easily and quickly defend yourself? Emma tears into you about dallying with Shelby Corcoran and April Rhodes, and you fail to mention that you never slept with either, though clearly Emma thinks you did. Terri tears into you about sharing beers with “girlfriend” Holly right after having sex with Terri, and you don’t bother mentioning that Holly is a rival and a professional colleague, not a girlfriend. It gets old.
But this show is getting new again — getting back to the freshness and vitality which made it great from the get-go. I knew Glee would come around this fall, given time, and it certainly has, getting well fast with the past two weeks’ shows. We’ve even got endearing ongoing new characters in Coach Beiste and in Blaine, whose happy gay-talk with Kurt over dinner with Mercedes was a comical kick. And we should never take for granted this show’s consistent delivery of fantastic musical numbers. We don’t get that anywhere else on TV, so let’s cherish it.
And so, after a stumbling start, no more worries — Glee is back.
In fact, there’s no substitute.