Glee Season 3 Episode 11 ‘Michael’ Review/Recap: Startin’ Somethin’

A confession: I’m in Rachel’s camp. I’ve never been particularly inspired by Michael Jackson. I won’t say why, to allay the haters, but believe me, I have my reasons.

Yet I was inspired by Glee’s nine performances of music by Jackson, sister Janet and old group Jackson 5 in the song-drenched spectacle of its MJ-tastic Michael episode.

Why? That one I can answer. Whether it’s Zach Woodlee’s brilliant choreography, Adam Anders’ musical mettle or the cast’s stirring performances, Glee inspires me most with its music.

In fact, can we settle this, I say to show biz academies and voting blocs? Glee belongs in its own category. It’s not a comedy. It’s not a dramedy. It’s a musical fantasy with fun and meaning, and its music alone makes it the best damn show on a TV landscape littered with same-old-things while Glee, a bold little show no one else was willing to try, stands out.

And stand out it did with some of this season’s finest performances, starting with the YouTube hit (until it was pulled after well over a million views) Smooth Criminal.

Was this not one of Glee’s best numbers ever? Everything didn’t just work — it astonished, from the dazzling face-off between dueling singers Santana and Sebastian to the fierce playing of two cellists, of all things (an actual act, being a Croatian duo known as 2Cellos) to the incredible quick-cut editing. Show me two minutes of  any TV show that can match that performance. Show me.

Yes, classical musicians can rock, and so did Black or White, Bad, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ and another of the night’s best numbers, a remake of Janet and Michael Jackson’s video for Scream. The fantasy scene from Artie’s head had an edgy, ambulatory Kevin McHale and a boyishly new-image Harry Shum Jr. dancing and prancing in a compelling frenzy on a black-and-white outer space set.

I Just Can’t Stop Loving You was a bit syrupy, but not nearly as much as the unaccountable Ben — a love song dedicated to a rat — as cheer-up medicine for a pre-surgery Blaine. (Gee, uh, thanks Rachel, Kurt and Finn.) Nicely sung? Well, sure. But that song — and the eye patch . . . I don’t know. The whole thing was put-offishly weird when it should have been sweet.

But Dianna Agron’s rare lead for a glammed Quinn’s Never Can Say Goodbye and Amber Riley and Chord Overstreet’s inevitable smooch setup with Human Nature were satisfying in the latter’s mid-tempo, mellow groove and the former’s pop potency.

Have we covered all the numbers — at least the ones that aired? (I Want You Back didn’t, though it has a formal studio recording.) Yes we have, while waiting for Billie Jean, Beat It and — dare I hope — Dirty Diana in a Season 4 MJ special.

So what about the plot?

As I see it, this is exactly what Glee needed at this stage: a start in resolving issues about characters’ futures.

We know Quinn is headed to Yale. (Nice knowing you, Dianna.) We know Rachel and Kurt both made NYADA finalists. (But why is that so celebrated, when they still might not get in?) And we know Rachel told Finn she’d marry him (couldn’t resist that ring, I guess), though she showed a hint of hesitation.

We also should know that Blaine’s eye injury via a quite evil Sebastian was a smart way to write him out of a couple of shows so Darren Criss could go do his Business on Broadway (and business he did, with a $4 million three-week gross).

Some characters’ new directions remain in limbo, but at least Ryan Murphy isn’t holding back till season’s end to let us know where this show is going. Instead, he’s startin’ somethin’ now and setting things on course. That’s the way life works, too — incremental changes leading to big ones.

Did we need anything else? With so much music to serve, I think not. As I’ve long held, Glee is a musical fantasy — with the accent on each — and musically, did it deliver at Season 3’s halfway point? That’s as rhetorical a question as “Do the Warblers rock piping?” (But why did they allow Sebastian’s attacks? Dalton has zero tolerance toward bullying.)

Uh, one last point.

So, Ryan, no big theme episode extravaganzas this year, right? It’ll be all about core characters.

Well, I forgive you. This one was worth it. And even with little tale to tell and too much phony-sounding pacifism, the musical part of this musical fantasy had me hooked.

In Glee’s case, sometimes the songs are enough. I wish the carpers and haters could figure that out. Their loss. Our gain. That’s a black or white distinction that sticks.

— Bruce Westbrook

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4 Responses to “Glee Season 3 Episode 11 ‘Michael’ Review/Recap: Startin’ Somethin’”

  1. parker Says:

    I watched the show while being broadcast, and the very next day on tape from the night before. I’m not crazy about MJ, but his music seemed to be done so right by the Glee folk. They brought a whole new kind of energy to these Pop tunes, as they have done with so many other popular songs. And it’s fun to watch our 30-year old high school students continue to ‘grow up’ and go through the motions of life. All in all, yet another fantastic episode in one of TV’s best shows.

  2. farsider Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Parker. Yes, the Glee cast does tend to make much music sound better, transcending the label of being merely a “cover” act. (And of course, they’ve also done much original music, inventive mash-ups and reinterpretations.) I don’t think any of the high school cast is 30 years old yet, though (if they’re telling the truth). The oldest is Cory, at 29, who does hit that mark in May.

  3. it's not important Says:

    Michael Jackson is the best. He’s not a legend, he’s the Icon of all music. No one will ever be like him. No one will ever better would sing his songs. His songs are more than perfect. Compared to Him, the glee cast is amateur. PS I hate all Michael Jackson haters.

  4. farsider Says:

    There’s that absurdly overused hype word again — icon (not a capitalized formal word, btw) — and a string of arrogant, ineloquent, unsubstantiated absolutes: “of all music,” “no one,” “more than perfect.” Are you aware there are no degrees of perfection? Look it up. “More than perfect” is like saying “more than all.” And calling show biz pros such as Lea Michele “amateur” just makes you a hater–which you acknowledge yourself by saying you “hate” all MJ haters. Did Michael teach you to hate? What great fans he has. Try reining it in and your gushy praise may be a bit more palatable.

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