Glee Review-Recap Season 5 Episode 19 ‘Old Dog, New Tricks’: Good boy!

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I’ll give first-time Glee screenwriter Chris Colfer this: His Old Dog, New Tricks was one of the show’s sweetest episodes ever. From lost dogs to forgotten oldsters, it had heart.

But it was also a mixed bag.

The glitches lay in reconciling the avarice and inattention of Kurt’s too-busy friends — notably Rachel and Santana — with the feel-good yarn about reconnecting with lost loved ones, cherishing the aged and protecting helpless animals.

Clearly, Rachel’s face-saving animal-rights charity, Broadway Bitches (love that name!), was all about her, and merely exploited pitiful pooches, as partly driven by Santana’s manipulative free-lance publicity job for the cause. But in the happy end we were somehow expected to see its value anyway, while overlooking the hollowness, and I couldn’t.

Though I appreciated the doggy tale’s grounding in Mercedes’ wise counsel to an eager Sam that he wasn’t ready to be a doggy dad, and though I cherished the episode’s many warm moments, that ending felt tied up in a too-neat bow. If Rachel had had a change of heart toward homeless dogs, she didn’t truly show it (the irony being that Lea Michele is an animal rights activist).

Too, a daughter who was bitterly estranged for many years wouldn’t go visit her aging mama at a retired performers rest home while bearing flowers, just because Kurt argued that she should. But it was still a nice moment. Call it a wish-fulfilling fantasy, but it did serve the hopeful sentiments Colfer offered.

And give the guy props for a spectacular and gutsy performance in a wired harness as Peter Pan, when Kurt winds up starring in the rest home’s shaky production and enlivening the quietly desperate lives of its denizens. Adding Madonna’s Lucky Star also was an apt reinvention for the creaky show, which will be NBC’s second live Broadway-style telecast late this year. (Clay Aiken as Pan? He’s too busy in politics.)

The other songs were even better — and I’m hoping Colfer had a hand in choosing them, since they played such a big part in his story and felt so right.

Eddie Money’s Take Me Home Tonight perfectly suited the adopt-a-dog event it scored — and for any who wonder about “Ronnie” in the lyrics, that’s Ronnie Spector, lead singer of  early-’60s girl group the Ronettes, whose Be My Baby was produced by her eventual husband, Phil, now disgraced by shooting a woman to death. (How’s that for a jam-packed little show-biz lesson?)

Then we had a song by the thinking man’s rock star, Warren Zevon, with the bouncy and howling Werewolves of London from his breakout 1978 solo album Excitable Boy. (Before that he wrote the Turtles’ Outside Chance.) And Modern English’s I Melt With You is one of the most buoyant songs of the early ’80s, and once scored a richly romantic montage in Nic Cage’s Valley Girl.

But the number of the night for me was Memory, the show-stopping classic from Broadway’s Cats, as sung by Colfer’s Kurt and, briefly, by the rest home’s forgotten star, played by recent Oscar nominee June Squibb. (It was also nice seeing Tim Conway and Billy Dee Williams as fellow retired actors.)

The song is undeniably beautiful, and its melancholy mood fit the moment, as old actors reminisced. This also was my favorite Chris Colfer vocal in five seasons of Glee. The song suited his voice so well, and he performed it with such vocal delicacy, yet also emotional verve. Thanks, Chris.

I’d thank him wholeheartedly for his first TV writing, too, but I did have my reservations. Yet I respect what he did.

As writers we’re told, “Write what you know.” Well, Colfer knew he loved animals, and as he’s said in an interview, feisty old ladies are his “favorite human beings on the planet.” That, in itself, made the episode sing.

He conveyed such love with charm, humor and pathos — while also giving his character a spotlight he hasn’t had of late and leaving his relationship with Blaine in a holding pattern. This was a Kurt story, as the talented kid from Lima wearied of fading into the background of his friends’ achievements and struck out on his own in a special way.

Now we await next week’s season finale to launch a huge leap to Season 6, which Fox says will vault ahead in time and not be New York-centric. And I’m ready — I’ve loved Glee changing, so why stop now?

Until then, my cap’s off to Chris Colfer for restoring a thing that’s crucial to Glee yet sometimes missing amid the snark, apart from its soaring songs. And that’s heart.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

 

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2 Responses to “Glee Review-Recap Season 5 Episode 19 ‘Old Dog, New Tricks’: Good boy!”

  1. Stephanie Strain Says:

    Pretty decent recap of Glee’s (and Colfer’s) “Old Dog, New Tricks”. I loved the script; it reminded me of season 1 Glee and all of the performances were very well done. I do not normally care much for Samcedes, but this line worked well. Sam was almost back to season 2 (the best for him). Artie and Santana were funny as heck – especially Artie. Blaine was in short supply but very well done & with an incredibly sweet and supportive stance throughout. I didn’t initially care much for the song list, but the covers and, most especially, the scenes conquered any lingering qualms about them.

    I’m sorry that you didn’t “get” how people can change their stars (lucky or not). It wasn’t just Kurt’s argument that she SHOULD see her mom, but his argument that she won’t always have the opportunity to start over. My mother died when I was around Colfer’s age and our relationship was much like that of Maggie & her lawyer daughter. I’d loved her dearly, but Mom was never there – including forgetting my birthday. We had reconciled, but I’d still give anything I have to have her back. THAT argument was Kurt’s coup-de-grace.

    And Rachel was already feeling bad about failing to support Kurt. The mother’s (who wanted the “tripod” pup) diatribe and perfectly accurate jibe that she doubted that Rachel cared about much of anything, let alone the dogs. And Rachel had tracked her down to bring the mother & son to the event to give them the dog (and the dog a caring home).

    I do not mean any of this in a confrontational manner, by the way. Everyone has an opinion and it would be a very colorless world if we all had the same opinion.

  2. farsider Says:

    Great response Stephanie. Well thought out. I will say I WANT to believe the daughter could suddenly turn from bitter to loving, and I’m not saying she couldn’t do that, or that it doesn’t happen in life. I’m just saying it was A-to-C writing, instead of A-to-B-to-C. It was a leap to satisfy a pre-existing message. And as for Rachel, she never was allowed to articulate in words her own change of heart, or her shame at her exploitativeness. We were simply expected to buy it and get it. Again, some gaps in the character’s arc. Other than that, a great feel-good episode with warmth and humor.
    — Bruce

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