Every Wednesday, our resident Gleek Eric Garneau gives his take on last night’s Glee covers.
In “The Purple Piano Project,” Coach Schuester rallies the troops after last spring’s devastating Nationals loss in New York City. New Directions needs to recruit, and it needs its mojo back. But the antagonistic Sue Sylvester — now running for a seat in Congress – has once again made up her mind to squash the glee club’s dreams. Also, alliteration abounds.
Hi everybody! Welcome back from summer break to my weekly Glee write-ups. I enjoyed writing this feature last year, and it seems like enough of you enjoyed reading it to warrant my continuation, so on we go into season three!
The show made a few subtle (not often a word we associate with Glee) changes coming into this latest season to address criticisms from the last – most notably, that the show had grown aimless. To guard against that happening again, the creative trio behind Glee did something new over the summer – they outsourced their writing. Now Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan have a co-executive producer, two consulting producers and two staff writers to help them craft stories (most interesting to me is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a veteran of Spider-Man comic books and, yes, the recent musical).
Whether the ideas for the premiere came from the new crew, the original creators or some mix of the three, Glee clearly has new directions on its mind this year (pardon the pun). “Purple Piano Project” finds the show setting three concrete long-term plot points for itself: 1) the club’s going back to Nationals this year; 2) many of the characters we follow will be graduating in the spring, and we’ll be tracking their college aspirations; 3) slightly more short-term, we already know the school musical we’ll get to see later in the fall, West Side Story (unlike last year’s cancelled Rocky Horror rendition). Whether or not successive episodes can manage to craft a compelling through-line that connects all of these story points remains to be seen, but at least the show seems to have some real sense of where it’s going – and we know at least some music that’ll be coming up soon (“Maria”? Absolutely. Odds on who’ll sing it?).
Musically, though, “Purple Piano Project” didn’t pack too many surprises. We know from summer interviews that the show’s creators wanted to try limiting the number of songs in each episode, but here we get five (plus one joke performance that shan’t see iTunes release), which was about standard for last season (maybe they’ll dial that back after the premiere). Further, none of the five are especially daring choices: we get an ’80s girl-pop song, three from musicals (two are mashed up) and one from a movie. Probably the most inventive choice here is the Tom Jones number; the sexy ’60s male crooner catalog hasn’t really been touched by Glee before tonight. How long until we get an Engelbert Humperdinck tune?
We Got the Beat (The Go-Gos cover)
This pretty staid rendition of the Go-Gos uber-popular 1980s pop song kicks off season three with…well, not really a bang or a whimper. The performance is fine, but not really noteworthy, except for perhaps in its selection of lead singers — after an obvious first verse lead from Rachel (Lea Michele), the song shares the wealth with Santana (Naya Rivera) and then, surprisingly, Brittany (Heather Morris), who usually just dances a lot. I’ve gone on record as saying I think Rivera’s one of the show’s best singers, and I’m thrilled to see her getting lead parts so early in the season, although if the end of this episode is any indication, it might be awhile before we get to her next one.
BONUS: Industrial rockers Bile share their unique interpretation with us.
Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead (from The Wizard of Oz)
Last season, I liked to talk about how the show too quickly cast Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer) in traditional Broadway/musical numbers or showtunes. I’m going to let this song slide, though, because it fits in quite well with their particular college aspirations – to go to New York City and study musical theater. I didn’t love the performance – it’s pretty much what you’d expect – but it’s sensible.
BONUS: I could post the Barbra Streisand version, but no… let’s hear what Ella Fitzgerald has to say.
It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones cover)
Much like “We Got the Beat,” Glee doesn’t do much to change this swinging 1965 classic. However, Darren Criss’ performance as Blaine just oozes cool; he embodies the spirit of Tom Jones and totally sells this song. I’m glad Blaine has joined New Directions this year; his time in the spotlight seldom disappoints.
BONUS: Christian ska-punks Five Iron Frenzy released a live recording of the song in 1999.
Anything Goes / Anything You Can Do (from Anything Goes / Annie Get Your Gun)
This musical medley of “Anythings” brings up another key aspect informing Glee this year — The Glee Project. That summer reality series ended up awarding three contestants guest-arcs of varying lengths on its parent show, and the first one (Lindsay Pearce) appears here as the Rachel Berry-esque Harmony, a competitor and fellow hopeful attendee of the NYADA school. It seems Glee‘s creators are taking the villain role Lindsay herself somewhat inhabited in Glee Project and basing a character around it; her part here also represents a clever way to acknowledge just how much like Michele’s character she really seems to be. But this much is clear: Lindsay Pearce can sing. I’m much more looking forward to Project winner Damian McGinty’s longer guest arc later down the road, but Lindsay does a great job here.
BONUS: “Anything You Can Do” has been recorded a lot; here’s a great version from the legendary duo of Doris Day and Robert Goulet.
You Can’t Stop the Beat (from Hairspray)
Pretty clever of Glee to bookend the episode with songs featuring the word “beat” in the title, no? This Hairspray tune provides New Directions with their usual giant group number, but solos from both Michele and Mercedes (Amber Riley) are notable for the power and passion behind them. It’s a good, energetic song to close out a solid first episode and hopefully launch a quality season three on its merry way.
BONUS: You won’t want to see this, but you might not be able to look away — Nick Jonas performs the song at an LA show this past August.
Tune in next week for another set of all-new Glee covers.