Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who's That Girl?: Mercedes Jones Edition...

Look, I know I very publicly quit glee just a few months ago. I quit watching it; I quit writing about it; I tried to quit following the news stories other reporters were filing. I just didn't want to pretend it existed (I'll admit it: when one reporter at TCA said 'Forgive me, but I don't actually know who's supposed to be graduating,' having missed the online controversy completely, a tiny part of me was jealous that I couldn't ignore it so easily. But then the rest of me took over, reminded me this was my job, and ignorance was not an excuse, and made fun of him for days. But I digress). I was so appalled on a personal level that something with clearly no direction or consistency was thriving in a medium where I believe story should reign. I was frustrated with the show's writers, the show's producers, the show's network for allowing it to be made that way, but even more so I was frustrated with the public, who still turned out in large numbers to consume it that way-- because as long as they did there would be no catalyst for change. But I will admit: I experienced a backslide.

It happened last week-- well, actually, if I'm being truthful it happened two weeks ago-- FOX posted the advance review screener of the second episode of this third season boasting a return for Ms. Idina Menzel, and I just couldn't look away. I knew she'd kill whatever little they gave her, and mostly I wanted to hear her sing something new. Ah, the things I'll do for my RENT alumni...

So I watched. And I didn't find myself scathing by the end of the forty-four minutes, though I'll admit I still bitched and moaned my way through most of them nonetheless. But the sour taste in my mouth had been sweetened by Menzel and her beautiful duet with Lea Michele, as well as the fact that Quinn (Dianna Agron) was finally getting something to do-- something that showed the hints of not being a one-episode wonder. And then FOX put up the review screener for "Asian F," this week's episode, a few weeks early.

Again it was an episode featuring Menzel, and I couldn't pass that up, right? Plus with such a title, it promised to be a heavy storyline for the underused Jenna Ushkowitz and the pleasantly surprising Harry Shum Jr., who really came out of the background to prove himself a leading man more capable than glee's own current leading man. But what really shocked me was just how much Amber Riley had going on.

Did glee get its groove back? At least Riley got to (finally!) show off hers!

I have been pushing for Riley to get to do something other than belt the big one since, well, day one. I knew she was rich for emotion and her character ripe for story. And even though what they gave her this time around wasn't perfect-- since everything for the supporting characters on glee seems to be a procedural storyline-- an "issue" of the week, if you will-- we didn't have much time to see the build-up or frustrations on Mercedes' face that would logically lead her to what some may wrongfully call a "diva fit." But if you were an astute viewer over the last two years who wasn't as in love with Rachel Berry (Michele) as, well, Rachel Berry, you knew if Mercedes was even half a real person, she was a ticking time bomb and it was only a matter of time.

Mercedes grew balls in "Asian F." Big balls. And maybe it was all thanks to her new boyfriend who finally told her she was worthy (and let's face it, that was incredibly sweet for a high school jock on TV, let alone in the real world), but it still was the kick-start she needed to become as strong and powerful as a person as her vocals always were. For two years, Mercedes was a shell of a character-- a shell of a person. All she was was a slightly bigger girl with a whole lot of talent. She was exploited by New Directions for said talent, and in a way, Riley was exploited by the show itself for it, too. She was trotted out to sing hard numbers, and deliver a few sassy lines of dialogue, complain about Rachel, have food issues, or even allow Quinn to move into her home (all off-camera! what the what??) but her words would fall on deaf ears. In one episode (albeit it, three years too late), though Mercedes became a character who was deserving of being a role model. She has been the true underdog this whole time-- neglected and overlooked by even those who are supposed to be her closest friends-- and she's not going to just lie down, let them walk all over her, and take it. That's what the tweens who watch this show should be taking true to heart and applying to their own life-- not Rachel's sharp passive aggressiveness or obsessive compulsive desire to be the best, no matter what or who she sacrifices along the way. I like to imagine the sudden change actually came about because Riley herself stood up and said she signed up for glee, not the Lea Michele show, but all that really matters in the end is that this change sticks.

And that teaming up with Menzel's Shelby means a lot of diva duos to come. That is the version of "Take Me or Leave Me" the show should have done, and that would get me to lift my "I quit glee" band enough to start buying music from the show again. And let's face it, all TPTB behind this show care about are dollar signs.

...And yeah, okay; it certainly didn't hurt this episode that finally Rachel seems to be getting her comeuppance. Am I back about the glee train, singing its praises as loud as Riley can belt? Of course not. Do I fully expect the rug to be pulled out from under my feet once they're a full episodes in, having "tricked" me back with false promises, only to resort to the cheap gimmicks of season two? Actually, no. Because this time around there is an actual writing team working on the show. People who aren't stretched too thin because they have to write every single episode, and people who are accustomed to playing by the TV rules and not just doing whatever they want and making it up as they go. So congratulations, glee; expand on what you're doing, and you just may have won me back. And I know you were so worried about that.

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