Glee

Naya Rivera meets Demi Lovato in the "Tina in The Sky With Diamonds" episode of "Glee" airing Thursday, Oct. 3.

FOX

The Beatles onslaught continues on “Glee,” this time focusing on the more experimental later years of the group. This parallels into our players maturing and gaining confidence, with varying degrees of success. Or, well, pretty clear-cut lines of success.

The young adults in New York are charging forward, taking risks and getting what they go after, while the kids stuck at McKinley are mostly repeating the same mistakes of the past, rehashing the same moments and not getting anywhere but the auditorium stage of the same cut-and-paste final performance moment. If there was ever an example of why “Glee” needs the full-time jump to a New York based storyline, it’s this episode.

It’s prom time again, and our prom court consists of Blaine, Artie -- someone we’ve never heard of -- and Stoner Brett, while on the girls side we get sophomore Kitty, two other Cheerios including illustrious Neck-Brace-Cheerio, and Tina. Upon hearing the news, Tina immediately goes into cartoonish overdrive and becomes Tina of the first episode of season 4. It’s like she never learns. She even ditches Sam as her prom date, opting to go alone for the lonely-girl sympathy vote. She tries to sing a song and gets cut off, another Tina staple we’ve seen before. Sam, sad that he’s not on the court and ditched by Tina, ends up in the nurses office to get his Sue-mandated polio vaccine and meets the young new student nurse, Penny. He’s crushing, but not confident due to his poor romance track-record (he really has dated just about everyone) and fantasy-sings “Something” to Penny as a way to psych himself up for dancing with her at the prom. He overcomes his fear of needles to prove her competence and save her job, and they end up together at the prom. Unfortunately the whole affair is really undermined by Sam’s atrocious hairstyle. Maybe this new girl will botch a trim and accidentally cut it all off for the good of humanity.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is a passable filler to transition us into prom, performed by the four underclassmen who has nothing else to do this episode, Jake, Ryder, Unique and Marley. Stoner Brett and Tina win the crowns, only to get “Carried” with a bucket full of slushie planted by the new “evil” Cheerio with the help of Tina’s lackey Dottie. The entire segment drags unnecessarily, and after three years of prom failures, it doesn’t make sense why these kids even keep showing up, or why anyone would be excited about a nomination or a win. The gang all comes together, and Blaine delivers some less-inspiring version of what he said to Kurt after the original prom fiasco -- that she can go home or she can own it. When Tina decides to own it, they all sing “Hey Jude” as she slow-mo-walks back to the stage. The performance is good, especially Blaine’s riffs at the end, but it’s all wasted on such a blah moment. Perhaps if we hadn’t seen this before, or perhaps if they hadn’t chosen to make Tina unlikeable before demanding our sympathy. Instead of punishment, the new evil Cheerio gets promoted to head the squad and instructed by Sue to torment the Glee club because they’re only good with an enemy doing wacky things, and they haven’t been good since she stopped ruining their lives. It’s almost as if Ian Brennan, who wrote this episode, is explicitly telling the audience to stop caring about the circular and pointless motions of Lima, Ohio. We hope he’s just that meta.

What isn’t boring is the world of NYC. Santana is the first of the crew to book an actual acting gig. It’s just a yeast infection commercial, but it features the genius line, “I like yeast in my bagel but not in my muffin” and Santana doing ribbon dancing. After hearing the news, Kurt finds Rachel moping and tuning pianos, and tells her she can’t pin all her hopes on one role and to get her mojo back the only way they know how -- a musical number. They twirl and twist around the piano room to “Get Back,” with Kurt getting in a lot of high kicks since the show has been sorely lacking in Hummel High Kicks for a whole season. Rachel is rejuvenated by the nameless extras pushing her around atop pianos, and she resolves to keep pushing for her dreams. Now it’s Santana’s turn to get over her fears in the love department.

Demi Lovato, who just spent the moments before “Glee” crushing some girls’ dreams by playing a strange musical chairs game with their future, arrives in NYC in the form of Dani, a self-described sapphic goddess who flusters Santana immediately. We’ve never seen Santana like this before, and it’s oddly charming without letting her lose her edge, a delicate balance. She’s nervous about dating a “real” lesbian and not a bi-sexual or bi-curious girl, and Rachel plays yenta to leave the ladies alone at the diner around some get-to-know you duetting to “Here Comes the Sun.” It’s framed about Dani and Santana watching the sun rise after a graveyard shift, which would be eye-roll worthy if they weren’t actually the cutest thing on this show right now. Two weeks in a row and we’re swooning over the queer characters, it’s like the Season 2 glory days. It’s refreshing to watch two young adult characters simply flirt and be into each other without the circus that "Glee" often throws at relationships (see: Kitty and Artie last week). They walk home together and share a chase yet wonderful peck, and Santana moves forward.

Kurt can’t let the girls have all the fun at the diner, plus he needs to fund his upcoming Madonna cover band, so he suits up in his own adorable uniform and pinky-promises with the gang that no one will give up on New York for at least two years. “It’s like we’re in Season 1 of Smash,” Rachel exclaims, and we wonder if in the world of "Glee" the first season of "Smash" was actually good. Rachel then immediately achieves hers when the director shows up and tells her she got the part of Fanny by instructing her to inscribe it onto a cake, because Broadway directors have the time to show up personally at people’s day-jobs with elaborate ploys. She all but rips off her crappy uniform right there and the gang heads home to celebrate with bubbly and by singing “Let It Be” around the kitchen and sprawled out presumably drunk on the floor of the loft. The moment meshes with their McKinley choir singing in horrid pastels, but the giggly group of NYC coeds on the cusp of all their own individual happiness is the true glue of this moment.

Really, the less said about this week the better. We can pretend all that New York development happened inside a better episode, and we can thank heavens that our favorites will never have to attend another prom (except Unique. Sorry Unique. Don’t even accept the nomination.) Of course, this episode and the one before it are leading up to "Glee" changing completely next week. The loss of Finn, and how that reverberates for all our characters, is much more than a slushie to the prom dress. The 30-second preview at the end of Thursday night packs more of a punch than the first two episodes combined, but it has to. We’d all take a few sub-par episodes of the series if it could erase what’s to come.