“Glee” is cyclical, and the stories of high school kids have to follow repetitive molds — back to school, holidays, class elections, prom, the school play, graduation, regionals, sectionals, nationals. It’s not new for “Glee” to cycle, but in a week where they repeat the plotline of a Britney Spears tribute as a means for cheering up their very own Brittany, there’s a lot on the line to make it stand out amid a see of patterns.
For “Glee”‘s second tribute to Spears (dubbed “Britney 2.0”), they change it up and shed light on a different side of the Britney story — the downfall. Our three protagonists this week — Britt, Rachel and Marley/Jake — are having a tough week, and Spears is the only way to convey that particular brand of pop misery. Some work better than others.
We start with Brittany, who is speaking her own voiceover, much to Blaine’s dismay. Transition to “Hold It Against Me” as a full-on Cheerios performance who, even without Santana, are still pretty sapphic. But Sue is unimpressed, and calls Britt to her office. She’s failing still and has to be kicked off the squad, with Kitty taking her place as head cheerleader. When Britt turns to Santana for comfort via Skype she’s understanding, but busy at college and has to run off leaving Britt lonely. It’s all too much for Britt, who begins her Britney-esque downward spiral. She wanders the halls self-narrating and wearing Crocs, prompting Emma to pamphlet her (So You Look Like Crap) and Schue to revive Britney Spears week to cheer her up. First up are Blaine and Artie, who do their best two-man boyband attempt to a mash-up of “Boys” with Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” It inspires Britt to re-embrace her Spears love.
The next day, Sam, Tina and Joe do “3” as an acoustic jam which serves to illuminate the weird nonsense of the song’s lyrics even when it sounds cool. We wonder if anyone explained to Teen Jesus that he was singing about threesomes. It sends Britt into a Britney-like daze where she attempts to shave her head, then attacks Jacob Ben Israel with an umbrella. The club intervenes, telling Brittany she needs to take the lead in their upcoming pep rally performance. Brittany says sure, but only a lip synch since she’s too weak to sing live. The club is wary, but they agree.
When performance day roll around Brittany hasn’t rehearsed and is eating Cheetos and drinking soda as she stumbles through “Gimmie More,” a clear homage to Spears disastrous VMA performance. The students eventually figure out they’re lip synching and Blaine pulls the curtain shut. Mr. Schue is furious that they’ve possibility jeopardized their chance to complete because of this stunt and Britt resigns from the club.
Sam, who is on week two of comforting the ladies of glee club, meets Britt in the auditorium to reveal he gets what she’s doing — staging a downfall so she can have a glorious comeback. He offers to be her new friend because she feels so alone without Santana, and they bond over their brains working the same way possibly because they’re both blondes. Next week Sam is supposed to become Blaine’s best friend — maybe Sam is the one actually having a friendship crisis. Brittany finally figures out how to get back on the Cheerios; She claim’s she is still class president since she didn’t graduate and drafts an executive order to be reinstated to the group. Sue relents because this took planning, but makes Britt agree to graduate this year, and Britt promises she’s already studying to make it happen.
Plot two is New York, where Rachel is still facing adversity from Cassandra July, who makes her sit out of learning the tango because she’s not sexy enough (and because they’re short one boy). Rachel complains about this to new roommate Kurt in their unrealistic Bushwick apartment (it’s way too large, and Kurt would never live in Bushwick anyway) and he points out that her teacher is a Broadway trainwreck legend. In her first preview she attacked a audience member whose cell phone is going off, it when viral on YouTube and now she’s lost her chance. On a side note, Kurt is going to re-audition for spring semester NYADA and also intern at Vogue because within days of being in the city he’s got all his shit together. We love Kurt Hummel.
Rachel enlists Brody and her classmates to help her put on a sexy performance for Cassie to a slowed down version of “Oops I Did It Again,” complete with a perfectly random dancer who runs by as the song starts with a fog machine.
Rachel humps things and rolls around on various tables, and although some of the other dancers are doing the heavy sexy lifting for her, that’s a true Britney move so we’ll let it pass. When Cassie is less than impressed, Rachel explodes about her being a has-been YouTube joke and gets kicked out of class. When she later comes to apologize Cassie explains that in the real world you get one shot, and if you screw it up you’re done, and that’s why she’s so hard on her students. NYADA may be more real world, but it’s still school and Rachel gets a buffer of probation instead of expulsion.
Back at their apartment, Rachel and Kurt are inexplicably painting over their exposed brick walls, and Rachel paints Finns name because she still misses him. Brody shows up with a flower as Kurt leaves to get them cake, and when they’re alone Brody tries to kiss Rachel. Rachel, loyal to distance Finn, says no, and Brody says while he respects her boundaries she should know that any time they’re together from now on he’ll be thinking about kissing her. Right on the border of sweet and creepy, that’s where Brody is going to live.
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The third focus is our new kids, Jake and Marley. Unique has decided to arbitrarily become Marley’s new bestie and begins plying her about who she’s crushing on. It’s Jake, who Unique calls out as a pickup artist by breaking into “Womanizer” as the girls of glee follow Jake around the school watching his lady-killer ways.
Even after Marley’s seen it all (while dancing in gym-chic apparel) she still accepts his offer for a date. They meet on the bleachers, where Marley immediately pop-analyzes him about his attitude and says she used to be picked on too, but glee can be the answer. He says the group sings stupid songs, and they sing a mashup of “(You Drive Me) Crazy” with Aerosmith’s “Crazy,” which is an interesting attempt but we don’t care enough about the characters or their supposed attraction for it to be effective. At best, they’re redemption for the unrealized awesomeness of a longterm Rachel/Puck thing.
Jake leaves her with his coat, and stands up for her mom to the jocks in the cafeteria, but all his outburst buys him is a forced confrontation with his estranged brother Puck, who’s flown back in from LA seemingly just to circle Jake in the choir room. The two connect over trying to impress their dad through macho showing off, but Puck explains that everything he tried to do didn’t make him a better man. Glee club made him a better man, but even if Jake won’t join Glee club, they’re still brothers. It’s a bit of whirlwind, and mostly Puck reminds us that we love Puck and we barely know Jake enough to care. Jake decides to join the club regardless, and Marley is happy about it until it’s revealed that Jake is dating Kitty. Welcome to whiplash Glee that doesn’t fit with anything else that’s carefully constructed. We so thought we were done with you.
The episode caps with Jake coming into the Glee club and immediately being overwhelmed by everyone there in shots that make them appear more strange and absurd than ever. Marley asks to perform on one last Britney tune, “Everytime,” and is overcome with her inexplicable and random emotions for Jake, with the song serving as a great soundtrack to the rest of the characters — Rachel getting a chance to learn the tango finally and painting over Finn’s name as Kurt watches, Brittany back in her Cheerio outfit but still sad because Santana and her aren’t talking.
The cracks in new “Glee” are already starting to show this episode. The characters we know and love are strong, be they back in Lima or on new adventures in the big city, but some of the new kids are feeling out of place. It’s like Jake and Marley (and Brody, to another extent) feel like they’re on another show all together, some nondescript teen show that’s canceled after a season, a pair of ABC Family castaways who can’t find their way back.
The glory of Glee is everyone is a true misfit and over the top strange in some way — not the stereotype, but that Sam is obsessed with Na’avi and Blaine is legit into bowties. Unique fits in because she’s going to be more than herself and embrace the strange. Kitty is a mean caricature but at least that’s more “Glee” than Marley and Jake’s normalness. Brody we will give a pass because he’s outside of “Glee” land in the New York landscape, which should be a more real world for Kurt and Rachel. He doesn’t need to be weird, he’s New York, and that’s unreal enough.
Now we have “Glee” world, “Glee” in the real world, and there just isn’t room or need for typical teen show world of Jake and Marley. They need to weird up or fall back, ASAP.