It was mere minutes after last week’s episode of Glee, “I Am Unicorn,” that many TV critics began the drumbeat about “Asian F.” The drumbeat sounded the words “Best Glee Ever!”
Depending on the viewer, this is either a lofty proclamation or the damning of faint praise. I come down somewhere in the middle. I find Glee to be, at times, quite brilliant; but mostly maddeningly over the top.
There is no show on television more angst-ridden on screen and off. The writers of Glee have a severe inferiority complex, demonstrated in weekly references to how much everyone in the world hates and conspires against Glee.
Yet, few other shows bask as much in their own glow. Hence, my feelings about the show being maddeningly over the top; like the worst of the worst divas, the monster simply can never be satisfied.
So, where do I come down on “Asian F” as Glee’s greatest? As usual, I am somewhere in the middle. Portions of “Asian F” are brilliant, including every minute of Harry Shum’s work as Mike Chang. Other portions, including Rachel’s (Lea Michele) run for Student Body President and the sitcom cliché of Will and Emma’s parents, reek of boredom and lazy writing.
“Asian F” begins with Will (Matthew Morrison) and Emma (Jayma Mayes) and a wedding. Emma hides a box of wedding magazines in their shared apartment. As Will casually states that marriage is where they are headed, the subject of Emma’s heretofore unseen parents pops up and Will is curious to know why Emma hasn’t introduced him yet.
Elsewhere, Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) is in trouble; he earned an A- in Chemistry. In case you aren’t up on your Asian stereotypes, an A- is considered an Asian F. Mike’s dad (Keong Sim) blames Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and New Directions and urges Mike to give up both to focus on his schoolwork.
Meanwhile, Mercedes (Amber Riley) wants the part of Maria in McKinley’s production of West Side Story but she’s up against Rachel. At first she is content to compete in a friendly manner, but with a little push from Shane (Lamarcus Tinker), the selfish diva, seen near the end of last season with the help of Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink), returns.
As for Brittany (Heather Morris), she’s is running for Class President against Kurt (Chris Colfer) and she’s decided that her platform is girl power. In front of a class assembly Brittany performs such a rollicking rendition of Beyonce’s “Girls” that even gets Rachel to abandon Kurt in the stands to dance and sing with Brittany. Later, we will see this was some modest foreshadowing.
A sidebar on the Brittany for President Campaign: It was cute last week when Brittany worked in references to the economy and the general state of American society into her reasons for running for Class President. This week, the results were muddled.
First of all, is Brittany really the best vessel for a female empowerment storyline? When your idea of empowerment includes a fetish leather mini-skirt, painted on mesh football jersey and thigh high boots and garters… let’s just say your message is mixed at best.
That said, a friend pointed out to me that Brittany is the picture perfect vessel for a send up of Republican female candidates for President. Brittany as a Glee stand in for Michele Bachman or Sarah Palin is a little mean and on the nose but the liberal hippy in me kind of loves the idea.
Returning to the strongest plot of “Asian F,” Mike Chang has a difficult decision ahead: follow his dreams or please his father. In the end, with a little help from his mother (Tamlyn Tomita), Mike follows his dreams and auditions for West Side Story. Yes, Mike Chang is singing and this time, he’s pretty good.
The scene between Harry Shum and the mirror image of his father was wonderful, as was his exchange with ghost Tina and finally with his flesh and blood mother. I must say, I had to hold back a tear when Mike danced with his mom as they celebrated his choice to pursue his dream, the same dream his mother gave up.
If only Will and Emma’s plot had half as much class. Sadly, the well-educated sitcom viewer saw through this plot from the get-go. It was never that Emma was ashamed of Will; she was ashamed of her parents. Granted, the Glee writers came up with a unique reason for Emma to be ashamed of her parents but the whole ‘Ginger Supremacist’ thing, not to mention the casting of Happy Days’ Don Most, undermined the emotional impact of the whole plot.
I would be willing to believe that Emma’s parents scarred her for life leading to her OCD; undoubtedly some kind of trauma had to have set that off. What’s impossible to believe was that there is a phenomenon called ‘Ginger Supremacy.” Emma’s resulting breakdown from her parents visit leads to Will singing Coldplay’s “Fix You” which was meant to be impactful but also felt undermined by the Ginger thing.
Somewhere in between Harry Shum’s exceptional work, in his first featured role, and Will and Emma’s sitcom rehash, was the big Rachel-Mercedes showdown. There are few things that Glee does better than the twinning of big voices and the way that the editing cut Lea Michele and Amber Riley’s vocals together on “Out Here on My Own” was remarkably beautiful.
Unfortunately, we had to suffer through a retread of Dreamgirls with Mercedes as an ailing alienating Effie White to get there. I will grant you that Amber Riley is well suited to mimic Jennifer Hudson, she sang Hudson’s “Spotlight” flawlessly early in the episode, but there is an element of laziness in painting Riley and Hudson with the same brush.
I also didn’t buy Rachel’s sudden lack of belief in her voice and her self-sacrificing moment with Finn (Cory Montieth) in which she claimed Mercedes sang better than her. Rachel has been established as a diva of the highest order. For her to suddenly drop out of West Side Story and subsequently stab Kurt in the back and run for Class President rang false.
Almost as false as Mercedes turning down the role of Maria when Coach Beiste (Dot Jones), Emma and Artie (Kevin McHale) decided to split the role of Maria in a fashion that was rational, fair and reasonable. I understand that by this point Mercedes has been kicked out of New Directions and is in full rebellion against Rachel but why create a scenario that was so perfectly rational and force Mercedes to play the villain?
- Cory Montieth has joined Mark Salling and Kevin McHale on the sidelines. Coach Beiste is getting more screen time and dialogue than Finn thus far this season. Finn has done little more than be a sounding board for Rachel through season three’s first three episodes.
- I loved that Coach Beiste broke her foot kicking a fire hydrant after hearing that Ace of Cakes had been cancelled and that she owns or owned donkeys named after the Kardashian sisters.
- Anyone else happy to have a week off from Sue Sylvester’s ludicrous run for Congress?
- Was moving Mercedes over to Shelby’s Glee club foreshadowing a pregnancy storyline for Mercedes? Mercedes has a new boyfriend, she was sick all the way through “Asian F” and who better than Shelby, an adoptive mother of a newborn, to be a mentor to Mercedes at such a tough moment. Just speculating, I’ve not heard a word about another Glee teen pregnancy; just don’t rule it out.
- We now have three members of New Directions running for Class President? With a student body that hates Glee so much, look for Spongebob Squarepants to win the election before Kurt, Brittany or Rachel. That’s just another example of the corner in which the Glee writer’s inferiority complex is constantly painting them into.
- Tina as a vampire terrorizing Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) was a terrific throwaway gag.
- Best Brittany-ism of the episode: in reference to boys flushing the country down the toilet or what Brittany calls “The magical poop stealing water chair.” Only the brilliance of Heather Morris’s deadpan, doe eyed delivery can make that line work.
- Best song in “Asian F?” It might have been “Fix You” if the emotional aspect had not been undermined by the whole ‘Ginger’ thing. Instead, I will go with Mike Chang’s breakout performance in his “West Side Story” audition; “Boy, Boy, Crazy Boy.”
- Oh, and congratulations to Blaine (Darren Criss) on landing the part of Tony and to Kurt for taking the loss so well.