Did Gwyneth Paltrow Really Just Save Glee?

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Did an anti-bullying plotline and Gwyneth Paltrow just save Glee's second season?

I don't know what you think, anyone out there watching, but I'm going to be bold and say "yes" and "yes." Really.

A peek at last night's episode plus the braintrust that is Twitter (where Glee mentions were coming in at a very rapid clip) indicates that Gwynnie blew the roof off of Southwest Ohio's favorite glee club saga -- in the best possible way.

Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee

Image Courtesy FOX productions

And it's about time, because from many indications, the Gleeks have not been a happy lot this season. Discerning viewers like Ms. Jen can't even watch full episodes anymore. The last week that Twitter tracker Trendrr had statistics -- for the October 13 episode -- the show's Twitter "influence" had gone down 260 percent.

And who can blame the fans, really? After last season's high energy and engaging plotlines, this season has been heavy on the concept and less on the characters, so it seems. In what I'm calling an excellent season one, the character development and plotlines made sense, and were deep enough to carry the more-than-minimal side of cheese. Rachel sang it out with Jesse and her mom (aka Idina Menzel), Kurt and his dad walked a tender and trying road to realization of Kurt's homosexuality, Mercedes fought body image and popularity issues. And finally, in the the compelling finale, Quinn had a baby with a play-by-play accompaniment of Bohemian Rhapsody and some Journey tunes, and somehow it wasn't too much.

And always, when all else failed? Sue Sylvester.

This season, people were unhappy. I've had a conflicting Tuesday night commitment and the show saved on DVR. Every week, the Twitter buzz has made me less excited to watch it, so I haven't. I could copy the tweets here, but instead I'll just summarize:

"What's wrong with #Glee?"

"#Glee? Ugh."

"WTF #Glee?"

"I wish people would stop talking about #Glee if they hate it so much. All this #Glee clogging up my stream. Unfollow #Glee!"

Seriously. Glee dissatisfaction was running deep on the Twitter. There were some loyalists, but mostly the reviews were negative. People loved or hated (mostly hated, it seemed) Grilled Cheesus and the handling of Kurt's atheism. The Rocky Horror Picture Show redo was a "meh" for the most part. Where was Rachel? Who's that blond guy? Why is Artie dating a cheerleader? Gah, the mashups! ("Start Me Up" and "Livin' on a Prayer" together? No thanks.)

So why were people still watching? Kelli Best-Oliver said simply, "The good outweighs the bad." Amie Adams, aka Mammaloves, and a dedicated Glee tweeter, said it was just warming up.

@lauriewrites Yes. It's getting better. Last two weeks have been good. Was a slow start. But hey, Stamos and now Paltrow??

Last week's episode, "Never Been Kissed," really saw the public tide begin to turn. Kurt, one of the coolest characters in television, was taunted and assaulted by a classmate for his open homosexuality -- a classmate who would later kiss him in the middle of an altercation. To his emotional rescue? An all-male glee club -- including a supportive gay teen -- from a local boy's school, singing Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream." I'm not at all sold on the "Will-kisses-Coach Bieste" bit but at least they got the episode half-right.

And last night? Like I said, Twitter loved Gwyneth in "The Substitute," and in this case, I have to agree. She had fun, I could tell, and she can also sing pretty well, which helps. When it's too heavy-handed, this show loses. Teenaged problems are for real, but these are still kids who like to sing in Lima, (pronounced like the bean, not the city in Peru) Ohio, and sometimes what you need is Ceelo's "F-Yourself," even the edited version. When Glee lets that sense of fun go? Fail.

Also a problem that this episode handled better than it's been doing lately? Strange, convoluted plotines. The bully awkwardly kisses Kurt, kind of making the point, but more confusing it. Mr. Schuester makes the kids do Rocky Horror because John Stamos steals his thunder and takes his ex-girlfriend to the real movie. Snore. And finally? Putting the music in the backseat. Glee is at its best when the music drives and/or enhances the story, and the real talking fills in the blanks. It looks like this season that balance was tipped in the wrong direction, and now it looks like it may be coming back.

Maybe the people who kept watching did so for the same reasons I did (or at least didn't delete the series from my DVR. I'm caught up now.) When this show is good, it's totally worth the 43 minutes for the music alone. And what's never missing? At least three or four repeatable, hilarious bits of dialogue an episode and the overall awesomeness of Sue Sylvester as brought to life by Jane Lynch. The pace may be off and the music confused (and again, too mashed up. Please stop with the mashups.) But last night I did see a tweet or two that I hadn't seen yet this season.


Back? Gleeks everywhere have their fingers crossed.

Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites Her photos are on Flickr.


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