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Posted at 11:57 PM ET, 01/31/2012

‘Glee’ by the musical numbers: Maxing out on Michael Jackson


Blaine (Darren Criss) shows off his MJ moves prior to the tragic slushie incident. (Fox)
Tonight’s episode of “Glee” — a long-planned Michael Jackson tribute episode titled simply “Michael” — featured some of the most memorable dialogue in “Glee” history.

Take this line from Mr. Schuester, which followed the horrifying slushie attack on Blaine by the evil Warbler leader Sebastian: “In all my years as a teacher and a student, I have never known a slushie to do that kind of damage.”(Ah, William Schuester. Clearly you are unaware of the permanent brain damage suffered by Bart Simpson and Milhouse Van Houten following the Great Squishee Bender of 1993.)

The fact that Matthew Morrison uttered those words with a completely straight face was overshadowed slightly by the fact that he then said, with an equally straight face: “Unless you have proof that he tampered with the slushie, the police aren’t getting involved.”

But sugary frozen beverages — as delicious and occasionally dangerous to corneas as they might be — were not the point of this episode. The point of “Michael” was, of course, Michael.

For those keeping track, this installment marked the third time that “Glee” has devoted an entire episode to the music of a single artist, the first one being the “Power of Madonna” and the second the Britney Spears lovefest titled “Britney/Brittany.” Both of those episodes featured scattered plot lines engineered to include as many songs by said artists as possible; both also glorified their respective pop stars’ images to an absurd degree that, apparently, was required in order to secure the rights to use their music. “Michael,” I’m afraid, wasn’t much different.

Too many of the numbers paid such meticulous tribute to the King of Pop and his era-defining videos that they came across as nothing more than weak imitations. And in what has apparently become a “Glee” tradition, Jackson — like Madonna and Britney before him — was treated like a musical messiah whose teachings should be studied like the word of the Lord. (“WWMJD?” Mr. Schuester encouraged his charges to ask themselves. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of regionals, I shall fear no Warbler” ... that’s in the Bible, right?)

Not every glitter-socked move was a misstep, though. So let’s assess all nine of the Jackson numbers — for the record, that’s one less than we got from Madonna, but two more than the Spears episode delivered — in this week’s “Glee.” Disagree with my take? Feel free to be startin’ somethin’ in the comments section.

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” — Blaine and New Directions


(Fox)

After the first of two references to the Cirque de Soleil show “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” — which, for the record, really is coming to Ohio in June — Blaine got his Jackson-esque crotch-grabbing on to lead the whole gang in a little bit of “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah-ing.” The number was appropriately big and splashy, but musically, it sounded like all the funk had been drained right out of it. Darren Criss is in­cred­ibly talented, but the truth remains: you can put a white glove on Criss’s hand but you can’t make him Michael Jackson. Grade: C+.

“Bad” — New Directions vs. Warblers


(Fox)

No. 1: Leather jackets, cheerleading skirts and prep school uniforms do not mix. No. 2: Maybe Jackson just sets the bar too high, but this tune also sounded noticeably defunkified. No. 3: If there’s a street fight set to this song that does not involve Wesley Snipes, then I want no part of it. Grade: C-.

“Scream” — Artie and Mike

Call this an homage or call it a straight-up rip-off of the brilliant video for this ’90s Jackson hit. Either way, it lacked the energy and genuine aggression of the original Michael/Janet Jackson collaboration, although at least Kevin McHale and Harry Shum Jr. got to show off their dance skills. Speaking of which: I had no idea how easy it is to make Shum look like Janet Jackson. It’s all in the eyeliner and the spiky sweaters, apparently. Grade: C.

“Never Can Say Good-bye” — Quinn

This understated (by comparison) take on the Jackson 5 standard worked much better than every track that preceded it. Why? Because it took a great tune and adapted it to “Glee” instead of trying to out-Jackson Jackson. Sure, it was corny, but after “Bad” and “Scream,” it provided much-needed semi-cheesy relief. Grade: B-.

“Human Nature” — Mercedes and Sam

The “Summer Lovin’” sweethearts reconnected the way so many young couples do: by singing a duet about “sweet seducing sighs” while the nerdiest jazz ensemble on Earth provided accompaniment. They sounded good together, even if the whole thing ultimately left me asking: “Why? Why?” Grade: B-.

“Ben” — Kurt, Finn and Rachel

If the name Bill can be changed to Will during the “Glee” version of “Wedding Bell Blues,” then why on Earth couldn’t they change the name Ben to Blaine in this serenade to the Boy Who Survived a Rock-Salt Slushie Assault? Perhaps the Jackson estate wouldn’t allow it. That’s a shame. But given that the original song was technically about a boy’s love for a killer rat, was it that much weirder to see Kurt, Finn and Rachel sing it to a guy who isn’t named Ben and was wearing an eye patch and a pair of Cary Grant’s pajamas? No, especially not when it gives Chris Colfer an excuse to hit those “You’ve got a friend in me” high notes. Grade: B.

“Smooth Criminal” — Santana and Sebastian


(Fox)

Like all intense duels, the one between Santana (Naya Rivera) and the “Glee” version of Steff from “Pretty in Pink” (Grant Gustin) began with these words: “Cello guys, can you hang back for a second? I’m going to need you for this one.”

Good lord, what was going on here? If Santana and Sebastian have such dastardly tendencies, why did they keep hiding behind all those conference room chairs? Aside from paying tribute to Jackson’s ensemble from the “Smooth Criminal” video, would there be any logical reason for Santana to confront Sebastian while dressed like Jack Abramoff? And what the heck were those cellists so convulsively angry about? All I know is this: to borrow the sage words of Jay-Z, who has yet to inspire his own “Glee” episode, none of these people could bust a grape in a fruit fight. Grade: D.

“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” — Finn and Rachel

Lea Michele — who was genuinely moving when she wept on Kurt’s shoulder over her seemingly NYADA-less future — sang this Jackson love song in the loveliest possible fashion with Cory Monteith. For a moment, I was even briefly on Finn and Rachel’s side when they agreed to marry as a result of this duet, even though that decision makes zero sense. Of course, the sweetness of this number barely lasted since Rachel eventually did receive that much-coveted NYADA finalist letter, proving once again that today’s high-schoolers simply do not have the patience needed to deal with snail mail. Grade: B+.

“Black or White” — New Directions

This was the part of the episode where the New Directions decided to take the higher road and let the Warblers use Jackson’s music in their regionals routine. (Because that’s what Michael Jackson would do.) And it was also the part where the New Directions showed the Warblers they are wayyyy better than the Warblers while simultaneously singing about how people should exist in peace and harmony. (Because, again, that’s what Michael Jackson would do.) Thankfully, the Gleeks avoided smashing any car windows a la the 1991 music video. Unfortunately, they did not avoid a round of facial morphing, a la the 1991 music video. Grade: C.

By  |  11:57 PM ET, 01/31/2012

Tags:  Glee

 
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