“Glee’s” biggest shortcoming, perhaps, is its inability to restrain itself. When it can just as easily tap its audience lightly with a mallet, it often opts to whack us with a sledgehammer.
A few weeks ago, by pure, tragic coincidence, Amber Riley performed a powerful cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” in an episode that aired days after the pop star’s death. Even though the performance was shot before Houston died at the Beverly Hilton hotel, the number worked as an emotional, appropriate and near-perfect tribute to an unforgettable voice.
But, “Glee” being “Glee,” the show couldn’t just leave it at that. Hence we got Tuesday’s hour-long tribute to Houston, “Dance With Somebody,” which wove together seven of the diva’s hits in an episode focused on the pain of saying farewell to the New Directions soon slated to leave McKinley.
Unlike the Madonna, Britney Spears or Michael Jackson episodes, this one didn’t devote a lot of energy to praising the tribute artist’s work. There was a bit of reverent Houston rhetoric in the beginning, but mostly Houston’s songs were used to comment on plot developments, which included:
— Will’s insistence on pushing his wedding date to May so that his “Glee” kids can attend, even though Emma’s initial plan to marry around Christmas would totally allow all the show choir regulars to come while they’re on winter break from college.
— Kurt’s encounter with an equally flamboyant, showtune-obsessed guy named Chandler, who flirt-texted with him and caused a rift between Kurt and Blaine.
— Joe the Bohemian Christian developing feelings for Quinn.
— Burt Hummel making a reappearance to remind us all that a. he really is a Congressman and b. he’s going to miss Kurt when he (presumably) heads off to NYADA in the fall.
Honestly, the most affecting scenes in this episode were the non-musical ones involves Kurt and Blaine; Darren Criss and Chris Colfer worked through their issues with convincing frustration and despair that elevated their semi-cliche dialogue.
As for the musical numbers, well, they were so-so. Here’s a rundown on that front.
“How Will I Know?” — Mercedes, Santana, Rachel and Kurt
This number was largely performed acapella, a nod to the similar track of Houston singing this 1985 hit that circulated shortly after her death. It sounded strong, but the endeavor seemed a bit heavy-handed, especially the shot of the Houston shrine Kurt kept in his locker. Hummel, don’t light candles in there no matter whose memory you’re keeping alive. That’s exactly how hallway fires get started. Grade: B.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” — Brittany and Santana
This was probably my favorite number of the night, partly because it delivered a much-needed dose of Brittany and partly because, thanks to that music video homage, I was reminded of how much I wanted to don shimmery tank dresses, mega-hair bows and bright pink eyeshadow after seeing Whitney do it in 1987. Grade: B+
“Saving All My Love for You” — Quinn and Joe
So Dianna Agron’s Quinn and “Glee Project” contestant Samuel Larsen (Joe) realized they have the hots for each other. And they displayed that by having sing-sex in the choir room, in front of everyone, while their peers exchanged knowing glances. Once again, “Glee” was not exactly opting for subtlety. Grade: C.
“So Emotional” — Santana and Rachel
This Whitney tune emphasized the bond between the cheerleader (by the way, when does Santana go to cheerleading practice, exactly?) and the diva-in-training. Naya Rivera and Lea Michele both brought high energy to their performances, but honestly, does anyone care about the quality of the relationship between Santana and Rachel? Grade: C+.
“It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” — Blaine
After his spat with Kurt, Blaine sang this to express his anger while Kurt sat in the choral room, making facial expressions that conveyed uncomfortable annoyance. The fact that Blaine spent part of this performance decked out in all black, just like Whitney herself in the “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” music video, only emphasized the fact that, per Kurt’s assertion, he really is the “alpha gay” in the relationship. But we like him that way. Grade: B.
“I Have Nothing” — Kurt
In an effort to de-alphaize Blaine — and to give us yet another number in which the camera pans purposely on the injured face of a Gleek while others in the choral room pointedly stare at said person — we got this Whitney cover from Kurt. He crooned it in his ultra-high falsetto. Which was impressive, but also a little grating. Grade: C.
“My Love is Your Love” — New Directions
Even though show choir practice was optional on the afternoon that closed the episode, everyone showed up just to sing this upbeat Whitney Houston song. Well, not everyone. Rory was notably absent. Still, it was a jubilant reminder that those New Direction kids will love each other forever ... or at least until this season ends and half of them graduate. Grade: B-.