How many times have I watched this already? 3? 5? This may well be the most magical hour of television I'll see this year. Therefore, I'm making it a personal challenge to come up with at least 50 things I liked about it.
Separated into three plot strands --
The Main Attraction: Bryan Ryan
First, let's all agree that Neil Patrick Harris is the most wonderful thing to happen to television this decade, and he can do no wrong. Second, it took me about two seconds to decide I liked Bryan just as much as April. As a nemesis, he's ten times more fantastic than Sue ("Don't make that face. Global warming's a theory"), but as a drinking buddy/positive and encouraging influence on the club, he's even better. Basically, he is the best guest star yet, and...I'd better stop rambling on this introduction and start numbering items. Which will be done in chronological order, but with extra subheaders, because it's ridiculously long.
1. Ooh, more of the 80's-style 90's. Seriously, I like that they've chosen to go with Morrison in a wig rather than bringing back the actor who played Teenage Will in the pilot, because even with acne and braces he's...somehow still cuter.
2. Ooh, is that a young April dueting on "Daydream Believer"? Combined with Will claiming that Bryan dated every girl he liked, I'm going to go ahead and add that to my ridiculous number of ships on this series. Past and present, because now they could be washed-up performers recapturing their glory days together! Oh wait, he's married. Curses.
3. Modern-day glee club needs to cover Daydream Believer right now, both because I love that song, and because the beautiful harmony on this too-short chorus is just tantalizing. Don't dangle beauty like that in front of me if you aren't going to deliver! You owe me for Mercy and Rehab and a whole host of other crap!
4. Magic! Bryan does magic! I'm getting...way too attached to Glee Club '92. Who's the girl with glasses? She's my favorite.
5. Show Choir Conversion Group is awesome. It has Brenda! And Russell Hey, It's That Guy! Show Choir Kills. I bet Bryan had that made into a button. Maybe some bumper stickers.
6. I love everybody's dreams. Even Puck's hope for a 3some - which frankly I'm surprised the Cheerio BFFs haven't given him.
7. I wish the world would get over this notion that being a teacher means you've somehow failed at life. Teaching: most incredible profession ever, end of story. It's fun when Bryan uses it as an insult and I get to watch Will's core temperature rise a degree or five in silence, though.
8. Tina finally starts crying, the teacher's cue to jump up and kick this idiot out of the room. You don't get to upset his students. Have I mentioned that he's very hot while threatening people in that low voice? I have? Well, repetition never hurt anybody. "You've said your piece. Now get out."
9. The one girl who got away from Bryan was...wait for it...Terri. (Will: *spits out his drink*) HAHAHA! Then, several things happened in my brain all at once:
a) I realized that the single worst part of this episode is Will claiming that music gave him the strength to get out of a "terrible" marriage, and otherwise trampling all over my soul
b) I could totally deal with Will/Emma if Bryan/Terri could be a thing. New 'ship #2! Wait, he's still married. *curses louder* COME ON! I need something for her.
c) I'm still really, really sad that the words "I married her" are followed by "it didn't really work out" and "we just grew apart." To his credit, at least he didn't blame the death of the marriage on her insanely faking a pregnancy. I appreciate the gentler spin. And he did at least acknowledge that he really loved her.
10. Among the many fabulous inspirational quotes in this episode: "You're right, I'm never going to be on Broadway. And maybe the same is going to go for most of those kids, but that's not the point. Glee club - it's not just about expressing yourself to everyone else. It's about expressing yourself to yourself."
11. And then Bryan puts his head down and starts crying. Will is understandably alarmed and not a little weirded out.
12. Three times a year, Bryan tells his wife he's going on a business trip, but sneaks off to New York and sees Broadway shows. He has a box of playbills hidden away in his basement! LIKE PORN! ...there may or may not be tears of joy in my eyes right now.
13. PIANO MAN. WHY IS THIS NOT A FULL-FLEDGED SONG EITHER? I heard this on the radio a couple of years ago and could not understand why its sad story had not been in my life forever, but their voices together on this would have made as gorgeous a duet as the one they actually did. I keep watching this and falling in love with every second of it all over again. And may I say that I love how Will's mentoring influence is not limited to students?
14. Upon being inspired to try out for Les Miserables, Bryan glomps on Will in a possibly drunken hug. This is the best night ever.
15. By the way - I ran across Bryan/Will slash the other day while I was out hunting other fic. I did not read it, and I will never say anything like this again, but, um...every time I watch this episode, I could totally see it? I blame this on Will's stupid and ridiculous ability to have chemistry with apparently everyone on the planet
(Wait, doesn't Idina Menzel have an appropriate song for this? Ever since puberty / everybody stares at me / boys, girls, I can't help it, baby...)
Les Miserables Audition
16. Which, by the way, is only my favorite musical in the entire world! This fact will be relevant all over the place.
17. Cast that woman as Mme. Thenardier right now! She's freaking awesome.
18. What I like about Bryan as a villain is that he and Will actually trade snappy remarks, instead of Sue's endless tirade on the same topics.
Will: Yeah, there's a problem, this guy just stole my song!
Bryan: Uh, I don't know this man - his caretaker just stepped away, I overheard him mention he's a sex offender...**
Will: Oh, you're gonna need a caretaker in a second, buddy --
**Well, he was, on Numb3rs. Played it awesomely, too, even though he only had one scene
19. DREAM ON. What haven't I said already? This song is currently having a duel in my heart with "Alone" for the title of "Most Awesome Duet Sung By Matthew Morrison + A Prominent Musical TV Guest Star," and I'm pretty sure it just won. It might even be ready to take on "Don't Stop Believing'" as the best song ever produced on the series. They sound amazing. I don't know how it is possible for a man to do the wailing that NPH pulls off, and I don't care. Musical nirvana.
20. Visually speaking, it was a bit uncomfortably intense the first time I watched it, but I've changed my mind in the 20 times since. The choreography is remarkable, they play the rivalry beautifully, the passion is completely off the charts, and um...how can I put this next part...Will Schuester, would you by any chance need a groupie? Because I volunteer.
21. I'm still not quite sure why the director picked Will for the lead when Bryan clearly nailed it better, but I guess it was either Sue's meddling, or they saw the "Bring Him Home" video.
22. Now, as amazing as all that was, don't you wish we could actually see them square off in character as Valjean & Javert? Because just thinking about them doing "Confrontation" gave me chills.
In fact, screw the summer tour, I am experiencing a sudden need to hijack the entire cast of Glee for an in-character performance of Les Miserables. Rachel already has Eponine locked up, so if I thought Quinn had the vocal range for it, wouldn't it be fun to have her/Finn/Rachel on "A Heart Full of Love"? Kurt could scamper out as Gavroche, no problem. Puck & Santana can be the Thenardiers (IT'S THEMATICALLY APPROPRIATE). Jesse might as well be the hotheaded Enjolras. Oops, I seem to have locked Mercedes out of it, seeing as I'm going to go ahead and let Shelby keep being Fantine... look, I never said this was a student production, just a dream cast. And I'm getting ahead of myself. Just know that this is in my head all the time now.
23. Oh dear Lord, someone actually recognized that the Cheerios' budget is grossly out of control! And that they don't sell enough tickets to offset their costs! What's that, is it the sound of SANITY coming to this school??
24. [edit: removed due to possible confidentiality issues. I like my job, yo.]
25. AND THEN THIS HAPPENED.
Bryan: I can't tell you how much you turn me on right now. Have you ever heard of the term 'anger sex'?
Sue: It's the only kind I know.
Bryan: I should tell you I'm married.
Sue: Not a problem for me.
Bryan: And I'm still cutting half your budget.
Sue: Eh, you win some, you lose some.
Bryan: Should I lock the door?
Sue: No. I have a secret room upstairs. Like Letterman.
WAIT, WHAT, IDK, IDEK. BRB, DYING OF EPIC LULZ. It's a terrible mental image, and yet I - I can't look away! Was definitely not planning on Bryan/Sue hate!sex as one of my new pairings, but...bring it on! I'll go with it! It's too awesomely terrible not to. Just think about how their mutual hatred of Will Schuester will - sorry, did I forget to warn you to buy brain bleach? We're both going to need brain bleach before I finish that thought.
Back to General Stuff
26. "Give it a rest, Will. You think you're helping these kids when all you're doing is setting them up to be jaded and bitter."
"You're right. Cut the program, and they're certainly more likely to turn out like you."
"I've grown weary of your insults, Will. They sting. And they make me want to punch your face."
*giggle fit* [edit: this has become one of my favorite lines of all time.]
27. Damn your continuity fail - the yearbook isn't out yet! Their picture does not exist in your stupid prop yearbook! WHY WOULD YOU SHOW US THE PICTURE, instead of letting us assume he was holding last year's book, or one from their own high school days?? That said - I find it amusing that the caption lists "Tina C.," I thought Puck's first name was Noah but this says Nathan, and Brittany truly doesn't have a last name.
28. "Yes - most of these kids are not stars. But they shine like them." New favorite series quote! This is the kind of speech that reminds me why I love this show and everything about it.
29. I love how all Will has to do is give him the lead, and Bryan's glee-canceling vendetta immediately disappears into "Cool, deal." Why can't Sue go away that easily? If Will signs a sworn statement attesting that cheerleaders rule, show choir drools, and he is inexcusably lame while Sue Sylvester is better than anything he could ever hope to be in his pitiful little life, do you think she'd finally be happy? Because I've been confused since day 1 as to why she actually seems threatened by the glee club's potential success, and it still hasn't been explained. Unless her obsession with bringing him down is rooted in some kind of repressed sexual -- WOW, I'M SO SORRY FOR THAT, let me give you a complimentary bottle of brain bleach. *shudder*
30. Background glimpses of win: Mr. Schue tossing a football around with the guys.
31. Quinn & Finn's one line apiece consisted of voicing concern for Mr. Schue losing the lead. Yay!
32. Especially since as far as I can tell, Puck, Kurt, Brittany and Santana got no spoken lines at all this week. If you're going to mute 1/3 of the club, those are definitely the people who don't need to talk (well, swap Brittany and Mercedes, but same thing. And Mercedes only got one throwaway line).
33. Reason #5235 he is the world's best teacher: "The way I see it, I'm trading my one dream for the chance that all 13 of you might find yours." That would be even more impressive if his "dream" hadn't lasted all of two days and started as a way to cheer his old rival back up, and/or if there was no chance of him ever following another one, but I am an expert at taking things out of context.
34. So...next time Sue/Figgins threaten to cut the funding, the club should have a buddy on the school board in their corner to back them up, right? Right??
35. The first thing to notice is how gorgeous Rachel is in mismatched and ill-fitting dance practice clothes, the second is to remember that the ballet studio is the most magical setting on the entire show, and the third is OH MY WORD, JESSE IS BACK.
36. The word "hi" never sounded so god. I'm still in shock that he came back and decided to get over that fake drama from two weeks back. Look, I am very deliberately blurring line between the guy he is and the guy I want him to be (a/k/a "the guy Rachel thinks he is"), okay?
37. "You singing 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' in front of a sold-out crowd isn't a fantasy...it's an inevitability." *tiny squeak of love and adoration*
38. AND THEN THIS HAPPENED.
"I thought you'd never come back."
"And miss all your drama? Never."
New favorite scene in the series, right here. Also, this will be example #13532 of my improbable hopes coming true. I thought one hug of reassurance back in 1x14 would be all I'd get, but no! More aching sweetness for the prettiest pairing ever to exist. I love that she's subdued and still ready to protect herself, but the whole time is just waiting for an invitation to put her arms around him again, and it's such a relief when she can.
39. For some reason, walking down the hall with Jesse is one of those scenes where Rachel looks even prettier than usual. It's so mesmerizing I almost can't focus on the dialogue. But that's okay, because there is not one bad line in this entire script. Whoever wrote it should win awards.
(Although I do love that we're focusing on this when nobody has seen either of her dads yet. Seriously - this is much more important.)
40. Rachel's research proves that her birth mother is either Patti LuPone or Bernadette Peters. I love her so much. (Even while I'm busy reeling over the fact that she was born on December 18, 1994, because there's knowing these kids are in high school and then there's realizing they're younger than your kid brother.)
41. I WANT TO VISIT THE RACHEL BERRY MUSEUM.
42. Jesse seems creeped out by the discovery of her baby teeth in a jar. I am too.
43. My favorite thing about this storyline is that even when he gets super-pushy and weird - and if you're me you can extrapolate that into their adult relationship in which he is borderline-excessively dominant and controlling, except that their ambitious personalities are so alike that Rachel only feels the vaguest twinges that this is wrong before rationalizing that he has her best interests in mind, and come to think of it he's right anyway** - you can also find a way to shake that off and insist, no, he's just like her - gets overexcited about things and has to be told to back off. Which, see? He does. When she puts her foot down and tells him to leave, he steps down.
**yes, that qualifies as a 'crazy fic idea,' and no, I am not actively working on it. Yet. But it's in some pretty intense daydream stages. I project, okay? I'm a projector, and currently I am projecting them in a New York apartment a few years down the road, just starting to put down roots in the performing world.
[edit: Or possibly this beautiful fic will show up and tell me to cut my nonsense out, here is the real story of their New York future]
Jesse & Shelby
44. First, let's take a minute to collectively exhale in relief that she really is Rachel's birth mother. I dreamed a dream that this would happen, and instead of being killed by life, it came true! The first forum I read thought this was "stupid and predictable," but seriously? Doing anything else would have been the stupid choice. This casting decision has been in place since approximately five minutes after the pilot episode aired. Or possibly during the first preview for it. Second --
45. Oh! THIS! This is exactly the kind of personal connection I always wanted Mr. Schue & Rachel to have, but I am more than content with you flipping the theme on its head and presenting it this way. Not that I'm not completely shipping Jesse/Shelby in certain contexts now, but I love their covert meetings in cars as it is.
46. If you need me, I will be basking in his sympathetic concern as she pours her heart out. It's hard to reconcile the woman crying about her life's one regret with the formerly anonymous slave driver who orders 8-hour practices of Vocal Adrenaline. I like her so much more this way.
47. ALSO THIS:
"Look, when you told me to seduce her--"
"Befriend her was the word I used, actually."
"--whatever-- the thing is, I was into it because I thought it would be a good acting exercise, but now...I think I kinda like her. I don't want her to get hurt." And he's serious about that last bit. Yes! Yeeeeeeee-es! Willful delusion pays off if you keep at it long enough! *giddy applause*
Rachel & Shelby
48. Rachel's hair is so very long and so very pretty...er, sorry, got distracted by her coming out of the bathroom. Should be focusing on Jesse's surprise arrival in her room, because as usual her parents have no rules and/or are never home. Instead, I keep looking at her shirt and thinking that even though her wardrobe is usually a joke, I find that floral print one of the nicest tops she's ever worn.
49. Oh, and we even get a kiss after all! Yeah, dead of squee.
50. Hey, remember in December, when I said this?
That's it, as of now, every cast member of Glee that I like is required to sing something from "Les Miserables":
Idina counts as a cast member in my world, so...thank you!
I Dreamed a Dream: Backstory! This song is not my favorite in the world, or even the musical. One might even say I dislike it, and/or that Susan Boyle completely ruined it for me through a combination of overexposure and being Susan Boyle. I can also tell you that the English version drives me nuts because I've seen the play 3 times, but I only own the French soundtrack, so tose are the permanent lyrics in my head. While most of the time both languages are equally good, "mais la vie a tué mes rêves" flows off the tongue so much more prettily. As does the title phrase itself, "J'avais rêvé d'une autre vie," which has just a little bit different and more poignant translation (I had dreamed of another life).
51. That said, Idina Menzel & Lea Michele are basically the two prettiest people in the entire world, both physically and vocally, so this song has been officially paroled! Rejuvenated! Given a fresh new life and turned into something with which I am completely in love! The younger echoing effect is as incredible as their voices in tandem, and after three listens I literally cannot remember why I disliked the English version at all, when it's this haunting. *happy sigh*
52. The performance itself had a lot of tears, and I'm easy, so I cried too, especially because I am a sucker for mother/daughter stories in any capacity. But they were so beautiful in their matching dresses on stage! And then crying alone in their respective places of solitude...oh, heartbreak. I can't even begin to get into the fantastic parallels of Shelby choosing a Les Mis piece when Rachel's first thing on the show was "On My Own." I bet they made that decision exactly five seconds after signing Idina on board.
[Edit: I don't know where else to put this, but someone just pointed out isn't it interesting how they waited until NPH was guest-starring to bring out this "How I Met [My] Mother" subplot? Layers upon layers!]
53. "I don't understand you. You're always talking about wanting to get with me, but you won't be honest with me about your hopes and dreams?"
"I'm in a wheelchair, but I'm still a guy."
Library scenes are another setting high on my favorites list, but just getting to see a conversation with them feels like the height of indulgence. It feels like everything we were shafted on in "Wheels."
54. Tina is the most adorable tap-dancer ever (wings! she's doing wings! in a remarkably realistic amateur style!). He might claim he sounds like someone put tap shoes on a horse and then shot it, but I thought Artie's accompaniment had a pretty good rhythm going too.
55. New favorite scene: Tina helping him stand up on borrowed crutches (they're the kid with cerebral palsy's extra pair!), where for the first time Artie gets to meet her eye-to-eye while she's standing. Awww.
56. Followed shortly by a phenomenal crash and lying on the floor, unfairly lashing out and feeling sorry for himself, but he's so pitiful and heartbroken that that works for me too. It's one of moments that really hammers in how, despite the fact that I tend to treat them like the adults on all my other shows, these are still just kids.
57. What I love about this storyline is that it's utterly ridiculous, and yet because they're teenagers, it's not. The sky is the limit on their naive optimism, and you believe that with a couple of hours of internet research, they can convince themselves they've discovered something his doctors might somehow not know about.
58. Generally speaking I can't really tell directors apart, because despite Stephen Gyllenhaal's numerous behind-the-scenes videos for Numb3rs, I have a hard time remembering what directors do. Therefore, attaching Whedon's name to the project didn't mean much to me - but when I saw this shot, it was the first time I thought maybe I could credit him.
59. I admit, I'm gullible and I briefly fell for it when he first moved his foot. Me: "Wait, WHAT, OH MY - wow, I am a moron." And then this happened:
60. *hyperventilates* "Artie is singing 'Safety Dance.' ARTIE IS SINGING SAFETY DANCE. Hey guys, you know how in the future we're always saying 'remember when Artie sang Safety Dance,' THIS IS THAT TIME!" ...How I Met Your Mother viewers will appreciate the significance of that slightly-tweaked quote.
61. What an incredible routine. I didn't think anything could outstrip the fun of the Dancing Turk video, but this succeeds. I love how Matt & Mike get in there, and then Brit-Brit shows up with her loose rockstar hair and fiercely amazing backup dancer skills too. I've seen it so many times that I am starting to recognize not only the dancers, but all the extras in the crowd. I'm really fond of the older redhaired woman on the balcony. But mostly it's Artie in the center, being amazing. Um, raise your hand if you want to learn this entire dance IMMEDIATELY? Yeah, that's what I thought.
62. It's also the second time in the episode that I knew Whedon was at work, and praised accordingly - having it switch from film to video footage at various points during the number was a neat trick.
63. I really like how he "drops" back in his chair at the end like a lifeless toy.
And the Rest
64. Emma was...was...USEFUL! Only one scene, which was entirely devoted to gently inserting realism back to Artie's life, and I loved it. For once, she wasn't the neurotic bushbaby practically afraid of her charges, or a pathetic romantic cliche, she was a consummate professional providing legitimate guidance & counseling. Weird. Perhaps if she focused more on her career, she and I could get along.
65. Awwww, their last scene. "I can't dance. And I never will. But that's okay. . . . I'm good, Tina. Really." Puppy love ship, puppy love ship forever! True story: I am sailing at least 12 real or imagined ships on Glee, and every single one of them involves some related combination of my favorite characters, but these two are tacked onto the end, completely insulated and separate from the rest in their own little bubble of happiness.
66. As previously mentioned, "Dream a Little Dream" is dreadfully boring. The most interesting thing about it is a CSI episode where a girl was named "Dreama" after the song, and I thought it sounded like a fantastic horse name (I keep a long list of potential horse names, you see, so my ears are always on the prowl). Not even Artie's voice can save it. But at least Tina & Mike are fun to watch as tap dancers.
67. And awww, Quinn's newfound mothering instinct strikes again, one hand on her stomach and the other on Artie's shoulder in sympathy as he sings on the sidelines.
68. Well, now I'm just sad I didn't try to shoot for 75. I probably already have that many, if I restructured some things, but renumbering is a pain so I'll let it be.
Conclusion: Remember how I dared them to ever make a better episode than 1x10? Challenge accepted, new champion crowned. BEST. HOUR. EVER. Because it heavily featured all of my favorite characters (except Quinn), plus phenomenal guest star - and more importantly, all but completely ignored everyone else. Complete with amazing music. This is what the show in my head looks like. I can't believe it came true. Fine, now I dare you to make a better one; oh wait, that's impossible! At best, you can tie. But do continue trying to tie.
Up Next: OH GROSS. There...there are no words to express my horror at "Lady Gaga episode." Well. *tugs at ear* Huh. I can see we'll have to revive our September habit of fast-forwarding anything potentially objectionable, because there is no way I'm letting her tunes infect my ears, not even filtered through this lovely cast.