The other day, I mentioned that ranking the episodes of Community‘s second season was one of the most difficult lists I had ever done. Doing a similar list of Glee’s second season was, well, less difficult. I wrote about Glee a lot this season and realized that I would really just be repeating myself if I wrote a traditional “wrap” piece like I’ve done for a number of other series, so I figured that a list would be a great way to still discuss the season as a whole without diving head-first into issues I’ve already beaten to death. Ultimately, I ended up like this second season much better than I thought I would after the first half ended and that is most certainly reflected in this list. In any event, here we go. I know you are all very excited.
22. “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”: No surprise here. This is honestly one of the worst episodes of television that I have ever seen in my entire life. And I’ve seen more than 100 episodes of One Tree Hill and more than 200 episodes of Smallville. I was in the crowd at Comic-Con when Ryan Murphy randomly decided to do this episode and the randomness that birthed this episode extended to its execution. Uninspired, stupid and boring. Gah.
21. “Britney/Brittany”: Even more so than the Rocky Horror episode, this one feels completely detached from any sense of reality. The music itself is pretty good, but the shot-for-shot remakes of Ms. Spears’ most famous videos induced by drugs were odd and lazy. Yet another episode that destroyed Will as a likable human being.
20. “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle”: Logic has never been Glee‘s strong suit, but the offhandedly dumb way that this one handles football and Sue’s manic desire to top herself with insane stunts was simply stupid. Similarly, “Shuffle” plods along with really no purpose because it tries too hard to introduce the Super Bowl-viewing audience to the series’ basic concepts and plotlines. In that sense, it feels like a season one episode with higher production values dropped right in the middle of season two. Smart.
19. “A Very Glee Christmas”: Exactly what I imagined a Glee Christmas episode would be: Heavy-handed, schmaltzy and basically pointless. There were a few note-worthy moments (most notably Finn and Rachel’s song and conversation at the tree farm), but any goodwill the episode built up was stripped away when it allowed Sue to LITERALLY dress up as the Grinch and also gave Artie some walking machine that was straight out of the last Matrix movie.
18. “A Night of Neglect”: It’s something when this very terrible episode doesn’t even crack the bottom four. In fact, this episode was probably the second worst to watch because it was so random and pointless. There are very big problems at play when the best part of this episode involves Sue’s ridiculous plans to take down Will and the New Directions. This effort emphasizes some of the season’s biggest faults: It has no direction and introduces a somewhat fun plotline or premise (the Legion of Doom or whatever it was called) and mostly pisses it away 25 minutes into an episode so that it can instead focus on another half-cooked development in Will and Holly’s relationship.
17. “Funeral”: Penultimate episodes are apparently Glee‘s largest bugaboo. Well, maybe penultimate episodes and character development. In any event, “Funeral” has a number of emotionally-gripping moments, but none of them are actually earned. The death of Sue’s sister is a truly sad turn and Jane Lynch brings her A-game throughout as Sue makes a possible transition from full-blown villain to something slightly different. Heck, even Will is bearable in this episode, despite the random development that he is going to have a go of it on Broadway. I’m not sure I buy any of it though, which is why this episode falls so far down on this list. That and the fact that the GLEE CLUB PLANS THE FUNERAL.
16. “Comeback”: This one would have been better if it would have just fully committed to the Biebs. Sam’s decision to sing “Baby” and start the Bieber super-group actually made sense, but the thread was mostly lost half-way through the episode so that Sue could join the Glee Club to get over her inability to find the next high. Just typing these sentences makes me both laugh and sick to my stomach. I guess that’s Glee for you.
15. “Never Been Kissed”: “Teenage Dream” is most certainly the season’s big musical number and I really love Blaine, but it is hard to get past all the Tolerance Hogwarts problems in “Never Been Kissed.” I loved that the series went full-bore into the bullying storyline, but “Kissed” manufactured so much drama and character developments that the episode didn’t really work. The episode was sometimes too preachy and other times not preachy enough, which led to an uneven and problematic episode that should have been more responsibly handled.
14. “Blame It on The Alcohol”: Glee gets itself into trouble when it tries to straddle the line between after school special and parodying after school specials and this episode is probably the epitome of that. Will Schuester shouldn’t be giving advice to anyone and this episode’s generally cavalier attitude towards underage drinking seems particularly problematic to me, no matter what my personal beliefs are. However, the party sequence was really well done and everyone who said that this one would have worked much better as a bottle episode in Rachel’s basement is absolutely correct. The young cast bounces off one another wonderfully and freeing them from the confines of the choir room always works wonders.
13. “Sexy”: This is another episode that fails to nail the tone of its preachy/parody methodology, but the more intimate character moments raise its overall quality quite a bit. I’m still not sure how I feel about Blaine coming to Burt and asking him to talk about sex with Kurt, but the scenes between the Hummel men were solidly heartfelt. This episode is most notable for its development of the Santana-Brittany relationship, which is most certainly the best thing season two had to offer.
12. “New York”: The second season finale had a lot of issues (the rushed handling of Will’s possible departure, the lack of focus on anyone not named Rachel or Finn) and continued the season’s problematic handling of the competitions, but the number of individual high notes were enough to land it here. This is an episode that could be looked back upon with a more positive spin depending on how next season plays out, but nevertheless, the last 10 minutes are some of the strongest this season had to offer.
11. “Furt”: Glee knows how to handle celebratory events, so although the wedding of Finn’s mom and Kurt’s dad was totally rushed and turned into a love-fest for the newly holy Kurt and not the bride and groom, “Furt” still works. This is one of those episodes were I constantly scoffed at the flaws in the series’ logic but found myself smiling/laughing/crying nevertheless, which is really a testament to how well the series handles individual moments, especially big ones.
10. “Special Education”: After the season finale, I started to rethink my opinion of the competition episodes and how they were situated within the series’ narrative, but I’m still not sure I buy the production team’s implicit message that the lack of focus by the characters trickled upwards to a lack of focus by the writers themselves. I’m always weary of reading story themes into production processes, but it does kind of make sense now that the series made little effort to make any of the competitions seem that important. “Special Education” is basically a note-for-note copy of the first Sectional episode and it still sort of works, somehow. Like the other two competition-centric efforts, this one would have benefited for more lead up, but the musical performances are really good, so there’s that.
9. “The Substitute”: High-profile guest stars are always dangerous, but somehow, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Holly Holiday fit nearly perfectly into this series’ wonky universe. After the missteps of “Rocky Horror Glee Show” and “Never Been Kissed,” this one was a frantic, fun pallet-cleanser. Mercedes’ tirade against Sue’s healthy eating initiatives was pretty dumb, but the rest of the episode went a long way in showing how important Will is to the New Directions dynamic, even if it did so without him there. Paltrow was generally awesome here, which of course made the law of diminishing returns that defined her second and third appearances so disappointing.
8. “Audition”: Rachel sending Sunshine to the crack house aside, this is a fairly solid starter to the season. It reintroduced us to the important characters and clearly lays out the New York/National narrative in fun fashion. I don’t particularly love this episode, but it is mostly inoffensive and enjoyable.
7. “Original Song”: The songwriting process should have carried multiple episodes, but even mostly contained to this one episode, it works really well. The intentionally terrible songs are funny and the unintentionally terrible songs the ND’ers sing at Regionals are bearable. This season did a sneaky good job of developing the Kurt-Rachel relationship and their interactions work nicely. This episode strays from the competition episode formula more than “Special Education,” a nice sign for the future.
6. “Prom Queen”: Although there were two episodes that came after it, “Queen” is the season’s quasi-finale. This is the last episode to address the season’s most explored plotline (Kurt’s place at McKinley and his relationship with Karofsky) and its best (Santana’s identity crisis), and for the most part, it handles them both well. A Glee prom could have been much more obtrusive and extravagant, but I appreciated how “Queen” highlighted the character moments more than anything else. I think Kurt’s coming out party could have been developed a bit further, but all things considered, I liked where this episode left things for the season.
5. “Grilled Cheesus”: This episode feels completely separate from anything that happened in the two episodes before it or the 19 that came after, but it was so surprisingly emotional and moving that it remains memorable. Sure, nearly killing arguably the series’ most likable supporting character is totally manipulative, especially in the way it opened the characters up to explore slightly religious music, but I’m okay with that. Chris Colfer is one of the series’ best dramatic actors and I hope he submits this one as Emmy entry because he’s really wonderful here.
4. “Born This Way”: I was very weary of an extended episode dedicated in part to Lady Gaga, but this 90-minuter subverted my expectations by returning to the series’ thematic roots of acceptance and difference. Perhaps there wasn’t really enough here for the running length extension (especially with that full-act dedication to Kurt), but this episode was much more subdued and straightforward than I expected. A number of their end performance t-shirts still didn’t make sense, though.
3. “Rumours”: Glee‘s track record with artist-specific episodes is severely mixed at best, but “Rumours” works primarily because it’s flips the usual approach to those kind of episodes. Instead of having the plot be driven by the music, Fleetwood Mac’s much-respected album serves as the supporting tissue to already-in-progress conflicts between the students. Hopefully the series does a few more episodes like this instead of following the terrible Britney Spears template.
2. “Silly Love Songs”: Glee does a lot of things wrong on a regular basis, but even in the terrible episodes, it finds a way to tap into the emotional extremes of the high school student psyche. Valentine’s Day is a time when high school kids start to act particularly stupid and irrational, but in an emotionally honest way. “Silly Love Songs” somehow manages to connect with those emotions perfectly without overdoing it or getting bogged down in themes. This is one of the more straight-forward episodes of the season (much like #1 on this list), and it works because of that. Really wonderful music here as well.
1. “Duets”: This is most certainly the season’s and the series’ best episode. It has a simple conceit, but one that finds time for every one of the New Direction members, which is certainly a rarity in Glee‘s problematic character hierarchy. The character beats are not tremendously revelatory, but perhaps that is why they are so effective. Glee doesn’t always need to go for the big, sweeping moments and I hope the positive reception to an episode like this shows them that. Oftentimes, the series’ lets individual episodes get too wrapped up in structure, but the duet framework is actually the most useful one it has going for it. Of course, I said that about the competition episodes in season one and the production team kind of pissed that away this season. I can’t wait for “Duets, Part II” to suck.
There you have it folks. Thoughts?