Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E5: The Rhodes Not Taken
Okay, everyone. This is not a fucking drill. This is the Kristin Chenoweth episode.
Episodes like this I feel the need to judge against a different set of criteria than normal. Chenoweth as April Rhodes is such a genuine shining gem in this series, and indeed in pretty much everything she’s ever been in, it’s hard to notice any of the usual Glee-isms going on around her. From the moment she flashes one of those sweet, toothy smiles over a glass of boxed wine, it’s impossible to resist her. The show is so lucky to have landed someone of her stature in the industry this early on into it’s run. She walks in to this episode and does a cut-down version of Maybe This Time in the classroom, just standing there in a simple spotlight and an off-the-rack dress, and it’s like what I feel like meeting God must be like.
She’s a wonderfully tragic character, a perfect encapsulation of what the endless chasing of those dreams will do to the Glee kids in a matter of decades. She’s the exact kind of adult who would seem cool to outsider teens, from sharing booze and vintage muscle mags with Kurt and teaching the girls how to shoplift. Does she also statutorily rape several of the guys on the team? She does. It’s still a rancid joke, as it was then. But it’s part of her story, someone trapped in her glory days from decades before and unable to move on – the best she ever felt was when she was in high school, and she is determined to relive it.
She acts as an interesting parallel to Rachel’s story in this episode, as she breaks away from the Glee club to pursue her own kind of stardom as the lead in the school musical. April is brought in to replace Rachel, and it’s not exactly a subtle comparison point, but it is an effective one. Here’s what Rachel could be looking at in a few years’ time, if things don’t turn out the way she wants them to. So much of this first season so far has revolved around what it looks like to lose out on your teenage dreams, and a character like April is about the bluntest version of it we could possibly get. Her charm and effervescence are so enormous it’s almost enough to look past the deep sadness and loss at the centre of who she is, making Chenoweth just the most perfect choice to play her. She has several great performances this episode, and each and every one she embodies totally – she’s so good at injecting moments of character in her vocal performances, and I am obsessed, obsessed, obsessed to this day. I could go on about her for the rest of this article, but I’m going to try and curtail myself here.
By herself, April Rhodes is enough to fill out the three major prongs of Glee – the performances, the comedy, and the drama – but there is a decent amount going on her to keep the episode ticking along even without her. Will’s slow realization that April will never be the person she truly wanted to be when he first new her is really affecting (and his chemistry with Chenoweth is just gorgeous), and honestly, Kurt’s tiny Z-plot about becoming a low-level alcohol abuser makes me laugh every single time (his flustered, rumpled, deliriously hungover appearance in the school corridors is quite literally exactly the outfit and vibe I was rocking for my entire second year of university). Sue is barely even in this episode, once again, but loudly discusses her arousal about the thought of a co-worker dressing as Cleopatra and makes me have to lie down on the floor for thirty seconds before continuing. This episode also has the fucking great cover of Somebody to Love that heavily features Cory Monteith just being the sweetest, most lovable creature in the world (while visibly sweating through his shirt), and it’s one of the first real all-Glee performances this season, so it stands out.
Rachel and Finn make up a good chunk of this episode, and it’s…not my favourite thing in the world, to be honest. I don’t think this a perma-dreadful central romance, but it’s not exactly a shining light of creativity at this stage, and Lea Michele has a hard time bringing it down enough to be remotely believable as a teenage girl in these scenes. I’m honestly not convinced Rachel ever really feels like a real person, which feels like it should be a fatal flaw for the entire show but somehow, isn’t? It only really stands out to me when we’re doing tight-focus inter-personal stuff, which would be a problem if this episodes wasn’t dominated by the great Chenoweth kaiju towering over the whole story.
I love this episode, I really do. I know I’m utterly biased because of how much I adore Kristin Chenoweth but frankly, I am going to take my wins where I can find them. How are you finding the series at this point? Have we passed the Getting Bad point this soon? Let me know in the comments!
(header image via TVMaze)