Watching Glee Until It Gets Bad S1E8: Mash-Up
The level of dark-sided cringe in this episode is enough to make me glad 2022 is nearly over, and I can leave all this behind me for good.
Well, until the next recap, at least. Anyway – Mash-Up, Glee’s eighth episode, is for sure a bit of a righting of the course after a wobbly episode last week, and I’m glad for that. What I’m not so glad for, though, is how this episode chose to blow me backwards through a wall with second-hand embarrassment.
I need to make it clear that it’s not Bust A Move that’s the highest level of cringe for me in this episode, even if I wasn’t entirely prepared for that amount of corny in the very first number this week: I actually don’t mind Matthew Morrison’s version of it, if only because it’s so obviously silly and tongue-in-cheek (in much the same way I enjoyed so much in Acafellas) it’s impossible to take seriously enough to be offended by it. I know it’s a bit infamous as a terrible Glee cover, but it’s just daft enough to be enjoyable (and Chris Colfer’s little “Oh my God” sends me every time).
No, my genuine problem this week is The Thong Song. It’s another Matthew Morrison special, this time with Jayma Mays, and it might have gotten away under the same “silly but harmless” wire Bust A Move did. But it just can’t, because this cover of The Thong Song – this neutered, sexless, cheesy, autotuned mess of a cover – needs you to take it at least a little seriously. It’s the basis for the major drama this episode, kicking off the plot that forces Will to admit his feelings for Emma and the impossibility of acting on them, and it starts with a heated moment after the fucking Thong Song. Later this episode, Emma and Will share a duet of I Could Have Danced All Night, and this is what they used to hint at a dangerously idealistic romance between the two? Really? I just can’t forgive it. This is nuclear-level awful. Ken Tanaka catches the two of them mid-thonging, and honestly, if I were him, I would have been relieved seeing my fiancee being serenaded with that – because nobody in their right mind would want to fuck someone who sang this at them. I can’t drape the flattering veil of camp over this performance; it’s just really, really fucking bad.
But it does, at least, serve as the lead-in to a plot I genuinely like. So much of this first season of Glee is about impossible dreams, and Emma and Will’s flirtation thus far in the show is just that: the two of them are involved with other people, they’re co-workers, it’s never going to happen. But the fantasy of it, for both of them, is still just appealing enough to keep the feelings lingering. Add to this Ken (who is just imbued with more sweetness and more depth by Patrick Gallagher than he really needs to be, but I’m grateful for it), who’s accepted his dream of being loved by Emma the way he loves her is utterly unachievable, and it makes for a genuinely interesting conflict. It’s sad, melancholy, and well-performed, especially by Matthew Morrison and Jayma Mays who really do have a lovely chemistry at this point in the show. It’s bittersweet and a little sad, and, if it didn’t start with the fucking Thong Song, it would be one of the best single episodes of drama the show has done so far. I really do love it, and how it ties in directly with the other main plot this episode (of the kids being pulled between Glee club and football, Will’s group and Ken’s).
Do I even need to repeat what I’ve been saying every week about the comedy? Jane Lynch has a little C-plot here, as Sue falls for a colleague and mistakes his interest in swinging for a passion for swing dancing, and it’s incredibly silly and also wildly entertaining. My favourite part of this plot is getting to see Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison dancing together; while Morrison is obviously the more technically experienced of the two, Jane Lynch looks like she’s having so much fun twirling around to Swing, Swing, Swing (also, check out this remix of the song by my beloved The Correspondents), it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Even though it’s just a dance number, it’s the standout this week for me, a loose, fun scene that’s utterly gratuitous and genuinely delightful. Jane Lynch brings this delusional commitment to the bit as Sue that I will never not find hilarious – this is the first episode we get to see one of her giant wardrobe of very specific and totally realised outfits, one of my favourite running gags in the show’s history – and it’s a good counterpoint to the sadness at the heart of Mash-Up.
Mash-Up, Th*ng S*ng aside, is a really great episode for this first season, a slightly melancholy but still very funny forty minutes that relies on some of the best actors in McKinley High right now.
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(header image via YouTube)