The penultimate episode of Season Two of GLEE on Fox last night was just about everything you could ask for from a funereally-themed Very Special Episode such as that on this show - and, in addition to the doom and gloom, we even got a scintillating "Back To Black" from Santana and Lea Michele miraculously making "My Man" all her own! Sure, the requisite gospel/r&b moment came courtesy of Amber Riley, as you would certainly expect it to given GLEE's lineage - particularly a GLEE with a funereal theme - yet the show managed to stay mostly out of the maudlin, morbid and mundane and remain its frothy, effervescent self - while always keeping it real and grounded in reality. Truly. Yes, indeed, GLEE's "Funeral" episode put the "real" in "funereal" much more so than the "fun" - but, there was some of that to be had, as well; for sure. Of special note, "Funeral" also featured the continued extended return of Broadway baby and GLEE fan-favorite Jonathan Groff as Jessie St. James, and although he did not grace us with a song this week he certainly left a lasting impression - particularly coming after last week‘s triumph, which was the GLEE musical pinnacle of Season Two thanks to him and Ms. Michele. Indeed, Lea Michele - by way of Barbra Streisand and Fanny Brice - took the lead last night and stole the show. The ladies ruled the night on the "Funeral" episode of GLEE - Lea Michele and Jane Lynch, first and foremost.
Lea Michele has sort of gotten short shrift in Season Two on GLEE. Sure, she has had a few truly sensational, knocked-out-of-the-park moments like her take on Katy Perry‘s "Firework" and Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" in the Valentine‘s Day and Super Bowl episodes, respectively, but she hasn't had a "Don't Rain On My Parade"-level moment of majorly memorable musical magnitude - that is, until last night. Until "My Man". Sacred ground? You bet your butt. But, Barbra? Yes, Barbra - again. And, so - what of it? Ms. Michele has every right to tackle the best songs in the canon, no matter who may have sung them before her - Barbra Streisand included. Will she be compared to them and to Barbra if she does so? Yes. Oh, yes. But, can her version handle it? Quite possibly. While no one will ever best Barbra Streisand singing "My Man" in the film version of FUNNY GIRL - except, perhaps, as she did herself in the Broadway show with the arguably superior Jule Styne/Bob Merrill eleven o'clock barn-burner "The Music That Makes Me Dance" that "My Man" replaced in the film version; check out the Original Broadway Cast Recording if you don't believe me - Lea Michele made "My Man" her own and made it quite magical in the process. It is a difficult sing and, while her phrasing may have taken one or two too many pointers from the Streisand playbook, making it work dramatically is a whole other ball of wax - and she did it. Those tears looks pretty damn real and she was in very top form. Speaking of which, when does Idina Menzel return and when can they sing a duet of "Queen Bee" from A STAR IS BORN? Or the Donna Summer duet "Enough Is Enough"? Or, anything at all? After all, Menzel's character of Shelby is raising Finn and Quinn's baby. Anyway, on "Funeral", the center ring of the three-ring-circus was undoubtedly the triumphant Ms. Michele and "My Man" - but, what of the rest of the episode?
It would be impossible to discuss "Funeral" without dissecting the delicately delivered and searing monologue delivered by Jane Lynch in the opening sequence of the episode, evocatively and emotionally recounting her relationship with her Downs Syndrome-afflicted sister - a character last seen in the memorable Carol Burnett guest-starring episode in the first half of Season Two - who had just passed away. The cold, calculating, oft-nefarious Sue Sylvester instantaneously becomes a real, live, three-dimensional human being in this moment - a rare event only sporadically occurring, and always with great import to the entire arc of the season. So, when Sue Sylvester gets serious and earnest without tongue placed in cheek, we had better sit up and pay very close attention. This Ryan Murphy-penned episode was deceptively designed to offer the laughs, leers and lovability we have come to expect from the show, but he also added a healthy, hearty (and heart-y) dose of drama and reality. The pay-off for all of the outlandish, over-the-toppery of Season Two coming from Coach Sylvester and the newly-formed and as-quickly-disbanded Legion of Doom came last night in an epic capitulation with the achingly heartfelt and realistic depiction of Sue's sister's death - how quickly it appears, how unprepared we are for it, and how we manage the loss as an individual; and, furthermore, how a community can band together to make it a little bit better and a little bit easier for everyone concerned. Community is key - especially to GLEE. Sometimes, yes, even just the tiniest bit of kindness and tenderness can melt the iciest heart in times of need, if only ephemerally - and Sue Sylvester is no exception, as was proven tenfold last night. No question, it is in these dynamic stories in the drama-heavy episodes like last night's that GLEE puts the drama where the dramatics are - and the real in "Funereal". No, not the "fun" in "funeral", as Santana so snidely noted. Well, maybe a little bit. This is a variety show, after all.
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|