Last night's buck naked, buck wild episode of GLEE, "Naked" - written by series co-creator Ryan Murphy and directed by fellow co-creator Ian Brennan - acted as clear-cut evidence that GLEE is about more than mere surface sheen, shine and brilliantine vacuity and truly owes its continued success to its three best attributes - or, perhaps, make that assets - the music, the message and the incredible cast. Dressed to the nines or in the all together, as last night's case may have been, taken all together, GLEE continues to hit the high notes, touch the heart and showcase top talent all the while. "Naked" was one more episode in a surprisingly strong and enjoyable Season Four, albeit a bit body-conscious and sex-crazed. It is high school! Plus, the grand returns of Santana (Naya Rivera), Quinn (Dianna Agron) and even Miss Pillsbury (Jayma Mays)!
Take It All
Taking center stage - and centerfold - on last night's thematically rich GLEE was Sam (Chord Overstreet), aka Trouty Mouth, and, in the process, the perky second season addition reminded us of yet another underused talent on the triple-threat-packed show - lest we forget the Abercrombie & Fitch model-ready Overstreet's previously enjoyable musical numbers in the past (such as his cover of Jason Mraz/Colbie Caillat's Grammy-winning "Lucky" and Bruno Mars/Travie McCoy's "Billionaire") and general charming affability. Yes, indeed, Overstreet scored with not only his killer abs - sure to make the ladies (and some gentlemen) of the audience swoon - but also with some strikingly humorous exchanges (the Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) and Miss Pillsbury scenes especially) as well as a powerful dramatic penultimate scene shared with new BFF Blaine (Darren Criss). Weaving the plotline near-seamlessly between Sam's overarching body issue story with both Artie's (Kevin McHale) own self-image qualms - him being in a wheelchair and unsure of wanting to be a part of a Men Of McKinley beefcake calender - and how new GLEE leader Finn (Cory Monteith) deals with it as an administrator, in addition to the NYC-set plot encompassing the characters of Rachel (Lea Michele), Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Season Four addition Brody (Dean Geyer) was merely more material for the briskly burning fire acting as the power source of the unusually titillating and unassumedly touching episode.
Nelly's "Hot In Herre" mashed up with J. Gells Band's "Centerfold" was perhaps the musical number everyone will remember - and that is a credit to Overstreet's fierce, fiery delivery of it; as well as the funny spray-tan-shower conceit - but there were some huge emotional wallops coming fast and hard in the form of both of rising GLEE star Jacob Artist's musical moments as Puck's (Mark Salling) equally rambunctious younger brother Jake. Duetting with Season Four shining star Melissa Benoist as Marley on an orchestrally accented "A Thousand Years" (originally sung by Christina Perri), GLEE rekindled the romantic sparks and butterflies-beset stomach rumblings of early Rachel/Finn - or Finchel - and showed signs that GLEE may have found its new central couple for fans to root for - complete with two characters who have both been given ample fodder to sing about given their checkered pasts (together and separately). Taking the heart-tugging even further was Jake's impassioned and simply superb "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself), made famous by Ne-yo. Excellent and enlivening and exceptional in every way. Sweetly insinuating what is to come from this couple in these two memorable bare confessions of love, the more frivolous and tawdry tone of much of the proceedings was balanced with deftly introduced innocence and naiveté. And that isn't the end of the new romances being born - and those getting torn.
COME BACK TO ME, GRANDMOTHER: A JOURNEY INTO ALZHEIMER'S, a sketchy student film, formed the basis of Rachel's dilemma in "Naked" - to bare or not to bare? That is the question. In one of Season Four's most unforgettably wrought (and awesomely overwrought) sequences, Natalie Imbruglia's international 1990s pop smash "Torn" was given innovative visualization and musical recreation byway of a fascinatingly played self-duet displaying virginal, Season One Rachel juxtaposed with mature, Season Four NYC-style Rachel - in the process showcasing the sea change the character herself has experienced over the course of eighty episodes and all the places still left for her to go. The NYC tales continue to make GLEE interesting and involving for those fans who have become blase while the new cast of characters at McKinley mostly manage to maintain much of the tone established for Lima, OH. Some skeptics may still say GLEE just keeps repeating itself week in, week out, but this episode showed that there is much fresh breath still left to breathe and many important social messages left to send out to the world at large - and, most importantly of all, more rising stars to discover and showcase.
No, "Naked" was not the most salacious or scintillating of GLEE episodes ever, but the sexy and smart met halfway for the most part, and, as a result, the bulleted plot-points hit home. In a somewhat shoe-horned in return, original gleeks Santana and Quinn got back in the GLEE game by coming all the way to NYC to knock some sense into suddenly seemingly slutty Rachel (at least as far as uptight Kurt is concerned) and we were thus treated to a song. The trio iteration of the ubiquitous Sara Bareilles hit "Love Song" was a treat and teased all that we have been missing from the spunky, sassy and shapely charms of proto-gleeks Rivera and Agron. Given the allusion to Santana considering a big Kentucky-to-NYC move sometime soon, it seems safe to assume we may be seeing more of her in the coming weeks. As if all of this T&A and PDA was not enough to satiate everyone from a hormone-raging teen boy to a kindly grandmother out there in the vast expanse of the GLEE viewing public around the world, GLEE's "Naked" made its case, nailed it and pulled it off with an entertaining and well-integrated show. I myself must admit that my expectations were not set very high for last night's show given what was touted as the episode's content and the modest, if bland, studio songs released (save Artist's sensational Ne-Yo cover) prior to the premiere, but the subtle and not-so-subtle wittiness and wackiness that marks the best of GLEE, now and always, won me over, overall.
"If you want to win an Oscar, you have to show your boobs," said bird-brained gym rat Brody, and, although by episode's end he may not have been proven patently incorrect, the meme still floats out there in the universe, preying upon many. After all, it is really tough to be a teen - now more than ever - and the contradictory messages in the media about body image is as confusing and confounding as ever, for men as well as women (actors even more so), making GLEE's generally light and frothy but nevertheless poignant treatment of the issue prescient and appropriate (especially given the role of looks in the performing arts). Furthermore, Murphy finally followed up on the character description of Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) established in the very first episode ever of the show, at last addressing Sue's days as a horse hormone high Penthouse centerfold (no, really). Additionally, the episode ended with a gleek reunion of sorts - even including Mercedes (Amber Riley), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) Kitty (Becca Tobin), Joe (Sam Larsen) and others - with a monochrome-hewed tag to match Rachel's erstwhile student film - Ian Axel/Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World's ear-grabbing "The New Year".
Sure, while some more skin from the female cast would have been more than merely welcome to even out the flesh content - it's only fair - the game guys of GLEE along with the conspicuously quite classy creatives responsible for the show dished up eye candy with some substance and also served up the relatable rights of passage, spectacular showstoppers and titanic talent that compels us to return to GLEE to enjoy and experience it all over and over again every week.
Baring it all, stripped to the bone and/or overtly overly adorned, whatever GLEE is giving us at any given time continues to be something to see whether you are new to McKinley or an old friend and/or fan. As last week's incredibly strong return numbers prove, GLEE has a lot more of its stuff to show us in the future.