On last night’s episode of “Glee,” McKinley High and the glee club get some new leadership when Principal Figgins and Mr. Schuster fall ill, leaving Sue to take charge of the school and a fun new substitute teacher, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, to take over glee club. Paltrow’s Holly Holliday breathes new life into New Directions, just as “The Substitute” renews the spirit of “Glee.”

The Players

  • Directed by: Ryan Murphy
  • Written by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan
  • Cast: Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Jayma Mays, Chris Colfer, Dianna Agron, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, Jenna Ushkowitz, Darren Criss

The Plot

When Mr. Schuster is out sick, quirky substitute teacher Holly Holiday (Paltrow) becomes the new faculty advisor of the glee club. Sue takes over as principal of McKinley in Figgin’s absence and immediately starts to implement new rules and regulations. Off-campus, Terri returns and Kurt’s relationship with Blaine causes tension between him and Mercedes.

The Good

  • Gwyneth: As the ultimate substitute, Paltrow’s casual sexy and fresh Holly Holliday brings a fresh perspective to glee club and a new dimension to the show. Holly describes herself as the “cure for the common class.” She is like a super permissive parent; she presents Lindsay Lohan as a topic for class discussion, suggests a trip to Taco Bell and nonchalantly drops a medical marijuana reference. She also points out a ton of flaws within the club, namely the fact that Schue never asks the kids THEIR opinion on what songs to perform. She even charms Principal Sue, threatening Schue’s place as glee club leader.
  • Excellent social commentary: Glee functions as an excellent arbitor of pop culture and social commentary, and this episode provided a platform to discuss a multitude of relevant issues. When Schue confronts Holly about her laissez-faire teaching style, she makes a few excellent points about how education needs to adapt to the 21st century in order to reach students. Last week’s commentary on bullying continued this week, as the confrontation between Kurt and his tormentor escalated, resulting in a death threat that will likely be a major issue in coming episodes.”The Substitute” also weighed in the debate about nutrition in schools, via Principal Sue’s ‘war on junk food.’
  • The Will & Grace effect- Kurt and Mercedes: Kurt embracing his more flamboyant side via his blossoming relationship with Blaine makes Mercedes feel left out. Kurt is not just her best friend; he also he fills the male presence void typically assigned to boyfriends, just with a little more flair. For Mercedes, being unable to connect with Kurt about a new dimension to his life is frustrating and saddening. This is a tale as old as time- straight girls with best gay friends the world over have felt this rejection when, suddenly, their BGF has someone else, who is theoretically better suited as a confidant. Exploring this dynamic will make for excellent conflict in future episodes.

The Good/Bad

  • Will finally sees some action: Mr. Schue was a major presence this week, and mostly redeemed himself for the jealous weirdness and questionable decisions of episodes past. He really does care about his students; it is clear that losing leadership of glee club is more about losing this beautiful relationship with the students and not about a selfish need for control, like Sue. Terri returns, crazy eyes, baby voice and all, to bring out the worst in her ex-husband. She takes advantage of Will while he is sick, though he does bear some responsibility for sleeping with a woman who is clearly unstable; when she comes flying into his apartment in a jealous rage, it is hard to feel sorry for him.

The Music

  • “Forget You,” Cee Lo: Holly radiates infectious charm throughout one of the peppier choir room jams. Paltrow’s voice rocks, and the whole number feels like a great impromptu dance party.
  • “Make Em Laugh,”: Mr. Schue has a dream in which, accompanied by Mike Chang, he performs .  The engaging choreography and cool retro vibe combine to create a unique performance, which showcases Matthew Morrisson’s B’way skills.
  • “All That Jazz,” from Chicago: Holly finds a way to win over the last member of glee club standing in the way of her takeover by encouraging Rachel to pursue her dream of doing a . The two perform the high-energy number from Chicago, complete with excellent choreography and great vocals from both women.
  • “Umbrella,” Rihanna/ “Singing in the Rain”: An inspired collaboration of modern and classic made for an amazing mash-up to close a great episode. This number was led by Schue and Holly, who have great chemistry and a combined charisma factor that is off the charts. The only drawback was that the choreography was straight from Rihanna’s music video, which somewhat lessened the impact of the performance.

Overall

“The Substitute” was the return to form that Gleeks have been waiting for. Engaging, infectious performances supported a rich plot, snappy dialogue, and developing characters. In fact, the only true downside to this episode was the realization that Gwyneth Paltrow is not coming back next week.

Rating: 9.5/10

The next episode of Glee airs on November 23rd at 8 p.m on Fox.

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