Suits (TV series)

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If Suits had been made ten or twenty years ago, it would be one of those must-watch American imports on British TV, shown at prime time on ITV.  Now, with multi-channel broadcasting, it is tucked away on the awfully-named Dave channel and most of the population of the UK have never heard of it.  The multi-channel era is very good at hiding wonderful shows away so that no-one ever starts to watch then unless they are channel-surfing and suddenly take an interest in the few seconds they get to see.

Suits, for those of you unfortunate enough not to have seen it, tells of the life, loves and cases within a high-flying law firm.  The first season begins with lawyer Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) hiring Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a new associate, despite the fact that Mike has never been to law school.  We then move through various cases (some of which I don’t actually understand, but that doesn’t seem to matter) and the constant threat of Mike’s secret being exposed,  as well as following the personal lives of those at the law film.  It’s the emphasis on the latter that makes Suits particularly special, with the other members of the firm growing in importance and screen time as the series progresses.

There are some wonderful performances here.  Rick Hoffman manages to make Louis Litt believable, despite the fact that the character could easily fall into caricature and series clown in lesser hands.  Sarah Rafferty as Donna, Harvey’s secretary, puts in a brilliant performance week after week, instilling her character with a mix of humour and heart.  Gina Torres is Jessica Pearson, one of the characters that has been developed with each successive season and has gone from simply a boss-like figure to a warm, determined human being.  Rachel, Mike’s girlfriend and fellow associate, is played by Meghan Markle and, again, the character has grown as the series has moved on.  But it is the chemistry and the occasional sparring between Macht and Adams as Harvey and Mike that is at the heart of the show – and it was only during a short period when Mike left the law firm and the two shared hardly any screen time that the show fell in quality.  The other real stars here are the writers, who manage to produce interesting, human, moving and funny material for its characters week after week in a way that many better-known shows could only dream of.

Many would call Suits the L. A. Law of the 2010s and, I guess, that is a fair comparison, but the issue here is that Suits is a far better written, acted, directed and consistent show than L. A. Law ever was.  The earlier show, essential viewing in its day, was very inconsistent, moving from brilliance one week to sheer stupidity the following episode.  Each successive season got more and more inconsistent until the whole thing just unravelled and ended with season eight in 1994.  Suits, on the other hand, moves from strength to strength, with season five probably being the best so far, especially now the “Mike is going to be exposed” storyline has finally been seen to have run its course and, seemingly, put to bed (although, as I write this, I see in the synopsis for future episodes that it might appear again).   What’s more, it has that consistency in quality that L. A. Law never had.

If you haven’t caught Suits you have missed a treat.  But don’t join it now, go and get yourself the DVDs of the earlier seasons and catch-up first.  With more than sixty episodes to watch, it will also give you many opportunities to hear the theme song and try to work out what the hell they are singing about!

Glee: What Might Have Been

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*Contains season six spoilers*

Quite how Glee managed to limp through its mostly-awful fourth and fifth seasons is anybody’s guess.  There were times when it seemed that the whole thing would just grind to a halt and no-one would be bothered to even turn up to write, direct and act in it, let alone watch it.  And yet, since the death knell has been sounded, and the sixth and final season has started, this most erratic and frustrating of series has finally found its feet once again.  At its very best, Glee does not just entertain but it can also move its audience and send out a message like virtually no other programme.

I actually came to Glee in the first place about four years ago because a couple of my students were writing an essay on it, and I needed to see a few episodes.  Even back then, in its first and second seasons, the writing was erratic – brilliant one week, bloody awful the following week.  And yet one thing shone through despite the bland writing, forgotten narrative threads, bizarre characterisations, and awful song choices:  Glee had heart.  There were times when it became a little preachy to say the least, but at least it was preaching acceptance.  But the erratic quality of the programme saw viewing figures fall (understandably), and the third season could easily have been the last.

But still it carried on, trying to dig itself out of the hole it had dug for itself, trying every trick in the book to win back viewers or, at the very least, keep the ones it still had.  The idea to have what were essentially two parallel narratives running through the fourth and fifth seasons was interesting, but doomed to fail.  Glee got more and more silly and irrelevant.  It had been forgotten that the show was at its best when it was also at its simplest, but still there were moments when Glee’s best qualities shone through despite everything.

Now the show is at the midway point of its sixth and final series of just thirteen episodes and, somehow, it has returned to very near its best.  Surreal humour that makes sense to no-one is mixed up with genuinely moving storylines and songs that are actually there for a reason.  There are no fireworks as Glee comes to an end – no big attempt to win back viewers, but just an eagerness to let this once-loved show close out with some dignity.  But this simple aim has resulted in some wonderful moments – and as a forty-one year old man, I really shouldn’t be saying that given that the target audience is probably about fifteen.

Dot-Marie Jones has been nominated three times for a Prime-time Emmy for her performances in the show and, given her performance in recent episodes that have centred around Coach Beiste’s decision to live life as a man, it’s highly likely that a further nomination will be forthcoming.  Excusing the fact that his decision was made and surgery taken place all in a matter of four weeks, this storyline has resulted in one of Glee’s best episodes in years, entitled Transitioning. It’s a simple episode, in which a number of storylines get moved forward, but Jones’s performance as her character returns to work for the first time as a man is remarkable.  It’s been mentioned in various places over the last few weeks that the transgender community gets forgotten or ignored when it comes to LGBT representation and politics, thus making this current narrative arc particularly welcome.

OK, I admit it, just like a Hallmark afternoon movie starring Lindsey Wagner, the climax in which transgender former student Unique sings a message of acceptance to the rather lost Coach Beiste, backed with a 300-strong transgender choir, is obviously intended to pull at the heartstrings and get the audience either crying like a baby or puking as a result of saccharine overload.  And yet it’s done so well (and is so out of the blue) that even the most-hardened watchers would struggle not to be moved by the whole thing.  Yes, it’s manipulating the viewer without apology, and, yes, it’s unadulterated feel-good TV – but that’s not always a bad thing.  And yes, I cried like a baby.

Glee has tackled numerous issues over its six-season run – some were done remarkably well and in depth, while others were handled so appallingly that the writers should be ashamed (most notably when Ryder admitted that he was molested as a child).  And, yes, there are “issues” that have, for some reason, been avoided.  In a series aimed at teenagers, why did the producers seemingly go out of their way to avoid storylines relating to drugs or mental health?  But the one thing it has consistently done, and done well, is ask for acceptance of the LGBT community, and this sixth season is no exception to that – quite the opposite in fact.  And, as a gay man myself, I understand the importance of that message going out to a core audience of the age that is just starting to understand who they are and  their purpose in life.

This final season of Glee has felt more like a beginning than an ending, and no doubt the show’s constant viewers will be watching it thinking of what could have been had the programme had been of this standard over the previous three seasons.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and the series has run its course.  In 2009, when it started, it was fresh, vibrant, funny and different.  Now it’s viewed by most as tired and cliched.  But I for one, even as a grumpy middle-aged man, am pleased that Glee has been allowed these thirteen episodes to get its arse in gear and finish with its head held high and to demonstrate just what it achieved over the last six years rather than where it failed.

Frogs (1972)

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I’m going to make a statement for the defence for a film that is supposedly one of the worst horror films made. So, why did I buy it and watch it? Well, it was a penny on Amazon and I got curious.

However, I found much to enjoy in “Frogs” (1972). It’s a kind of amphibian version of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Ray Milland plays Jason Crockett, the owner of a mansion on a private island who has gathered his family together for his annual birthday celebrations. However, the island’s wildlife has other ideas and slowly but surely start killing off the family. It sets itself out as an eco-horror from the very beginning although, as with “The Birds” there is no exact explanation given for the behaviour of the animals, other than the fact they are giving some kind of revenge on humans who are polluting their environment.

I’m sure much of the film’s bad reputation comes from the title, which does admittedly sound rather daft. However, the film itself is surprisingly well done, all things considered. The atmosphere is built up through endless shots of, well, frogs within scenes (virtually ALL scenes). This is set up at the beginning when Pickett Smith, played by Sam Elliott, is taking photos of the wildlife of the island. What makes this build up of tension work so well, however, is that there are long stretches of the film that are effectively silent. Other than the sounds of birds or croaking from the frogs, there are no sound effects, and the usual crescendo of music that nearly always signals a murder or death in a horror film is absent. There is no music here for the most part, and it only adds to the bizarre creepiness of the film.

Some of it is very silly (such as death-by-turtle), but some of the deaths are rather uncomfortable to watch – particularly the first one that we see occurring on screen. And, as with the Hitchcock film, even more eerie is the lack of intelligent explanation at the end. These events just happen.

The film falls down in some respects, though, not least through the writing of Milland’s character. His actions are downright absurd at times, and the dialogue he spouts is often ludicrous. Milland’s acting is less than great also – I’ve never found him to be the most convincing of actors at the best of times, but there are moments here when he is downright appalling. Some of the other actors are less than stellar too, but Sam Shepherd is superb, and manages to hold the whole thing together.

So, I put the DVD in expecting to be giggling my way through a campfest, and ended up thinking “that wasn’t at all bad.” It’s a lesson that we should all know by now – some films have a reputation for being bad for no real reason, and this is a case in point. So, if you see it on Amazon for a penny, it’s well worth considering for ninety minutes of sometimes daft but sometimes very eerie entertainment.

Guilty Pleasures #2: The Flaming Urge (1953)

 

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The Flaming Urge is an odd little film for a number of reasons.  Perhaps its biggest appeal is the chance to see Harold Lloyd Jr in the first of his two leading roles in feature films – the other would come a decade later in Married Too Young.

The narrative would have us believe that the film is about a young man called Tom Smith who is a “fire-chaser”.  In other words, he likes to watch fires.  However, this goes beyond a liking on his part, for this is an urge, an addiction.  Tom becomes known as a fire-chaser in the town he has chosen to make his home and is the major suspect when an arsonist goes on the rampage.  Tom knows that he has to find out who the real “fire bug” is in order to clear his name.

The film seems to be coded in order to be read as about something other than fires, however.   Firstly we have the title, The Flaming Urge, with the word “flaming” synonymous with homosexuality.  Furthermore, Tom is not the only “fire-chaser” in town – in fact they seem to crop up with alarming regularity.  What’s more, we’re even told at one point that the “fire-chaser” can be cured by the love of a good woman, which is rather convenient.  Finally, we have the fact that Harold Lloyd Jr was a homosexual himself (and led a rather short, tragic life by all accounts).  Bearing all of this in mind, and the brief whodunit element aside, this little poverty row movie seems to be a film about homosexual urges rather than about urges to chase fires.

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This sounds like a clumsy, pretty awful little film.  However, it’s actually rather enjoyable whether you choose to believe it’s about fires or being gay.   The script is really quite good compared to other cheapies of the period, and even the direction has some interesting touches, and it’s rather a pity that Harold Ericson (whoever he is) didn’t direct more.    The major surprise, though, is Lloyd Jr himself, who acquits himself remarkably well, putting in a believable and rather charismatic performance.  It’s certainly a shame that he didn’t get the chance to act in more prestigious movies over the following decade.

This little curio is available from Alpha Video in a perfectly watchable print, but is also available in full on YouTube.  At just over an hour, it moves along at a fair lick, and is certainly worth seeking out if you fancy a cheap and cheerful undemanding little movie that is either about fires or being gay.  Or both.   And it’s got a cute dog.  What more could you want?

Ten Favourite Christmas Albums

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A festive entry in my little series of “ten favourite” posts.  This time I turn my attention to music and Christmas albums.  So, in no particular order…

White Christmas with Nat & Dean (LP version)

Back in the 1970s, Music for Pleasure released a lovely 12 track LP alternating songs by Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.  It was a favourite in our house while I was growing up, and featured some fine performances and, rather strangely, the split album idea worked very well.  What’s more, it was one of the few places to find Dean Martin’s “The Christmas Blues” at the time.  It all went to pieces on the CD issue though.  Extra tracks were added, but only from Nat King Cole, thus upsetting the balance and the magic was gone.   The original album is superb though, and worth grabbing just to hear Nat King Cole tell us that he’s the “Happiest Christmas Tree” (Ho ho ho, he he he).

Seasons Greetings from Perry Como

This is Como’s Christmas album from 1958 and is one of the warmest Christmas albums you will ever find.  The first side features secular festive favourites, while the second side features Como singing carols, leading to the concluding lengthy track in which he narrates the story of the first Christmas, with his narrative interspersed by snatches of carols (this was something he started doing on TV in the early 1950s).  Como’s version of “Home for the Holidays” and “Oh Holy Night” make this a must – and the final track makes it a great one for the kids. 

Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas

If ever there was an unjustly neglected Christmas album, this might be it.  Ella forgets jazz for thirty-five minutes as she leads a choir through a series of Christmas hymns and carols.  A very different affair from her Christmas album for Verve, this was her second release for Capitol in 1967, and was either ignored by critics or ravaged by them.  In reality, Ella is probably in the best voice of her career and her warmth and sincerity oozes out of every groove.

A Dave Brubeck Christmas

Jazz Christmas albums are a little hit and miss, but this one is both delightful and unusual in that it finds Dave Brubeck playing solo piano rather than as part of a trio or quartet.   This is great stuff, with Brubeck still in great form despite being in his late seventies when it was recorded.  He might be best known for his  cool/bop jazz recordings, but perhaps the most enjoyable track here is “Winter Wonderland”, which finds him playing good old-fashioned stride piano. 

Michael Buble’s Christmas

It’s not very often a modern Christmas album becomes an instant favourite, but this one seems to be the exception.  Buble presents us with an album of mostly traditional Christmas fare, but a number of tracks have a twist – such as the wonderful Dixieland take on “Blue Christmas” – and others are just so well sung and arranged that it’s hard not to fall in love with the album.

Elvis’ Christmas Album

No, not the original 1957 version, but the 1970 issue which ditches the gospel material and adds “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” (a single from 1966) and the non-festive “Mama Liked the Roses”.  The 1966 track oddly fits snugly amongst the raw sounds of those recorded nearly a decade earlier in which songs range from the dirty innuendo-ridden blues of “Santa Claus is Back in Town” (Hang up your stockings/Turn down the lights/Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight) to the reverent take on “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”.   Elvis went on to record a second Christmas album in 1971, one which finds him in poor voice and singing a batch of mostly depressing, uninspired new songs.  It has to rank as one of the most disappointing sequels in history.

Harry Connick Jr: Harry for the Holidays

Harry Connick Jr’s Christmas albums are a mixed bag.  The first one, “When My Heart Finds Christmas” was so awful that ever after in our household he was known as “Harry Chronic”.   “Harry for the Holidays” is much better, and catches Harry during one of his better periods, following hot on the heels of his great “Come By Me”,“30” and “Songs I Heard” albums.  So this album features slightly left-field, whacky big band arrangements of mostly well-known Christmas songs.  “Frosty the Snowman”, which opens the album is typical of this, given a noisy makeover that makes it sound like something out of a New Orleans Mardi Gras.  It all runs a little out of steam by the end of the 65 minute album, but “Silent Night”, which closes the album, is given a lovely arrangement, mixing traditional jazz and gospel sounds. 

The Sinatra Family Wishes You a Merry Christmas

I wrote about this one a few days back in a separate post, but this is a fun album featuring Sinatra and his three kids.  Nancy Sinatra never sounded better.

Christmas with Chet Atkins

This is a lovely warm album of instrumentals from country-styled guitarist Chet Atkins, and features fourteen tracks and is ideal for non-obtrusive music while hanging up those decorations.  The original CD issue was rather botched for some reason, but it’s now available under the title “Songs for Christmas” in better sound – it couldn’t be worse than Mum and Dad’s copy of the album, though, which was bought in 1961 and regularly got stuck as the needle tried to avoid the scratches!

The Andy Williams Christmas Album

The BBC recently showed a couple of clip shows from the Andy Williams Show that ran from the early 1960s until the mid-70s (shame on the BBC for cropping the picture!).  Watching it reminds us of how talented Williams was in his prime, with vocal performances that saw him singing jazz with Ella Fitzgerald and folk with Simon and Garfunkel.   His Christmas album was released in 1963 and contains a relatively predictable set of festive favourites.   If the vocals are sometimes just a little too laid back at times, and the arrangements a little saccharine, there are still gorgeous performances of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Happy Holidays” and “The Little Drummer Boy”.

This is my last post before Christmas, so have a great Christmas and we’ll gather here again in that strange lull between Christmas and New Year!

 

 

Ten favourite Horror Films

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Well, it’s that time of year, folks, where the horror genre comes to the fore as we all go a little Halloween crazy.  Actually, I can’t say Halloween has ever bothered me a great deal (and the original film even less so), but it is a damn fine opportunity to wheel out another in my occasional series of “ten favourite” blogposts.  As with the entries on 1910s and 1920s films, these are favourite films and I make no pretence that they are or might be the ten “best” horror films.

Waxworks (1924)

It’s true to say that Dr Caligari leaves me a little cold, and so if I’m looking for a German expressionist horror film it is Waxworks that I normally turn to.  This is a great little portmanteau feature which includes three stories within a framing device in which a writer is employed to write stories about the various exhibits in a waxworks museum.  The most famous sequence is by far the shortest, and involves the coming to life of the Jack-the-Ripper type figure.  The sequence only lasts six minutes, and seems like a bit of an afterthought compared to the other stories lasting nearly forty minutes each.  However, there are reasons for this.  Firstly, there was originally going to be a fourth story, although this was never filmed and, secondly, the order of the stories was changed due to the censors in Germany.  It is the resequenced version we have on DVD from Kino.  However, the film was shown in its original sequence at its USA premiere in 1926 – so perhaps a version with the pre-censor sequencing is hiding in a vault somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered.

The Mummy (1932)

For me this is the most chilling of all films in the first cycle of Universal horror films.  Dracula feels stage-bound and Frankenstein, though a brilliant film, is not one that ever unnerved me.  The Mummy, on the other hand, does just that.  Karl Freund’s direction is remarkably creepy, Karloff is superb, and the flashback sequence is as horrifying now as when it was filmed.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

I have always felt this was a most unfortunate title, as it is one that makes the film sound like a trashy drive-in type move from the 1960s.  It is instead a brilliantly executed horror movie inspired by Jane Eyre.  In all of the current crop of zombie movies, there is nothing quite as terrifying as the zombies portrayed here in what is probably the best of all the Val Lewton-produced horror cycle from the early 1940s.  It wasn’t an instant classic, however.  The New York Times review didn’t have much positive to say:  ‘To this spectator, at least, it proved to be a dull, disgusting exaggeration of an unhealthy, abnormal concept of life. If the Hays office feels it has a duty to protect the morals of movie-goers by protesting the use of such expressions as “hell” and “damn” in purposeful dramas like “In Which We Serve” and “We Are the Marines,” then how much more important is its duty to safeguard the youth of the land from the sort of stuff and nonsense that their minds will absorb from viewing “I Walked With a Zombie”?’

The Uninvited (1944)

I recently re-watched The Uninvited and was a little disappointed in that it didn’t live up to the distant memory I had of it from when the UK’s Channel Four showed it when I was but a nipper.  That said, this is still an engrossing mystery/ghost story that has achieved both classic and cult status over the years.   Ray Milland’s character might be a little too chipper and bright, often breaking the atmosphere the film tries so hard to achieve, but otherwise this is one of the best ghost stories of the 1940s.

The Innocents (1961)

Another film I remember watching when I was younger, and one that is still totally entrancing today.  Jack Clayton’s direction provides a spooky atmosphere from the opening credits and never lets up throughout the entire film.  Based on Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, arguments still continue as to whether the narrative is a straightforward ghost story or the delusions of the governess.  In the end it doesn’t matter, for the film delivers no matter which reading you happen to favour.  The film is actually based on the stage adaptation of the novel with the same name (The Innocents), the 1950s production of which starred British child actor Jeremy Spenser (It’s Great to Be Young, Ferry to Hong Kong) as Miles.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

One of the best entries in Roger Corman’s series of horror films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  Like most of the other films, Poe’s story is used as the third act of the film, with the rest of the narrative built around it. Others might favour others in the series as better films, and they might be right, but nothing beats the brilliant, disturbing climax of this film.

The Changeling (1980)

One of the great unsung horror classics, this stars George C Scott as a recently-bereaved composer who finds that the house he has moved into is haunted.  This is stunning stuff, with Scott in great form, and the atmosphere built-up superbly throughout the film.  One of the few horror films I saw as a teenager and still find as unnerving now as I did then – and a good example of how atmosphere is what makes a horror film scary, not buckets of blood!

A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors (1987)

Perhaps an unlikely choice, but I still feel that this is the best of the wonderful Nightmare on Elm Street series.  It sees the return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, the main character of the first film.  By this point she has become a dream therapist and joins a hospital where some kids are being treated for their nightmares (of Freddy Kreuger, of course).  For once, the kids are all likeable (who didn’t fall in love with Rodney Eastman as Joey?  I know I did), Langenkamp finally shows signs that she might be learning how to act, and there are some brilliant set pieces.  Sadly it was mostly downhill for the series after this one.

Idle Hands (1999)

I feel sorry for Idle Hands.  It’s one of those films that came along at the worst possible time:  a fun, irreverant horror comedy about a kid who unwillingly goes on a killing spree when his “idle hands” are taken over by an evil spirit or demon or…something.  And released ten days after the Columbine shootings.  It’s actually a fun teen horror comedy, with great performances from Devon Sawa and Seth Green, but this was not what American audiences were clamouring to see at that point in time.

Dead Silence (2007)

Ok, I admit it.  I was possibly the only person in the world who saw Dead Silence and really liked it.  It’s an old-fashioned horror film with ghosts, spooky ventriloquist’s dummies and a ridiculously good looking leading man.  But what I really liked about it was that it showed there was life in the horror genre beyond the torture porn which had almost taken over the market over the previous few years.  Dead Silence might not have been seen by many at the cinema, but it is good entertainment and helped to pave the way for the return of the traditional horror movie which has blossomed over the last few years with Dark Skies, Sinister, The Conjuring and Insidious.

Honourable mentions:

The Old Dark House

The Seventh Victim

The Haunting

Ghost Story

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

 

 

Glee Returns

You may ask yourself why a man of nearly forty is watching Glee in the first place.  Well, the easy answer to that is that a couple of students I was teaching decided they wanted to write an essay on it, and so I watched the first few episodes to get an idea of what the series was all about.  Since then, it has been something of a guilty pleasure.  During the rather appalling third season even the pleasure element disappeared.   Viewing figures tumbled and, at one point this spring, there was even doubts as to whether the series would be renewed for a fifth season.

But last night it did return, and for the first time in a couple of seasons, all eyes are on Glee, if only for the saddest of reasons.  The death of Cory Monteith during the summer will likely result in higher than normal viewing figures for the first few episodes of the new season.  Those who no longer watch the programme may well tune in just to see how the program deals with the situation, which will apparantly be addressed in episode three.  Is the wait until the third episode a heartless attempt to hook viewers back into the series before showing them the episode they’re actually interested in, in the hope that some will stay with the programme once again?  Or am I just a cynic?  Not sure on that one, but reviewers of last night’s first episode have commented on the absence of Finn, the character playing by Monteith, and the fact that he wasn’t mentioned even in passing.  This seems a little odd considering he didn’t feature in either the beginning or end of the last season, and was barely mentioned during those periods either.  Had Monteith not have passed away and simply not featured in last night’s episode, most wouldn’t even have noticed that he wasn’t present.

I have said it before elsewhere and I will say it again: Glee is one of the most infuriating programmes ever to reach TV screens.  One episode can be pure unadulterated joy, and the next can be difficult to even sit through.  Last night’s season opener actually had elements of both extremes.  The McKinley High scenes were generally very good, and those following Rachel’s attempts to star in Funny Girl were rather tedious (with her version of A Hard Day’s Night being really quite awful).  Glee works best when the songs are fitted in around the script, rather than when the script works around the songs.  The Beatles catalogue allowed for a better script on the whole – much better than previous themed episodes centred around the music of Madonna or Britney Spears.

Glee can often switch between surreal, often stupid, humour and saccharine sentimentality and, again, last night’s episode had elements of both.  But there is no doubt that Glee‘s heart is in the right place.  It can still make a grown man cry like a baby when it wants to, and focussing much of the episode on the Blaine/Kurt romance certainly allowed for much tugging at those heartstrings.   As it has previously, the programme touched upon an issue currently very much in the news (gay marriage), and wasn’t shy at making political comment, with a clear dig at Russia’s treatment of homosexuals.  In fact, last night’s episode could possibly be the one most dominated by gay characters and themes in the series’ history and, even in 2013, this is unusual in a programme predominantly aimed at youngsters.   The well-publicised finale was genuinely touching and, once again, Chris Colfer managed to act everyone off the screen.

The opening of season five was, for the most part, a welcome return to form after the rather lacklustre finale to season four.  Only the coming weeks and month will tell whether the programme has indeed found itself a new lease of life, and whether it can overcome the problem that has plagued it since day one: lack of consistency.  If it can, then it might retain some of the rubberneckers who are tuning in just to see how the programme deals with the passing of one of its stars.  If it can’t, then there is little doubt that the series will be axed at the end of the current two-season deal.