There's been a self-congratulatory quality to the first few episodes of Glee since the Great Hiatus. In some ways, that's okay: the creators have certainly earned a victory lap or two. But I prefer Glee when it finds a way to work emotionally messiness and high-concept weirdness in with all the big-hearted balladeering.
A Madonna episode? Sure, fun stuff. But an episode that combines a mystery, a mega-meta riff on modern celebrity, a purposefully-awful series of songs, not one but two high-concept retro music videos, and some realistic forward motion on various romantic plotlines? Now we're talking! Last night, you could actually hear the psychic nuclear explosion sweeping the nation as ''Run Joey Run'' suddenly became the awesomest song ever. Now this is the Glee I fell in tormented love with.
The episode, called ''Bad Reputation,'' began with the kids huddled around a laptop watching Sue Sylvester jazzercising to Olivia Newton-John's ''Physical.'' (Kurt and Mercedes found the video mixed in with Sue's hormone-replacement injections.) The promise of viral celebrity, and the general urge to give Sue a taste of her own medicine, led the kids to post the video to YouTube. (Sample comment: ''The man in this video looks like the champion cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.'')
This put Sue in the curious position of being the victim of scorn, as opposed to the Empress. (Although she could still sling an immortal Anti-Schuester Zinger: ''I might buy a small diaper for your chin, because it looks like a baby's ass.'')
Naturally, Sue blamed the Glee kids for the prank. As a bizarrely convenient plot twist fate would have it, the Glee kids were in the firing line for ANOTHER crime: someone had posted a hotness list of Glee kids. Figgins wouldn't stand for these shenanigans at this school! (These shenanigans at this school!) In the Gleeverse, Us Weekly-style web scandals have hit local high schools. Apparently, there was a recent blow-up at a neighboring school, where the superintendent was photographed wearing women's clothing while riding ponies.
So, we had a mystery (and a central plot): Who wrote the Glist? Because it wasn't quite clear what the parameters of the list were — Hotness? Naughtiness? Sexuality? Purity? — everyone was left to ponder, in their own way, how to get more popular, by balancing the various strands of admiration, fascination, respect, and despicability that comprise modern celebrity. In other words: How do I go from being Heidi Montag 2006 to being Heidi Montag 2008, without becoming Heidi Montag 2010?
By the way, here's the complete rundown of the Glist:
7. One of the guys who doesn't talk
8. The other guy who doesn't talk
NEXT: Stop, collaborate, and listen