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Pure "Glee": "Dr. Horrible" Cohorts Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris Reteam for This Week's Fox Musical Series
May 16, 2010  | By David Bianculli
 

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Tuesday night at 9 ET, Fox's Glee presents guest director Joss Whedon and guest star Neil Patrick Harris in a new episode that counts as one more reason this musical series is one of the best TV treats of the year...

You have Whedon, a Stephen Sondheim fan whose own musical forays include the Internet's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the classic musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And you have Harris, the titular star of Dr. Horrible, but also a Broadway star of Cabaret and Sondheim's Assassins. Put them into the Glee mix, and what do you have?

A triumph.

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Harris is cast as Bryan Ryan, a rival singer who overshadowed Matthew Morrison's Will back in his own glee-club days. They're still rivals, but in different arenas: Bryan's now a school-board member threatening to cut the funding for Will's New Directions singing class, and both Bryan and Will are up for the local community-theater production of Les Miserables.

It's an episode about dreams. Will dreams of starring in a show and of being an inspirational teacher. Rachel (Lea Michele) dreams of finding her birth mother, and wheelchair-bound Artie (Kevin McHale) dreams of walking.

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The episode pulls only these characters to the foreground -- those and Idina Menzel, who plays rival glee-club teacher Shelby. The former star of Wicked on Broadway gets to sing a duet with Lea Michele, another Broadway baby (from Spring Awakening). And it's "I Dreamed a Dream," a number from Les Miserables, to boot. And throughout, there are revelations, and surprises, and lots of drama.

Whedon, who once guest directed an episode of NBC's Office, doesn't show off in his return to high-school corridors, but does show off the cast to great advantage.

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Harris and Morrison square off in two duets -- the first, an impromptu barroom version of Billy Joel's "Piano Man." Then, at the auditions for Les Miserables, their second duet, to Aerosmith's "Dream On," is more of a duel -- and it's brilliant. What voices.

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The other big production number features Artie, out of his wheelchair and held aloft by a shopping-mall crowd to the tune of Men without Hats' "Safety Dance" (the one with the lyrics "You Can Dance If You Want To" -- which have a different meaning when sung by a character with a spinal cord injury). All the numbers have emotional resonance and dramatic underpinnings -- they aren't just look-at-us production numbers.

What else could you want from a weekly TV musical series?

Yet, greedily, I DO want more. I want Whedon to direct again, in another episode where Harris returns -- an episode built specifically around the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. And I want Kristin Chenoweth back for a third time, this time to sing a duet with her former Wicked co-star Menzel.

And I want theme episodes built around the music of The Beatles. And Randy Newman. And Paul Simon. And Fiona Apple...

But for now, I'll settle for Whedon, Harris and another fabulous hour of Glee. Thanks, Ryan Murphy, for entrusting an hour of your show to talents eminently worthy of it. And if Harris and Chenoweth aren't nominated for Guest Actor and Actress Emmys for their respective turns on this series, by the way, there is no joy in Hollywoodville...

 

4 Comments

 

Don said:

Lea Michele got her start on Broadway as Cosette in Les Miz when she was 8 years old.

Comment posted on May 17, 2010 1:56 PM


Len F. said:

As jealous as Chenoweth was of Menzel (TONY AWARD) in 'Wicked", I doubt if she would want to work with her again. But it would be fun!

Comment posted on May 17, 2010 2:36 PM


OttoMann said:

I think you mean Men Without Hats. Different men, same lack of headwear.

[Whoops. You're right. And the song, I discovered while checking up on myself, was called "Safety Dance." Live and learn. Or, in my case, live and screw up again. I'll correct in the copy. Thanks. -- David B.]

Comment posted on May 17, 2010 2:54 PM


MS said:

I love "Glee," but am I the only one who wants more glee(choir) in my Glee? What was so endearingly daffy about the early episodes was the harmonized versions of rock songs. It was hilariously inappropriate to have a high school choir in matching outfits doing a sanctioned version of "Rehab." Too often, now, the songs are solos with backing vocals, rather than choral arrangements. They don't really change the original interpretation much or surprise us. For my taste, the show should be wary of theme episodes and doesn't really need too many flashy guest stars. That said, I'm really looking forward to seeing Harris square off with Mr. Shue.

Comment posted on May 17, 2010 4:55 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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