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Glee' Recap: Cee Lo and Rihanna vs. Broadway in 'The Substitute'

Gwyneth Paltrow delivers as a substitute who tries to bring Top 40 back to the glee club

November 17, 2010 9:13 AM ET

Just in time for flu season and Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow guest-starred as carefree substitute teacher Holly Holliday. She covered for Mr. Schuester, who got sick as he was trying to prep the New Directions for sectionals, hallucinating his high school singers were a group of adorable five-year-olds dressed as the mini-mes of their older counterparts ("I"m going to go home... but first I'm going to get you guys a sitter," he told them.)

 

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The episode was more about compromise within than pitting the New Directions against an outside enemy (save for the always-present Sue Sylvester, who was escalated to an interim principal post that found her worshipping — who else? — President Nixon). Kurt continued to hang out with his new role model, Blaine, Mercedes staged a protest against Sue's "potater-tot" ban and Mr. Schuester engaged in some ex-sex with Terri. But the main matter at hand was whether the glee club should focus on the old (Mr. Schuester: "Come on, guys, there's got to be a Journey song we haven't done yet!") or the new (Miss Holliday: "Top 40, sweet cheeks!"). Here's how the numbers stacked up.

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"Forget You"
After Rachel swings a little too dictator-ish in her attempt to cover for Mr. Schuester (What should the glee club focus on? "ME!," she wrote on the white board), Kurt asks Miss Holliday to hop on board. To win over the glee club, Miss Holliday launches into Cee Lo's summertime viral hit, proving she can handle a little pop-R&B as well as she can country. As we hoped when the clip premiered last week, the censor-pleasing switch from "F--k You" to "Forget You" didn't affect the song's success: Paltrow-as-Holliday delivered as a teacher trying desperately to stay relevant with her kids, pulling off a charming and sassy rendidition of the song that had everyone but Rachel joining her.

Watch: Gwyneth Paltrow Takes On Cee Lo in Her Glee Debut

"Make 'Em Laugh"
Meanwhile, a sick Mr. Schuester is tended to by his ex-wife, Terri (who seems to have come down a few notches on the crazy ladder). She brings him his favorite movie, Singin' in the Rain and he dreams a number in which he and Mike Chang recreate Gene Kelly and David O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" from the iconic film ("Mike, I'm going to run through a number here. And after a bit, I want you to join in, got it?" Mr. Schuester asks). It's an impressive feat to recreate the song — which finds Schuester and Mike recreating Kelly and O'Connor's steps by dancing on, in and around a set in a high school auditorium. But, like the dream-based performances in "Britney/Brittany" earlier this season, this one stands alone better than it fits into the plot.

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"Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag"
Miss Holliday wins over Rachel by giving in to her wish for a number that's "upbeat and glamourous with a really good dance beat." Cue the finale from Chicago, in which the ladies recreate Bob Fosse's famous steps in the auditorium for the rest of the crew. While "Make 'Em Laugh" was a fine fit for Mr. Schuester and Mike's slick footwork, Rachel and Miss Holliday actually looked like they were doing a high school production when compared to the many movers that have come before them (most famously Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking on stage, and even Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger in film). Vocally, it was spot-on, but the level of dancing left something to be desired. Where was Brittany in this? It sure looked fun, though!

Video: Gwyneth Paltrow Performs At CMAs

"Umbrella/Singin' in the Rain"
Principal Sue hires Miss Holliday to replace Mr. Schuester, but Holliday falters when things get tough, and resigns. As a peace offer, Mr. Schuester enlists her to help him modernize the title track from his favorite movie with a more modern, weather-inspired tune. Unlike last week's spazzy mash-ups, pairing Rihannna with Gene Kelly is a trick that works. We'll even forgive the fact that the song, which is supposed to be for the New Directions' Sectionals performance, is sung by Mr. Schuester and Miss Holiday, and suspend disbelief that Principal Sue would allow for the auditorium to be taken over by gallons of rainwater. This bouyant and catchy homage to the old and the new perfectly captures Glee's musical spirit.

Bottom Line: This week's episode was a little harsh on Mr. Schuester — while he's steered the New Directions to excellent moments in the past, "Make 'Em Laugh" and "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag" fell short of the takes on contemporary tunes. After last week's plot-heavy episode, this felt more filler — save for Gwyneth Paltrow's successful guest star stint. Next week: The New Directions take on Bruno Mars when it's wedding time — and Carol Burnett guest stars as Sue's mom.

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