Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Review: The Nutcracker at The O2

Picture: Nigel Norrington
December has been a month of variety at The O2. Megastar Rihanna entertained thousands earlier this month, but the venue is currently playing host to a rather quieter show - and one that involves its stars wearing a lot more clothing.

Following the success earlier this year of The Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet, The O2 is having a second go at ballet by hosting the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.

Telling the story of Clara, who dreams a Nutcracker doll she has been given is brought to life, the ballet is full of gorgeous dance sequences, stunning costumes and scenery, and the magic that makes many a little girl want to be a ballerina.

Seeing a ballet in an arena is, I imagine, very different to seeing it in a smaller theatre, but having never seen a ballet before it's all a new experience. What strikes me first is the diverse crowd, from older couples to ballet aficionados to cute little girls dressed in their pink tutus.

The large venue barely distracts from what is happening on stage. The sound of the fantastic orchestra carries throughout the arena, and despite the crowd of people surrounding me I feel like I'm the only one in the room, caught up in the world of Clara, the Nutcracker doll, the King of the rats, the magician Drosselmeyer and a host of dancers.

The set changes are brilliant, as the scene goes from Clara's living room to a battleground where the rats fight the toy soldiers. It all seems so smoothly and easily done, you can forget there's probably a dozen people backstage and months of work that have gone into it all. The highlight of act one is the closing sequence, after the Nutcracker has come back to life as the handsome Prince and leads Clara into the land of snow. With snow falling from the rafters the scene is set perfectly for a magical second act.

When the ballet reopens Clara, and the audience, are transported to a fantastic world conjured up by Drosselmeyer, who shows off dancers from different lands before turning Clara into the Sugar Plum Fairy. Barely has one round of applause finished before another starts, letting the dancers know their (jawdropping) talents are appreciated. When Clara wakes up by the fire, her dream ended, it's hard not to let out a sigh of disappointment that it's all over.

Although this is a brilliant production, it does have one major flaw - the depth of the stage. With The O2 arena being such a large venue, it comes with a huge stage, the front quarter of which is ignored for 98 per cent of the production. The vast amount of space between the dancers and the orchestra distracts me, and I spend a lot of time wishing the action would move to the front. The Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker played to audiences in its home city before coming to The O2, and perhaps the stage there was not so deep. Here, I didn't see the point in having such a large space if it wasn't going to be used used properly. The wasted depth at the front also meant that I was forced to watch some of the action at the back of the stage on the large video screen, which I would have preferred not to do.

Despite its flaws overall this was a great introduction to ballet, and it made me want to see more productions, albeit next time in a more intimate venue.

The Nutcracker is at The O2 until December 30. For more information and to buy tickets click here.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Baking with Sarah(!): Chocolate biscuits, fudge and cupcakes

Yes, I know not all the things I've spent today making are baked, but just go with the title. Here are the recipes I used.

This is, hands down, the easiest sweet dish I've ever made (excluding scooping ice cream out of a tub etc).
1. Put 400g of chocolate (milk or dark) in a non-stick pan with a 397g of condensed milk (a normal sized can) and 25g of butter. Melt over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is completely smooth. 
2. Sift in 100g of icing sugar. My tip is to sift a little of the icing sugar at a time, then mix, then sift some more, then mix etc. 
3. Once the mixture is completely smooth again pour out into a tin (I found something that was about an inch thick) lined with greaseproof paper, leave to cool then stick in the fridge for an hour or so. Once it's set you can chop it up and tuck in. 

Mini cupcakes
1. Cream 100g of butter with 100g of sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. 
2. Mix in two eggs, one at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before you add the next. 
3. Sift in 100g of flour and fold. Make sure to fold, not mix, as this will keep the mixture light. It may look like the flour won't mix if you fold, but it will, don't worry. 
4. Separate mixture into cupcake cases. This recipe makes 12 regular sized cupcakes, but I used tiny cupcake cases around the width of a 50p piece, and made around 30 cupcakes.
5. Bake at 190C for 10 minutes (mini cupcakes) or 15 minutes (larger). Check they're cooked by putting a toothpick in, if it comes out clean you're fine, otherwise give it a few more minutes. 

Chocolate biscuits
1. Put 100g butter, 175g soft brown sugar and 75g golden syrup in a non-stick pan and heat, stirring gently, until all the sugar is completely dissolved. 
2. Take off the heat and mix in 1tsp of bicarbonate of soda. 
3. In a separate bowl mix 350g of plain flour and 2tbsp of cocoa powder. Put half this mix in the sugar mixture, along with one lightly beaten egg, and stir in. Then add the rest of the flour and stir until a soft dough is made. Spread onto a foil-lined baking sheet and put in the fridge for a few hours, until it's firm. 
4. Roll out the dough (you may have to split it up) until it's 4-5mm thick, then use a cookie cutter (whatever shape you want) to cut the dough. 
5. Place on a baking sheet and cook at 190C for around 10 minutes if you want crunchy biscuits, and maybe 8-9minutes if you want them slightly softer. 
6. Cool and eat.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Your guide to the best of this year's Christmas television

The festive television schedules are full of repeats, Christmas specials, soaps and films that are seen year in, year out. But in amongst all the stuff you could quote in your sleep are some real gems. To save you from missing anything, and searching fruitlessly through the listings - here's a guide to the televisual highlights between Christmas and the new year. All you have to do decide is what to watch. 

Doctor Who 
Christmas Day wouldn't be Christmas Day without an adventure with the Doctor. This episode - The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe - is set in England in the 1940s, where the Doctor links up with a recently widowed woman and her two young children as they are evacuated to Dorset. The Arwell family soon find themselves transported to a Narnia-like snowy land through a big blue parcel. Only the foe they're battling is much more scary than the White Witch...
BBC One, Christmas Day, 7pm 

Downton Abbey 
For fans of period drama Downtown Abbey is back for a two-hour Christmas special. It's 1919 and Lord Grantham is hosting a lavish party. Despite appearances, all is not likely to go smoothly and there's plenty of tension, what with Bates's arrest for the murder of his wife, Mary's rocky relationship with Sir Richard Carlisle and a new suitor with a past for Rosamund.
ITV1, Christmas Day, 9pm

Absolutely Fabulous 
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley return for two episodes (the first on Christmas Day) as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone. All the original cast are back for the return of Ab Fab, and it's sure to be exactly the latter.
BBC One, Christmas Day, 10pm

The Borrowers 
I have fond memories of an adaptation of Mary Norton's The Borrowers from the early 1990s, starring Ian Holm (who went on to play another very famous small person). I loved the idea that there were tiny people living under the floorboards, making their furniture and other items from everyday human belongings. No matter how hard I tried, I could never create anything as brilliant out of old toilet rolls, matchboxes and bits of string as the Borrowers did. Starring Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, Christopher Ecclestone and the fabulous Robert Sheehan as Spiller, this adaptation has the feel and magic of the one I watched as a child.
BBC One, Boxing Day, 7.30pm 

The Royal Bodyguard
Sir David Jason heads back to the BBC in a new comedy role as Captain Guy Hubble, an ex-guardsman who is head of security at Buckingham Palace. After saving the Queen's life in an act of bravery he is appointed as Royal Bodyguard. Hilarious escapades follow.
BBC One, starts Boxing Day, 9.30pm 

Great Expectations 
Granted, it's not the first story that springs to mind when you think about Charles Dickens and Christmas, but Great Expectations is one of those great winter tales, something you can curl up with on the sofa when it's cold outside. For those who don't want to work their way through the novel, this new adaptation has a stellar cast, which includes Ray Winstone, Gillian Anderson and David Suchet, and is suitably haunting.
BBC One, December 27, 28 and 29 at 9pm 

Fast Freddie, the Widow and Me
A proper cheesy Christmas story starring Laurence Fox as a wealthy narrow-minded luxury-car dealer who has to spend the run-up to Christmas helping troubled young adults after being found guilty of drink-driving. He meets recently widowed Laura, and 18-year-old Freddie, who has only months to live. Even though you'll see what's coming miles off, you should keep the tissues handy.
ITV1, December 27, 9pm

Sherlock Holmes
Forget Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch is back as the detective in the first of three episodes. Sherlock and John Watson (Martin Freeman) face a secret conspiracy involving the British government in A Scandal in Belgravia. And THE woman in Sherlock's life is introduced, the ruthless and brilliant Irene Adler.
BBC One, New Year's Day, time TBC

The best of the rest

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff
Featuring an impressive cast including Robert Webb, Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Fry and David Mitchell, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff is a great spoof, sure to entertain those who love period dramas, and those who loathe them.
BBC Two, starts December 19, 8.30pm

Michael McIntyre's Christmas Comedy Roadshow
The comedian is joined is joined by a host of famous, funny friends to help you end Christmas Day with a laugh, no matter what dramas have taken place during the day.
BBC One, Christmas Day, 10.30pm

Strictly Come Dancing 
Five celebrities and their professional partners battle it out to be crowned champion.
BBC One, Christmas Day, 8pm 

Christmas Day films
Kung Fu Panda, BBC One, 12.35pm
Monsters vs Aliens, BBC One, 3.10pm
Ratatouille, BBC One, 4.50pm
Aladdin, ITV1, 1.15pm
Happy Feet, ITV1, 3.10pm
Big, Channel 4, 5.20pm
Ice Age 3, Channel 4, 7.15pm

Why the Military Wives Choir deserve to be Christmas Number One

So, you might have heard a song called Cannonball, a cover of Damian Rice's song by Little Mix, the winners of this year's X Factor.

In any other year, it might automatically get to number one. After all, winning the X Factor almost entitles you to having a number one single. 

Almost, because this year there's a viable alternative to the X Factor - the Military Wives Choir.

If you listen to Radio 2 in the mornings you can't have missed the fact that Chris Evans is pushing for this song to get to number one, and I can't help but be behind him.

Working with the very talented Gareth Malone, the choir put together the gorgeous Wherever You Are, a song full of some of the most important emotions we as humans can feel - love, fear, longing.

Three bars of Wherever You Are contain more feeling than three minutes of any song by any X Factor winner ever (however talented they are).

I've met and spent time with many servicemen through the course of my work, and I've met their friends and family who are left behind each time they're sent overseas. They are the bravest people I have ever encountered, regardless of whether their battlefield is a forward operating base or an empty house.

The hardest stories I've ever worked on are tributes to soldiers who have died in the line of duty. There is one in particular I will always remember, a bomb disposal expert, who died doing what he loved and wanted to do - protecting others. Every time I spoke to his family, all they felt was love and pride for him, and their strength at losing him in such difficult circumstances left me speechless.

Whatever you think of the current conflicts Britain is involved in, whatever your stance on war in general, the women who make up the Military Wives Choir face the very real possibility that their partners may get injured, or worse, while just doing their jobs. Usually, the families of servicemen away in conflict areas can do nothing but wait and hope and pray. 

But the Military Wives Choir is a group of women who decided to show the world just how it feels to wait and hope and pray, and in doing so are doing more than those three things. Wherever You Are is not just a song, it's a tribute, and one whose sales are going to raise money for some great charities which help servicemen and their families.

The women in this choir have produced something amazing in difficult circumstances. The hard work is being done by them and their partners - all the public has to do it is buy the track, and help get the song that really means something to number one on Christmas Day.

*Wherever You Are is released tomorrow.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Glee: Extraodinary Merry Christmas recap/review

So, this episode of Glee was weird, wasn't it?

And by weird I mean, not that great. I'm no grinch, but to me nearly everything about this episode was contrived (more than a television programme usually is). 

I found it preachy, and it seemed more like a placeholder than an actual part of this series. Nothing happened, no stories were moved forward, it was just an indulgent episode that gave the cast the chance to sing lots of Christmas songs and talk about the true meaning of Christmas.

That's what this episode was all about - the fact that Christmas should be about love and kindness and family and friends over presents. You couldn't go 20 seconds without banging your head against the fact that Glee was trying to teach us about how we should all stop being so commercial. I find that a bit rich, considering Glee once released an album containing just a handful of songs (the Madonna ones) to make as much cash as possible. 

I don't watch Glee so I can be preached at, and I consider myself intelligent enough to not have to be smacked round the head to understand what Christmas is all about, and I don't even celebrate it.

Two other people who don't celebrate it are Rachel and Puck, who completely forgot this episode that they are in fact Jewish. I don't even know what to say about this.

Another thing I found weird was the television programme within the television programme. It wasn't the device itself that was strange, just the creepy 1950s style holiday special. Did television really used to be like that? The thought is quite disturbing.

It was, however, quite funny. I liked Kurt and Blaine's description of what they were to each other (best friends and holiday roommates), and the cutesy, slightly risque jokes and the cheesy delivery of lines really did make me chuckle. This sequence was the best part of the episode, even though I found it weird. I may have mentioned that already.

While most of the glee club represented the commercial side of Christmas, Sam and (of all people) Sue were busy representing what Christmas should truly be about. And in case you didn't hear them telling other characters (and by extension the viewers) multiple times, there was a lovely extended scene in a soup kitchen, with lots of homeless looking people and cute kids, just to make sure you really understood.

And of course, what would an episode about the true meaning of Christmas be without everyone coming to their senses and singing a song to make up for their earlier selfishness? That song was Do They Know It's Christmas? I didn't really like it, because it's a song with a lot of history behind it, and one that really needs the context of its time to be understood properly. Like when I heard it on the album, I felt the cast didn't really feel the song, and it felt, as I said at the beginning of this review, contrived.

So, to sum up, in case you didn't realise - and for that to have happened you'd have had to watch the episode with your closed and on mute - Christmas is about love, and happiness, and giving. GOT THAT?

So, that's what you missed on Glee. Nothing.

The music:
Lots and lots of Christmas songs, plus My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music.

I loved River, even though it's a bit depressing. It's a great song though. Rory doing Blue Christmas was also depressing but it was sweet too. 

Extraodinary Merry Christmas is no less annoying when you watch Blaine and Rachel act it out than when you hear it on the album. Also, extraordinary doesn't have that many syllables, otherwise you might as well separate it into two words and say you're having an extra ordinary Christmas.

Christmas Wrapping and Santa Claus is Coming to Town didn't have a point, but then, neither did the Christmas special. 

What Glee did well this week:
I'm loathe to put anything here, since I was overwhelmed by the message of the episode. But probably the show within a show, and particularly Let It Snow, which was cute. Also, even though he was only in it for a few seconds, Chewbacca rocked too.

One thing that wasn't so great wasn't actually in the episode, and that was a problem. There's been a still floating around of Blaine giving Kurt a little box as a Christmas present, and that scene was cut. Guess we'll have to wait for the DVD extras. 

Next week:
There's no Glee. We'll have to wait until January, when Sam joins the synchronised swimming team, Finn considers joining the army, and Mr Schue wants to join in holy matrimony with Miss Pillsbury. Plus, there's a Grease routine.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Review: Peter Pan at The Central Theatre - starring Vanilla Ice

Ice, Ice, Baby.

Yes, I am referring to Vanilla Ice's hit song. Because this year, the rapper is starring in pantomime at The Central Theatre in Chatham, playing Captain Hook in a production of Peter Pan.

And, of course, he gets to perform Ice, Ice, Baby

Fortunately, the eager audience doesn't have to wait until the very end, although you do have to suffer through an act and a half of hints before finally getting to see Vanilla perform every word of the song.

Unfortunately, it's probably the best bit of the production.

Sure, there's plenty of Vanilla on stage, and it's clear The Central Theatre is getting its money's worth out of him, as there are some pointless and overly long scenes featuring the rapper. It might have been better to have him on stage less, but performing Ice, Ice, Baby a second time, instead of just giving the audience what they wanted once.

The classic story of Peter Pan is brought to life in adequate fashion, complete with flying and a revolving set with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys' hideout on one side and Hook's ship on the other. However, the magic is lost with the sight of the ropes attached to Peter Pan's back, and the sight of the stagehands pushing the set round every time the scene changes.

The show is full of musical numbers, ranging from Queen (a lot of Queen), to Nirvana (as my friend said: "Kurt Cobain would be turning in his grave") to Lady Gaga. Again, they're done adequately, but it's nothing special. The only thing which peps the musical numbers up are the addition of some jugglers, who at one point just juggle balls, and at another use lit torches (leaving the theatre filled with the smell of petrol).

The youngsters watching the pantomime clearly enjoyed themselves, getting involved in shouting out the catchphrase (Smee: Hello! Audience: Is that you? Smee: No, it's me), booing Hook and clapping and shouting they believed in fairies.

For me though, Peter Pan has lost its allure, at least with this production. Wendy never got beyond her role as a "mother" to the Lost Boys, and the Native American Indians embodied every cliche in the book. As a result I found myself constantly looking below the surface of the play, finding a dated story full of unappetising steroetypes.

Peter Pan is put on by Evolution Productions, which has been doing The Central Theatre's pantos for a while now. The children in the audience clearly loved the show, but Evolution has definitely done better in the past (last year's production of Jack and the Beanstalk was ten times better).

Go if you've young children, go if you're a huge Vanilla Ice fan, but don't go expecting to see the magic of panto brought alive.

Peter Pan is on until December 31. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Glee: Hold on to Sixteen recap/review

Hold on to Sixteen is another solid episode from Glee (one of the best of the season, and, dare I say it, among the best ever), and I'm almost ready to start believing that the show will consistently get back to its season one glory. Am I cursing it by saying that?

Anyway, this episode featured the return of Sam Evans, who came back because apparently the glee club needed some "star" power, and according to Finn Hudson Sam is that star power. Now, I'm extremely happy to see Sam back, but I don't exactly remember him being the star performer when he was in the club the first time round. Sure, he was lovely, and a good performer, but a star? It was but a slight blip in this episode so I won't dwell too much.

Sam, who's been working as a stripper (hehe), was the catalyst for a couple of stories and brought a little oomph to the glee club, mainly in the form of hip thrusting, which was preceeded by a really bad yet amusing country song called Red Solo Cup, about those disposable red plastic cups people use at parties in America (if television programmes are anything to go by). Kurt summed the song up perfectly, when he mouthed the following words to Blaine as he started bopping along: "What is wrong with you?" Still, it was all pretty funny.

The return of Sam saw the return of the Mercedes/Sam relationship. I say return, but we never actually saw much of it in the first place. They finished season two as a couple, but we only ever saw them sneakily hold hands once in a coffee shop. And then season three started and they were no more, and Mercedes was dating someone else. But now that Sam's back, we're seeing the sizzling chemistry between him and Mercedes. The reluctant smile Sam teases out of Mercedes as she walks away, Sam telling her he'll fight for her, and Mercedes laughing in the crowd as he thrusts on stage were all cute touches. I really hope this storyline develops properly.

Sam's return also led to the resolution of the Quinn/baby/Puck/Shelby storyline, finally. He told Quinn she had rich, white girl problems and imparted some wisdom about holding on to your teen years from a John Mellencamp song. Voila! Quinn came to her sense, realising she needs to hold on to her youth by growing up, taking responsibility and doing the right thing. It was a little quick, but I've hated this whole storyline (including, and especially, the Puck/Shelby romance stuff), so I'm happy to see it come to a swift end.

Sam was also the catalyst for a conclusion to the 'Finn seems to hate Blaine' storyline. It started with Blaine and Sam having a showdown that almost ended in a fight. This was followed by a scene where we saw Blaine boxing while he told Finn he'd started the Dalton version of fight club, which he obviously couldn't talk about (great line), all while punching the heck out of a bag in a very manly, sweaty way. All season Finn has been dismissing Blaine, and finally Blaine snapped and wanted to know why. Of course, it was simple, Finn was just jealous of Blaine's talent. This was a great little scene from Glee, mainly because the show is usually so bad at continuity. However, the Blaine/Finn situation has been subtly building over a series of episodes, and has now come to a well-rounded conclusion. The pair seem to be best buds now, leading to them working together on some great numbers for sectionals (more on that later).

Blaine had a lot to do this episode, as he was also central to a scene where Kurt showed his tough side (he doesn't need boxing gloves). It was the return of Sebastian, who's still determined to get into Blaine's pants, that set Kurt off. This scene rocked because we got to see Kurt's claws come out - and what claws they are. Any sane person would back away from Kurt's glares and insults, but Sebastian just hit back with quips of his own. I want to see more of these two snarking at each other, and judging by the fact that Kurt noticed when Sebastian turned up later to shoot sultry looks at Blaine while he performed at sectionals, my wish may come true.

One bad thing about this episode was that it saw the demise of the Troubletones. The group was truly excellent, as was the mash-up of I Will Survive and Survivor the girls performed during sectionals. Sure, it's good to see everyone back in New Directions, but I will miss the general coolness that was the Troubletones.

New Directions pulled it out of the bag for regionals, with three great songs all originally done by members of the Jackson family. ABC rocked because it gave people the chance to sing who usually don't get to - Tina, Mike and Kurt to name a few. It's the group numbers that have generally been the best in Glee over the seasons, and this was no exception. And Man in the Mirror was showed us the boys can really carry a number that doesn't have a rock vibe.

But it was Control that was the best. I didn't know I needed this in my life before I heard it, but it was sexy, sultry, powerful and just amazing. Dianna Agron rocked Quinn's spoken parts, while Darren Criss as Blaine and Kevin McHale as Artie sang the heck out of the tune. Of course, it was Quinn and Blaine who really felt this song though - as said earlier Quinn learned she needed to take control of her own life, while Blaine learned that sometimes control is about working with other people and compromising. 

Sectionals also saw a resolution to Mike Chang's storyline with his disapproving father, who came to realise his son is truly a talented performer, and should follow his own dreams instead of his dad's. 

There was a lot of concluding going on this episode, and it ended with everyone happy and back together. Still, with the rest of the season holding competitions for regionals and (one hopes) nationals, plus the decision letters from various universities and the inevitable goodbyes to the older glee club members, it's bound not to stay peaceful for long. 

The music:
A solid musical effort this week, with the amusing Red Solo Cup, the great mash up of I Will Survive and Survivor and a fantastic trio of Jackson tunes from New Directions.

To top it all off was a rendition of We Are Young, which brought all of New Directions - original members plus new additions - together. It was Glee at its best, a song where everyone sings and gets to chill out together, plus it had some great staging with the New Directions all posing fabulously on stage at the beginning. 

What Glee did well this week:
Pretty much everything. I have few complaints. I would, in particular, like to highlight Kurt's fabulous outfit at the end (were those shorts leather?). Also worth a mention of the facial expressions from Rory. I've said this previously, and I'll say it again, I'd like to see a programme which just features Rory reacting to stuff. 

Next week:
It's Christmas and there's some retro stuff going on, lots of tinsel, and Sue dubbing Blaine a "young Burt Reynolds". Deck the halls baby, deck the halls.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Review: Glee: The Music - The Christmas Album Volume 2

Christmas is about many different things to many different people, but one of the things everyone should feel at some point over the festive period is joy. The Christmas period should be full of fun, happiness, warm hugs, twinkling eyes and the comfort of family and friends around you. And a good Christmas tune should conjure up all those feelings and images.

It's a pity then that Glee: The Music - The Christmas Album Volume 2 is more like a piece of dry turkey and a squashed mince pie than it is eggnog and golden roast potatoes.

Out of 12 tracks, there is clearly one stand out - Darren Criss and Chris Colfer's duet on Let It Snow. The pair sang the best song during last year's Glee Christmas episode - Baby, It's Cold Outside. That was flirty and fun, and Let It Snow has the same vibe. It's got great rhythm, the pair's voices sound wonderful together and it's a smile-along, singalong tune.

Compared to Let It Snow, the rest of the album is at best slightly above average, and at worst mechanical.

It's the ballads that tend to work better than the upbeat tunes. Lea Michele's rendition of Joni Mitchell's gorgeous River and Kevin McHale's version of Little Drummer Boy (one of my favourite festive numbers) are pretty good after a couple of listens, as is Damian McGinty's take on the sad Blue Christmas.

The rest, though? Well, they wouldn't be on any compilation of Christmas songs I would put together, unless the aim was to bore people.

While Amber Riley has an amazing voice, her version of All I Want for Christmas is You is all about hitting the perfect notes without feeling any of the song. While Naya Rivera's version of Santa Baby is fun, it's a little predictable, and Heather Morris doing Christmas Wrapping gives you the feeling she's just going through the motions.

There are some original compositions on the album as well, which filled me with dread before I even heard them. Glee has tried original numbers before (the most famous and successful being Loser Like Me) but they've never been as brilliant as the covers they've done.

Christmas Eve With You, an original song with Matthew Morrison and Jayma Mays on vocals, is sleep inducing. The other original, Extraordinary Merry Christmas sung by Criss and Michele, features every Christmas cliche you can think of in its lyrics and is annoyingly catchy, emphasis on the annoying part.

Strangely, the album chooses to feature Lindsey Pearce and Alex Newell, runners-up on The Glee Project, and Samuel Larsen, who won the show with Damian McGinty. It's strange because it's an odd time to bring in new vocals (although Pearce has sung on the show once, the others have not yet done so) - Christmas is a time for indulging in the familiar and comforting. Pearce and Newell sing a decent version of Do You Hear What I Hear, while Larsen joins Cory Monteith and Mark Salling on a rocky version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It would be innovative, if only every other song involving a group of the Glee guys wasn't a rocky version of whatever they've chosen.

Strangest of all, in my opinion, is the decision to cover Do They Know It's Christmas, originally released by Band Aid. It's a song with a powerful history, and a song which showed the power of music to help, which is something Glee is all about, seeing as many of the characters find refuge in music. However, covering Do They Know It's Christmas on an album for a television show demeans the history of the song a little bit, especially considering this version is missing the anger, frustration and determination that the vocalists on the original conveyed.

Glee's second attempt at a Christmas album is okay, but okay isn't what you want for Christmas. You want dancing around the room, avoiding/lingering under* the mistletoe, and smiles on everyone's faces. My advice - download Let It Snow (plus Blue Christmas, Little Drummer Boy and River if you want some ballads), and use them among the festive tunes of your choice on your own Christmas compilation.

*delete as appropriate

Monday, 5 December 2011

Review: Glee: The Music - Volume 7

The best Glee numbers, generally speaking and in my opinion, are the big productions, whether they're solos, duets or group numbers.

And it's the season's best production so far, the mash-up of Adele's Rumour Has It/Someone Like You, that is the standout on Glee: The Music - Volume 7, the album of songs from the first half of the programme's third series. Packed full of drama, sadness, anger and more, it's even better in its full version than it was in the shorter cut used on the programme, with Amber Riley and Naya Rivera's talents shown off fully. These two singers blend brilliantly together, yet you can always tell their voices apart as they soar over and around each other.

Unfortunately, while the best song is on the album, many of the other brilliant numbers from the third season are missing. Among them are I'm the Greatest Star, Something's Coming, Spotlight and America (plus all the numbers from West Side Story apart from Tonight), to name but a few. It's no coincidence these are all songs originally from musicals - Glee, as close to a modern musical as we'll get on television, is really, really good at numbers from musicals. Why none of these songs, plus things like the mash-up of Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do, are not on this album puzzles me. Perhaps (and this is wishful thinking) all those songs will be released as part of a special Glee musicals album.

I'd also have liked to have seen Candyman, Perfect and Jolene included, and Damian McGinty's version of Take Care of Yourself would have been a great addition.

So if most of the best stuff is missing, what has been included? Unfortunately, some of the worst. The producers have chosen to include Heather Morris's version of Beyonce's Run the World (Girls) and Matthew Morrison's cover of Coldplay's Fix You. Even worse, these two songs are next to each other on the album. There's close to four minutes of Run the World, which was fun in its shorter version when you've also got the visuals of the scene to distract you, but is just interminable and all over the place in its full album version (no fault of Morris's, it's just a bad song). We're then treated to almost five minutes of Fix You, a depressing song that seems to go on forever. Morrison's voice sounds weak on this number, and by the end of both tracks I'm gritting my teeth and resisting the urge to just press the skip button.

Thankfully, it does get better, with some of the fun stuff from this series so far included. The group's version of You Can't Stop the Beat (a great number from a musical), Darren Criss's renditions of Katy Perry's Last Friday Night and Tom Jones's It's Not Unusual, and the Warblers' version of Uptown Girl, which brings a smile to my face every time I hear it, are all on here. The pace slows down with Tonight, the only song from West Side Story, the musical that was the focus of a large part of the first half of the third season, on this album. If it couldn't be America, at least it was Tonight, which is sung beautifully by Darren Criss and Lea Michele.

A complete contrast to Tonight is the next number, Hot for Teacher, sung by Mark Salling. It's a fun song, but definitely better to watch than just to listen to, especially with all the spoken parts. It works better when you can see Salling rocking out with his guitar, backed up by the crazy dance moves of Criss and Harry Shum Jr.

Broadway legend Idina Menzel gets to show off her vocal stylings on Somewhere, alongside Lea Michele, but she's better on Constant Craving, with Rivera and Chris Colfer (who should definitely feature on this album more). Constant Craving, originally by k.d.lang, is my favourite ballad on this album, although some may argue for the stripped down version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, with Cory Monteith on lead vocals. It may not have seemed an appropriate song for an episode about a girl struggling with coming out to the world at large, but slowed down the focus is on the lyrics, which are as much about longing and acceptance as they are about girls wanting to have fun.

The album ends strongly, with covers of three songs originally by various members of the Jackson family - ABC by The Jackson Five, Janet Jackson's Control, and Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror. Partly, that's because these are just great songs. ABC is great because it showcases what's best about Glee - the group numbers where lots of people get the chance to show off their vocals (although this number is missing Lea Michele's vocals, it's nice to hear people like Jenna Ushkowitz). Control features the vocals of Criss, Kevin McHale and Dianna Agron. It's good to hear the latter two, as they've barely had a chance to sing this series so far. And Man in the Mirror showcases the vocal stylings of the club's male singers, without resorting to the rock songs they so often get lumped with when they sing in a group.

This isn't the best compilation of songs from Glee. It's missing coherency. If we go all the way back to the first album of songs, we can see that had a mission: to show off the best songs from Glee, and to convey the fun, the camaraderie and the vocal talents of the cast and characters. 

By contrast Volume 7 is a bit of a mish mash, perhaps because this season there haven't been many songs featuring the whole cast. That aside, if the album had included all the best songs from the series so far, it would have been a hit. As it is, despite the inclusion of strong numbers including the season's best song, it's something even the most hardcore Glee fans will struggle to love in its entirety. Instead, there'll be a lot of reaching for the skip button. Or a lot of ground down teeth.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Preview: The Graham Norton Show

Picture: John Phillips/PA Wire

When you've got the Sexiest Man Alive on your sofa, you might expect everyone, and everything, else to fade into the background.

Okay, so Bradley Cooper (recently named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive) wasn't on my sofa (I wish), but he is on the settee tonight on the latest episode of The Graham Norton Show. 

Despite his gorgeousness (and trust me, just as good looking, if not better, in the flesh), the other guests on tonight's show manage to get their fare share of attention.

Picture: John Phillips/PA Wire 
The statuesque Jessica Biel holds her own against comedians James Corden and Sarah Millican, sharing funny stories about dieting for film role. Talking about a time she cracked, she says: “One cheat day I went to Dunkin Donuts and ordered 24 doughnuts and went to a pizza joint and ordered two giant pizzas and I sat in the car and I put as much bread and dough into my mouth as I could possibly manage. It was the best moment.” 

If only we could all look like her after binging on pizza and doughnuts (I'd hate her if she wasn't so lovely as well as being beautiful).

Comedian Millican, who causes the audience to burst into stomach-aching laughter every time she tells a story, banters with Biel over dieting, asking her: “Have you ever eaten a croissant out of a bin? If we are going to talk about binging I should step forward. It was my bin and it was my croissant but I told my friend and she said, ‘oh, you’re posh now’ because it was a croissant!"

Millican is touring the country on her Thoroughly Modern Millican tour, and reveals why  Chatterbox may not have been such a good name for her DVD (it has to do with a film of the same name about something talking which shouldn't be talking).

Corden, who has just released his first book May I Have Your Attention Please?, makes no secret of his crush on Biel - but reveals he has a bigger crush on David Beckham, and that the two of them are having a bromance.

He says: “If you ever meet him you don’t know whether to shake his hand or lick his face. He is so nice.

“Yes, occasionally we will send a text to each other and things like that. But he started it and the first time he sent a text I had to call all my friends to tell them before replying. My girlfriend says she always knows when I am texting David because I look really happy, which is really tragic!” 

Picture: John Phillips/PA Wire
Momentarily eclipsing Corden's crush on Beckham this week is his crush on Cooper, who is unsurprisingly humble (if you've ever seen him interviewed before you'll know he's pretty self-deprecating) about his accolade as the Sexiest Man Alive. He says:  “I’m at an age where I don’t care about things like that anymore. I actually thought it was a joke when I heard. It’s annoying because I started to think about how not sexy I am. The other day I opened a door and thought, ‘I can do that a lot sexier.” 

I think the women in the audience would disagree that he could be sexier, and if he could, there might be mass fainting every time he opens a door.

The actor is promoting the release of Hangover 2 on DVD, and speaks about his hopes for a third film in the series. He says: “I personally want to do it and I hope we are starting shooting in September. The third one would have a different structure to the first two and will be set in Los Angeles.”

Music on the show is from Lenny Kravitz, who perfoms Black and White America, and then chats to Norton. He may not have been named the Sexiest Man Alive, but he reveals he has been given one of the highest honours the French government can give.

The Graham Norton Show is on BBC One tonight at 10.35pm.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Glee: I Kissed a Girl recap/review

"Rule wisely. Rule fabulously."

Before getting into an analysis of this week's episode, I feel we should all take a moment to consider the above quote from Kurt, and use it in our lives.

Glee's episodes tend to be hit and miss these days, and this one, while not as good as The First Time, was definitely in the hit category.

I Kissed a Girl was, at its core, about three things - friendship, acceptance and secrets.

Let's start with the last, although most of the secrets didn't stay secret for long. Using the elections as an obvious metaphor, the episode culminated in a big reveal, of election results, and of secrets.

Some of the secrets revealed may be better off out there, others may cause a great deal of damage. 

Let's start with Santana, whose storyline not only dealt in secrets, but also in friendship. We picked up moments after the last episode ended, with Santana about to be punished for slapping Finn. She was saved only by Finn, who has had yet another personality change (what is going on with him?!) and is this week being intuitive and the best friend a girl could have. It's a little (okay, a lot) out of character, and I'd have preferred Kurt to be the one helping Santana through, but let's overlook the ridiculousness.
Finn stepped up to the plate, heading the movement to let Santana know she has friends who will keep a secret for her, but who would rather she didn't have to, and who accept her for who she is. This was a great episode when it came to demonstrating the friendships between the characters. Seeing everyone rally round Santana was moving, but was saved from being sickly by the usual Santana-like comments ("With all the horrible crap I've been through in my life now I get to add that" - in response to Kurt and Blaine's duet). The boys showed they cared with an emotional rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and the girls rallied round by singing an in-your-face (if inappropriate to the situation) version of I Kissed a Girl. Both showcased different sides of the friendship the group all have in the best way songs could have, although they could have just talked to Santana.

The sweetest scene this episode was between Finn and Santana. Standing at a locker, telling her she means something to him, that he wanted to do everything he could to help her, was so lovely (I'm ignoring the creepy "you were my first" thing). Who thought Finn could be this in touch with his emotions and this clued in? And seeing Santana mellow (slightly) and realise she doesn't have to so bitchy all the time was fun too. Her character is becoming really three dimensional. 

Of course, Santana's secret wasn't a secret from the glee club, it was a secret from her family. Her mum and dad supposedly accepted her, but it was clearly her grandmother whose reaction meant the most, and who disappointed the most. When Santana revealed the truth - that she is a lesbian - her grandmother reacted in the worst possible way, saying it was a secret that Santana would have been better off keeping.

Santana wasn't the only female this week to go through the emotional wringer. Rachel tried to do the best thing for Kurt, and in the name of (mostly) friendship attempted to rig the election for class president. That was a secret which had disastrous consequences, seeing Rachel banned from competing at Sectionals once she revealed the truth. But it was a secret better revealed, as otherwise it would have seen Kurt punished for something he didn't do.

Coach Bieste also revealed a secret this week - her love for Cooter Menkins. This was perhaps only a secret to Bieste and to Cooter, but facing up to a secret about yourself is probably the hardest thing. Again, hers was a secret better revealed. Although it makes her vulnerable, it also gives her a fighting chance for the affections of the man she loves.

The Bieste storyline has now given Sue a new focus. She is back to battling with Bieste, only this time the stakes are high - Cooter. Bieste loves Cooter, so it's easy to see why she would be prepared to fight so hard for him. For Sue, it's clearly just a power struggle, as I refuse to believe she could feel so strongly for Cooter so fast (no, I'm not counting the previous dalliances she may have had with him).

While Bieste, Rachel and Santana were all revealing secrets, Quinn was learning them while also accepting some home truths about herself. She found out about Puck and Shelby's relationship, which this week took a turn for the more disturbing when the two of them slept together. I know I say this every week, but I hate this storyline. It's something out of a bad soap, and has no place here. I can't see it ending well, not with Quinn in a vengeful mood following Puck telling her she's a mess.

It wasn't just the girls suffering this week, some of the boys were working their way through their fare share of heartache.

Kurt suffered yet another disappointment when he lost the election for class president, leaving him to accept the fact that his application to NYADA may not be strong enough to get him. In the meantime, he has the support of Blaine, who thinks he's perfect and supposedly will help Kurt "work something out". Seeing as the application has been sent, I don't see what working anything out now will do. Here's hoping New Directions win Nationals and that's enough to get Kurt in to the university of his choice.

Puck was also going through a gamut of feelings. He was down after his daughter got taken to the hospital following a fall, then high after he slept with Shelby. Then he was low again after Shelby threw him out. And finally, he and Quinn came to an understanding, which he then unknowingly ruined after telling Quinn about his relationship with Shelby. He thinks being rejected is bad...

Of course, there were happy moments. Burt beat Sue to become a member of the US Congress. It'll be interesting to see if this story is carried forward, or if we'll just occasionally hear about Burt doing Congress-type things. And Brittany won the election for class president. This wasn't great news for everyone, but Kurt was magnanimous in defeat, and Brittany's pixie sticks (however you spell them) will no doubt keep people on a sugar high.

As a side theme, this episode was also about feeling special. Santana was made to feel special by her friends, Quinn was told by Puck she doesn't need anyone else - not a man, not a baby - to make her special, and despite losing the election Kurt was told by Brittany he was still the most unicorn of them all.

There were a couple of things glaringly wrong in this episode. The first was a mistake (I think) with continuity. When the scenes on the day of the election start, Kurt, Rachel and a host of others are wearing certain outfits. Then everyone seems to change for glee club, then changes back to vote. Um, what's going on?

The second thing this episode did was bring this question to the forefront of my mind - what's happened to Artie? When was the last time he sang a solo? I honestly don't remember what his singing voice even sounds like. In fact, I don't think he's had a solo this season, which is a travesty. Tina also, hasn't had much to do. Those two will be around next season (if there is a next season) as they're younger than Rachel, Finn, Kurt and co, so maybe it's been decided that they'll have plenty of chance to sing next year. Still, Blaine is also younger, and he's been getting plenty of solos this year. This whole issue needs to be sorted.

There was lots going on in I Kissed a Girl, but instead of feeling rushed, this was an episode that worked, and worked well. I hope this trend continues. 

There's a big divide with this episode and the Glee fans. A lot of people hated it, thought it was condescending and handled Santana and her problems with coming out insensitively. I think it could have been better, as Glee always could, but overall I thought it was a pretty well constructed episode with a lot of strengths. I think the storyline with Santana was handled in a very Santana way. There was plenty of bitching and some inappropriate moments (I Kissed a Girl), which is Santana all over (she loves nothing more than to be bitch at inappropriate times), but there were also quieter, more contemplative moments (Santana and her grandmother), which show another side to Santana.

The music:
Musically, this episode was much stronger than the last. The numbers were a combination of meaningful and fun - both were things most of the numbers from last week's Mash Off (apart from the Adele tunes) lacked.

The strongest two were Perfect (not just because I love Kurt and Blaine), and the final number, Constant Craving.

Perfect was fun and sweet, and the start of Santana letting her walls down. 

Constant Craving was perfect (no pun intended) because it reflected so much so many characters were feeling. It's a song about wanting something badly, a song about being let down, a song about the realisation of truths about yourself. They were all things the characters who sang the song - Santana, Shelby and Kurt - were feeling.

Although Katy Perry is not my favourite, I Kissed a Girl was a great number (aside from slightly trivialising Santana and what she's going through), purely for the expressions flashing across Rory's face. Hilarious. There should be a segment of Rory just reacting to stuff. Apart from Rory's facial expressions, I could have done without this song.

What Glee did well this week:
In a week where so much was going on, Glee managed to keep all the balls in the air. It also showed us the emotional heart of characters like Santana and Finn, something we've been missing for a while (although horrid Finn looks set to return next week).

Next week:
Blaine confronts Finn about his bad attitude, Sam is back, and, oh yeah, it's Sectionals.

Monday, 28 November 2011

American Horror Story: Pilot recap/review

I'm a little late to the American Horror Story party, although considering it's a terrifying party, it's taken me a lot of courage to work my way here.

AHS is the newest offering from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the creators of Glee, and, aside from dealing with outsiders like Glee does, it couldn't be more different.

It has a pretty basic concept - family of three move into a house with a creepy past, and weird things start happening.

Only the weird things aren't creaking stairs, and glimpses of what could be ghosts in the mirror. Instead, there's a housekeeper who looks old to everyone but Ben Harman (Dylan McDermott), an episode in the basement which freaks out teenager Violet Harman (Taissa Farmiga), and a strange neighbour and her daughter who seem to be stalking Vivien Harman (Connie Britton).

The Harmans move across the country to Los Angeles when Vivien catches Ben in bed with one of his students months after she has had a horrific miscarriage. As they try to repair their marriage, daughter Violet tries to work out where she fits (or doesn't).

The previous owners of the house the Harmans have moved into died in the basement in a combined murder-suicide, which should be the first sign this is not a house anybody wants to live in.

The second sign is when Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), a girl with Down's Syndrome, breaks into the house and tells Vivien she is going to die there. Perceptive Adelaide was previously seen in a scene at the start of the episode, years earlier, telling two boys the same thing. They died. Foreshadowing anyone? Adelaide is inexplicably drawn to the house, and has been since she was a child.

But it's not Adelaide that's scary, it's her cruel, kleptomaniac, slightly mad mother Constance (Jessica Lange). She calls her daughter terrible names, steals jewellery from the Harmans and threatens the housekeeper.

Speaking of, housekeeper Moira O'Hara (the brilliant Frances Conroy from Six Feet Under) has looked after the house for years, and goodness knows how many deaths she's seen there, and what else she knows. She looks like a 60-something to most people, but Ben sees her as a flirty 20-something. The house barely takes any time before it starts affecting people and what they see.

Ben is the most vulnerable, perhaps because he is carrying around guilt from betraying Vivien, bringing his defences down. In addition to seeing the maid as a younger version of herself, he also sleepwalks multiple times, ending up in the kitchen where he lights the cooker. The reason for his fascination with fire is slightly explained when he meets a former occupant of the house - a man badly burnt when he set fire to the property, killing his wife and two children. He warns Ben to leave the house, that it will make him do bad things. Foolishly, Ben, a psychiatrist, ignores his pleas and writes him off as crazy. Big mistake.

Meanwhile, Violet is experiencing horror inside and outside of her house. At school she encounters what can only be described as a Mean Girl, one that has irrational moments where she tries to make Violet eat a cigarette and beats her up in the lunch room. As revenge, Violet teams up with one of her dad's patients, the creepy Tate, who convinces her to invite Mean Girl to her house and stage something that will freak her out and make her never so much as look at Violet again. But when Mean Girl and Violet go into the basement, what happens terrifies the two of them, as Tate seems to transform into a monster and attack the Mean Girl.

There are very few moments of lightness in this episode. Every one that I can think of is countered by something dark. When Vivien and Ben take a step forward in their reconciliation it's only for Vivien to later sleep with someone she thinks is her husband (only I don't think it is). That leads to the second moment of lightness, Vivien finding out she is pregnant again, being covered in darkness because we, as the viewer, know the baby might not be (is almost definitely not) Ben's.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is not how and why the house has such powers, but why the Harmans don't move out. Of course, if they did, that would make a short and rubbish television programme, so reality can be comfortably suspended for that query.

Instead, our focus is on what will happen next, what the house can do, why Adelaide can seemingly forsee events, how Constance is connected to the house and a dozen other things. With a stellar cast, I can only hope AHS continues in the same vein as this first episode - terrifying, well-constructed and brilliantly acted.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Battle of the ice rinks: Canary Wharf vs. Tower of London

I've been ice skating more in the last week than I have in the last 10 years, and my aching legs are the evidence.

But despite any aches and pains now, while I was out on the rink I was having a blast. I spent two consecutive evenings trying out two of the rinks on offer in London.

First up was the Canary Wharf venue, which is located in Canada Square Park. It's nestled among the business estate's skyscrapers. A quick glance up and you're looking through the windows of KPMG, HSBC and more.

The rink is pretty small, but serves its purpose. The crowd is a mix of people, but hardly any of those people would be found down at your local ice rink. Rather, the skaters are made up of bankers and lawyers from the city's biggest firms, easily identifiable by the thoroughly unsuitable suits and ties they're still sporting from a day at the office.

Still, it's a fun crowd to skate among, and a fun crowd to watch, even if it is only to chuckle when a slightly cocky banker stumbles while showing off. I'm cruel, I know.

Second up was the Tower of London ice rink, which is slightly bigger than that at Canary Wharf and nestled in the moat just by the Tower.

There's a much more diverse crowd at this rink, everyone from young children (wearing cute roller skate style skates) to older couples and, like us, groups of friends just there for a laugh. The atmosphere is more lively, and with a brass band playing the tunes it feels festive even though Christmas is more than a month off.

It's the atmosphere that marks Tower rink out as the winner in this battle. That, and its surroundings. While there is something beautiful about the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, it's the romanticism of the setting of the Tower rink that really makes the experience.

It's not just the river on one side, the Tower on the other and buildings like the Gherkin within sight. It's the little window in one of sections of the Tower, emitting a comforting orange glow, illuminating the flowers on the ledge. Some days I'd love to be the princess in the Tower waiting to get rescued by a handsome prince.

But on reflection I'm glad I'm actually the girl on the rink having a laugh with her friends.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Glee: Mash Off recap/review

Finn deserved it.

That slap? He deserved it. Somehow, over the course of this season, Finn has turned from a sort of loveable, clueless guy into a complete arse.

Sure, he has had his moments - telling Rory he wanted him to join New Directions, telling Santana, Brittany and Mercedes he still wanted to be their friend.

But then he just negates it all with his other actions. He was mean to Rory before he was ever nice to him. He said nasty things to Brittany, knowing full well what he was saying. He constantly makes snide remarks to Blaine or ignores him on purpose (is that storyline going somewhere?). And this week, in Mash Off, he outed Santana in a hallway in the middle of the school day. Nice work Finn. And then he was completely unsympathetic at pretty the end. See? He deserved that slap.

I don't know why he's become mean, but I don't like it and I don't really like Finn anymore. He's never been my favourite (or anywhere close) but now I just don't like him. I hope he redeems himself in future episodes, as I don't think Finn is a mean character at heart.

So, that slap was really what this episode was all about. It wasn't as good as last week's The First Time, but that was a particularly well crafted episode. Still, Mash Off was also not as bad as I expected, although it was a bit flat.

One good thing was the conclusion of the 'Quinn tries to steal her baby back' storyline, because at least now Shelby knows what she's up to.

I'm also more hopeful about the Shelby/Puck storyline. I'm happy they didn't kiss again, and hopefully Puck's crush will continue to be written as an unrequited crush, and one that he gets over eventually. Please, writers, please don't let this storyline go further down the wrong road.

This week saw a return to the class president storyline. Actually, calling it a return is probably an exaggeration, since it's never been delved into significantly. Still, this week we got to see some speeches, which at least moved that plot point along a little bit. Eventually we'll get to an election, and maybe by then the candidates will have graduated from college.

Anyway, hands up who saw Kurt's policy shift coming a mile away after he helped Rory off the floor? Obvious as it was, Kurt's speech was still very sweet, and totally believable. It was made better still by Blaine's earnest nod and the look on his face, pretty much the only direct indication (outside of the two of them in the background of scenes being couply) that they're closer than ever.

Rachel continued to become a more likeable character for me as she came to the realisation that she's not the best person for senior class president. That character is definitely maturing this season, and I like it.

Running on parallel to the senior class president race is the race for Congress. This whole race is being conducted in a completely unrealistic manner. There's no way any of those ads shown would ever be allowed to run. Ever. But Glee is a television programme, so I will suspend all knowledge of elections and just go with the flow here.

Time did a great piece recently about Sue Sylvester and how she has no purpose in Glee at the moment, amusing as her character is. I see this, and feel it. Sue is still funny, and Jane Lynch is brilliant to watch, but I don't love Sue as much as I used to. It may be controversial, but it's how I feel. It doesn't mean I don't like her, I thought she showed perfect Sue Sylvester-like sympathy towards Santana at the end, and her mocking of Burt is spot-on Sue, it's just not as funny anymore.

Talking of Santana - whew, what an emotional wringer of an episode it was for her. She was the emotional heart of this episode, and much as there were sweet or funny scenes, without Santana this episode would have been dull.

I love Santana, and think she rocks. However, there came a moment in this episode where I  thought she had gone too far in her bitchiness as she "apologised" to Finn. She can be a bully, I don't think there's any doubt about that. It's not right, and it needs to stop. And this week, she didn't just cross the line, she sprinted over it like Usain Bolt doing the 100m. The cliche "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me", has never been more untrue. Santana's words really do hurt people, and as the seasons have progressed they've gone from being funny comments to being mean ones.

But when Finn opened his mean mouth and outed her, I was back to feeling for her and back on her side (although she was still wrong). Finn was pretty much spot on in his assessment that Santana is always so harsh on other people because of how she feels about herself. He just went about telling her the wrong way. 

This week Naya Rivera did a brilliant job showing off Santana's layers. It's easy to see her as a bullying bitch with no substance (which she is a majority of the time), but Rivera shows the love Santana has for Brittany (both romantic and platonic), and the joy she feels at being valued in the Troubletones.

And then, the best bit, she's got a heck of a voice on her. The Adele mash up was the best performance by miles in this episode. Amber Riley's voice was flawless as always, but it was Rivera who stole the show with all the emotion she put into Someone Like You. You could see the feelings - anger, sadness, frustration - building and building throughout the number. And at the end, it all had to come out in a torrent of screaming. 

The music:
I wasn't hugely impressed with the musical numbers this week, but that's probably partially because I didn't know a lot of them, apart from the Adele songs and Blondie's One Way or Another.

I did enjoy the mash up during the dodgeball scene, but that's because it was a fun scene. And while we're talking about dodgeball, let's take a moment to appreciate how athletic a lot of the cast are, particularly Heather Morris with her brilliant no-handed flipping.

I was a bit freaked out by the New Directions mash up. If it hadn't been for the dodgy mustaches, I'd probably have happily bopped along. As it was, I was just spooked.

Compared to last week's emotion and drama filled musical numbers, this week's (apart from Rumour Has It/Someone Like You) seemed a little emotionless and boring. Again, that's probably because I don't know the songs, but I can safely say Glee has done better when it comes to mash ups.

Oh, I just remembered Hot for Teacher. That was alright, made better by Blaine and Mike dancing in the background. Way better.  

What Glee did well this week:
The writers revisited a bunch of ridiculous storylines and either moved them along or brought them to some sort of conclusion. It's comforting they haven't just forgotten about a bunch of plots introduced earlier in the season, or dragged them out for so long that they get more ridiculous.

Also, a little mention for the cute Rachel/Kurt scenes. Their friendship is sweet, and I've spoken lots before about how I enjoy the friendships in Glee.

Next week:
Another flipping hiatus.


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