Have faith. Always a good motto to go by as we embark on the roller-coaster ride of a new TV season.
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No show asks us to take more of a leap of faith each week than Fox's Glee, the over-the-top high-school musical fantasy that can be sensationally entertaining and thoroughly irritating sometimes within the same episode — or even the same scene. (Flashback to last week's Britney Spears homage episode. A mess story-wise, but the music-video production numbers were a wow, and while the "Toxic" group number was a Fosse-esque highlight, the cutaways to the grotesque student-body euphoria were, in a word, toxic.)
A pop-culture phenom that burns this bright invites its own spirited backlash, but every so often there's an episode that transcends the hype and the hate. Such an episode airs this week (Tuesday, 8/7c), tackling head-on issues of faith and belief, doubt and hope, fellowship and friendship — and family. What is sacred to these characters is what can best be expressed through song, and the musical palette this week is emotionally charged. Manipulative? Of course. It's a musical, for (literally) God's sake. This is a four-hanky episode of Glee, easily the best of the season to date.
I won't give away the playlist or the incident that inspires the characters to confront and challenge their beliefs, or lack thereof. Suffice it to say the episode is titled "Grilled Cheesus" and begins when the easily impressionable Finn sees the face of Jesus in a burned grilled cheese sandwich. What, you didn't expect a little irreverence along the way.
Leave it to Ambe Riley's Mercedes to bring "a little church up in here," walking away with musical honors this week. This episode is one from the heart, and will go down among the classic Glee hours.
Also of note tonight: the return, after a six-month break, of Syfy's Caprica (10/9c) to finish out its first season. This dense, dark, very adult and perpetually brooding prequel to Battlestar Galactica is pretty heavy lifting compared to the current Syfy norm, so if you feel out of the loop — and can't say I blame you — you might want to check out this entertaining recap trailer to get you up to speed.
Speed, however, not being the operative word to describe Caprica, which in many ways feels to me like the Rubicon of Syfy: undeniably smart but often dramatically inert. That was especially true in the first half of the season, though things are beginning to pick up with more urgency as the show returns, several weeks after the cliffhanger incident in which Zoe Graystone's Cylon/avatar went up in flames while Zoe's suicidally conflicted mother Amanda stepped off a bridge.
Corporate, religious, technological and terrorist intrigue interweave in this cautionary fable. As the disgraced mogul and Frankenstein-ian visionary Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) makes a deal with the Tauron enemy to further his dream of marketing a "cure for human grief," the calculating and murderous Sister Clarice (Polly Walker, stealing every scene) woos her monotheistic acolytes on the planet Gemenon with visions of resurrection, a "virtual heaven" that will allow true believers to cheat death. She calls it "apotheosis."
Meanwhile, the militaristic assembly line keeps churning out sentient Cylon robots that will someday turn on their creators, transforming "apotheosis" into apocalypse.
Caprica is a startlingly downbeat, heavy-handed yet heady brew of ambition and pretension, laced with just enough action and violent twists to keep us on our toes. I don't know how I'll find room in a busy fall to keep up with this one, but (like Rubicon) I'm going to try to make it to the end of the first season (in case there may actually be a second).
Again, leap of faith time here. Comes with the territory.
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