When we last left the students and teachers of McKinley High, they were celebrating Crimbo and doing their best Mariah impressions; the tinsel and baubles are back in the loft though, and Glee finally returns to its Thursday night slot on Sky1. Sadly, Yes/No airs in the UK weeks after it debuted in the US after apparent feedback from Sky customers suggested we quaint Brits couldn't handle the staggered setup favoured by US networks. No matter though, because the month delay means we're likely to enjoy an uninterrupted run for the season's second half, which means a lot of singing and dancing to be expected over the coming weeks. So, was it worth the wait and - more importantly - is it a big 'yes' from us??
The episode starts big with a direct homage to Grease, as faltering lovebirds Sam and Mercedes discuss their summer fling with friends and end up belting out 'Summer Lovin''. It's everything fans love about Glee and everything non-fans dread. This strong start sets the scene for romance and the episode's main plotline, which is Will's plan to propose to his girlfriend - through song, of course. As the kids attempt to woo their teacher with relevant proposal songs, Artie is approached by an amorous Becky and Finn's romantic vision of his father is tarnished by a shock reveal. Meanwhile, Sam risks even more slushies in the face by competing for Mercedes' affections by jocking up and joining the synchronised swimming team.
As with much of Season Three's output thus far, Yes/No is a mixed bag: what's great is great, and what isn't so great really whiffs of cheese (and not in the 'it's Glee so it's okay' way). The oddball and much-hyped stunt casting of Helen Mirren's voice is a stroke of genius; as the interior monologue of Downs Syndrome sufferer and Sue Sylvester's head lackey Becky, Mirren gets to say things like 'lay off haterz' and 'booyah!' before Becky's titillating sex texts and advances towards Artie are shot down and the whole thing is lent an air of pathos. It's a pretty bizarre approach to a story that you don't get to see every day on TV, which is that of one 'disabled' young person being romantically rejected by another. It also helps humanise Coach Sylvester, something that happens intermittently on this show but is generally aided by the presence of Becky, and even a sweeter take by Jane Lynch is better than no Jane Lynch at all.
The main story itself is where the quality control slides. The pairing of Emma and Will perilously threatens to become an annoying epicentre for the remainder of the season, even if Jayma Mays' performance as the damaged Emma is subtle and real in all the right places. However, Matt Morrison's increasingly drippy Schuester brings the brie most times he graces the screen here. Fortunately, the kids are on hand to help his quest to find the perfect love song, which allows for song interludes from an especially eclectic iPod playlist (from 'Moves Like Jagger' to 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' - really?!), but the forced drama building up to the inevitable proposal and acceptance all feels a bit laboured. Thankfully, when it comes, the central setpiece is as ambitious and shamelessly overblown as anything that's come before; a canny take on Rihanna's 'We Found Love' sees Trouty Mouth Sam lead his Glee mates in a synchronised dance routine in the school swimming pool, before a tuxedo-ed Will pops the question with a specially sentimental proposal. Three cheers!
Emma's not the only gal who gets a proposal this week, though. A ready-made cliffhanger was surely a must, considering next week's episode is the much-touted Michael Jackson sweeps special; as a result, we get a fidgety Finn, fresh from hearing his father didn't die a war hero in Iraq, posing the question to Rachel before we fade to black. The look on Rachel's face suggests the 'No' half of the episode's title will be resolved next week, so expect some emotional moonwalking from Finn. And let's hope we get some development on the Sam and Mercedes front, after their big narrative open in this episode fizzes out halfway through for prioritised pairings - boo! For a post-Christmas pickup though, this episode does well to juggle so many unresolved stories and point them in new directions. 'New Directions' - heh.