Glee Is the Best Thing That Has Ever Happened to Gwyneth Paltrow's Career

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Last night, Gwyneth Paltrow returned to 'Glee,' and once again, she brought William McKinley High School to its knees. The actress was featured in three of the episode's musical numbers, leading a raucous take on Joan Jett's 'Do You Wanna Touch Me' and a banjo-and-steel-guitar spin on Fleetwood Mac's 'Landslide' and dueting with Matthew Morrison on a sexy, tango-infused 'Kiss' by Prince, while once again playing against the public's perception of her as a sometimes-icy WASP.

While she never really stepped off the A-list, Paltrow's career wasn't in the best place before she took on the part of feisty substitute teacher Holly Holliday on 'Glee,' but almost immediately after her first appearance, her career did a 180. She stole the show with Cee Lo Green at the Grammys, signed a record deal and somehow worked her way back into the public's good graces after years of being ridiculed as out-of-touch and snobby. Who would have ever thought a recurring guest spot on a teen-centric television musical would be the catalyst for the career revival of an Oscar-winning actress?

Paltrow's star is shining brighter than ever this morning after her second appearance on 'Glee.' The Atlantic's Kevin Fallon writes, "Gwyneth Paltrow brought sexy back to 'Glee' this week, and was, if possible, even sassier and sultrier than the last time she appeared on the show," while the Wall Street Journal is saying Paltrow's return was "infinitely better than her debut in the fall. ... She's sly and quick-witted, appropriately adult and seductively saucy in an episode that showcased more of her comedic timing, than her stiff dance skills."

Subbing as McKinley High's sex-ed teacher, Paltrow was given many of the episode's best lines -- "So, just remember, when you have sex with someone, you're having sex with everyone they've ever had sexy with – and everybody's got a random" and "Listen guys, don't take this too hard, these things never work out well – my sex tape with J.D. Salinger was a disaster," among them. She excelled at balancing the comedic with the serious, as she counseled Santana and Brittany about their relationship, showcasing an empathetic and fun-loving side of herself that moviegoers and celeb watchers rarely see.

It's sometimes hard to like Paltrow. She has oft been ridiculed for being particularly un-self-aware. Much of this resentment stems from her website, GOOP, where she extols the virtues of a healthy lifestyle and being rich. She means to be helpful (we think), but it often comes across as condescending, a privileged actress championing the benefits of juice fasts, organic kale milkshakes and private chefs. But with 'Glee,' the actress has found a vehicle to remind audiences that she can also be relatable and heartfelt, attributes many would never have ascribed to her before she took on Holly Holliday.

With goodwill on her side, Paltrow has smartly seized her moment. She has taken every opportunity available to her to perform live and prove her singing chops are the real deal. Her most high-profile gig so far has been at this year's Grammys, where she joined Cee Lo for a lavish, muppet-filled rendition of his hit 'Forget You,' which she famously sang during her first 'Glee' guest spot. Many considered the performance the highlight of the night.

The actress has since signed a lucrative recording deal with Atlantic Records. Paltrow has indicated her album will have a country-pop vibe similar to the songs she performed in 'Country Strong,' her well-reviewed (if little seen) film about a country music superstar recovering from substance abuse issues. She has, however, also said she would like to work with her real-life friend Jay-Z, and it seems unlikely (and a wasted opportunity) she would enter the studio without getting some pointers from her husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.

And while her side gigs on TV and in music are getting all the attention right now, don't forget that Paltrow is first and foremost a movie star. Though she's had a string of misfires as a leading lady, she has a very promising project on the horizon. Paltrow is featured prominently in the cast of 'Traffic' Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh's upcoming thriller 'Contagion.' She's starring alongside, ahem, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and John Hawkes, who between them have won four Oscars and 14 nominations.

With critics praising the comedic prowess she's shown off on 'Glee,' expect more and varied roles to begin flooding in for the star, who was up to this point better known for her dramatic chops than her funny bone.

This week's episode set Paltrow's Holly Holliday up as a potential love interest for Morrison's Mr. Schuester, opening the door for more guest spots. She's set to appear on next week's episode, 'Original Song,' though don't expect her to become a regular. Things are looking rosier than ever for Paltrow, and with an album to record and her movie career resurgent, the actress simply doesn't have the time. We just hope she doesn't forget about the little show that made us all love her again.

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