Glee Season 1.5: Three Questions Producers Need to Answer

Season 1.5: Three Questions Producers Need to Answer

December 10th, 2009

When we watch a television show as viewers or as critics, we want to believe that our opinions matter. This is not to suggest that we desire to control a particular story, by pushing it in one direction or another, but rather that how people respond to a show is capable of giving the producers some idea of how their show could reach either its widest audience or (for us critics, at least) its fullest comic and dramatic potential.

And yet, for Glee, the voices of fans and critics have seemed to fall upon deaf ears, as some of the common concerns (about the over-produced musical numbers, about the inconsistency between episodes) have remained staples of the show throughout the season. Now, again, this isn’t inherently a problem (it’s their show, they can do with it what they want), but it is important to acknowledge that this was not about ignorance: rather, the show finished filming over a month before the show started in earnest in September. It was produced in a bubble, the writers learning as they went along with only the reviews and reaction towards the pilot to guide them (and, even then, they had produced quite a few episodes before it aired in May).

As a result, when Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan head back to work in early January to start production on the back nine for the show’s first season (which I’m choosing to dub Season 1.5 as opposed to “Volume 2” or something silly like that), they will have with them the internet’s collective response to the show’s first thirteen episodes. And, for me, the big question now is quite simple: what the heck are they going to do with it?

After the break, I’ll offer my thoughts on where I feel their focus should lie, and why it doesn’t all line up with my own selfish desires for the series going forward.

In my eyes, there are three main areas that the show is going to have to manage moving forward (which I’ll get to in a second), but there are some things that are pretty clearly already set in stone. Casting of both Lea Michele’s Spring Awakening co-star Jonathan Groff (as the lead singer of Vocal Adrenaline) and (still unconfirmed, but likely) Idina Menzel (Wicked) as the head coach of Vocal Adrenaline means that we’re going to be spending considerable time with New Directions’ key rivals, and I’d consider that to be a positive development in that it opens up the show’s universe and adds a new dynamic to Glee club interaction. As I mentioned in my review of the finale, Season 1.0 was about the Glee club’s internal struggle, so for their competitive spirit to shift (mostly) outwards feels like a good tonal shift.

However, the show has three lingering questions that feel like they need to be handled more carefully (and that feel as if they may be influenced by how people have responded to the first thirteen episodes).

The Terri Schuester Question

Basically, we have to wonder: what role does Terri Schuester play in this universe now that Will has left her? Television has done to “reformed ex sticks around to try to remain friends and prove themselves worthy to their former wife/husband” thing before, and it’s not like Jessalyn Gilsig isn’t a talented actress, but Terri is fundamentally disconnected from everything else the show stands for. No matter how logical I found her to be in the finale, she was a character that nobody liked, who never got to sing a song of her own, and who as a result feels as if she had been leapfrogged by the show’s narrative. The end of “Sectionals” shows Will and New Directions moving on to their next challenge, and if Terri felt tangential before I can’t imagine what she’d feel like after the hiatus.

However, for all of the crap I gave them for the character all season, I ultimately vote to keep her. I think that the writers need to prove that they understand what went wrong with Terri Schuester, and more importantly I think Gilsig deserves a chance to prove to people that she can act (and, who knows, even sing). So long as it doesn’t feel too forced, reintroducing Terri into the narrative (likely by having her remain part of Quinn’s plan for her child, but in a far less psychotic fashion) is a way for the show to signal its ability to right its wrongs, so to speak. I might prefer a Glee without Terri Schuester (as was evident when she disappeared in an episode like “Wheels”), but I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the show going forward for it to give up as easily as Will did.

The Sue Sylvester Question

When Ryan Murphy suggested in a recent interview that “Wheels” is the prototype for the show going forward, Sue Sylvester’s character was in an awkward position. No one doubts Jane Lynch’s ability to pull off the sort of dramatic work asked of her in that episode as we met her sister with Down’s syndrome, as she was absolutely fantastic, but some felt as if the episode softened the character too greatly. However, I think there’s a much greater problem with Sue than the degree to which she wavers back and forth between absurdist humour and emotional melodrama: why, precisely, does Sue Sylvester hate the Glee club so much?

It’s a question that’s bugged me all season, and if anyone other than Jane Lynch were in this role I don’t think it would work (in fact, based on the pilot, I was perplexed at why Lynch would choose this role over Party Down, outside of financial interests). And the finale, as strong as it was in other areas, seemed to indicate that Sue’s only motivation in destroying Glee was a combination of financial loss and the loss of her pride, the former of which is uninteresting and the latter of which is underdeveloped. “Wheels” may have told a strong dramatic Sue story, but it never connected to her character’s actions beyond that episode, and thus did little to improve her character’s complexity.

I would never suggest that Sue needs to fundamentally change, but we need to see more of where her hilarious rants and hair-related insults come from in the future. With the reprimand given to her in “Sectionals,” I worry that the writers have justified her vendetta enough for them to avoid such complexity, but I think it is necessary for the character to grow and expand with the rest of the show’s characters (who, through events like Sectionals and episodes like “Wheels” have shown considerable growth during this shortened season). Give me a flashback episode to a time when Sue was idealistic, or let her have an inner monologue song to more carefully explain her position, but something needs to be done with Sue Sylvester that better examines why she’s an awesome part of the show’s dynamic.

The Overproduction Question

I understand why every song on Glee barring one has been aggressively produced: not only does it allow the producers more control over the song and place less pressure on the performers, but it also allows them to have every song at their disposal when planning albums or creating retail exclusive selections or  maximizing their iTunes profit margins. However, there’s a point at which these business and production interests become overpowering, and in my mind the overproduction of a number of songs (whether marked by the use of autotune or by the difficult task of lip synching over the tracks) has gotten to the point where the logic of the show’s universe has given way to behind the scenes interests.

Some songs will have to be produced and dubbed over, like those which are combined with fantasy sequences or montages, so I’m not suggested this isn’t part of the show’s identity. Rather, I believe that every now and then these people sing in a context where there would be no lip synching, and where lip synching actually takes away from the effect. If a song is being practiced, or sung between two people in private, there’s no reason why some of the broadway vets (Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Jenna Ushkowitz) couldn’t handle an occasional live vocal: the show may not have been set up for it on its tight production schedule, but now it has had time to figure out the logistics and an opportunity to naturally work it into the show’s rotation.

It would provide both a nice dose of realism and, more importantly, a sense of variety. That live performance of Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” is one of my favourites of the season because of how fun it was to watch the group of people together just singing for the enjoyment of it, and so often the production takes that away and becomes more about our enjoyment (and the enjoyment resulting from FOX’s boffo economic return from iTunes/album sales) than it is about the characters themselves.

The Smaller Questions

Inevitably, there are others questions at play here, like wondering when characters like Mercedes and Tina are going to get characters beyond their participation in Glee club or when Matt and Mike are ever going to get more than one line in an episode, but I have to presume that the writers now have a much better grasp on what characters people like and which types of stories they really gravitated towards. What I want to see now, more than anything else, is the writers come back to the table with a desire to continue pushing the envelope: I don’t want them to get complacent, or to spend their time trying to reproduce what fans loved about these episodes. James Poniewozik, in placing the show in his Top 10 shows of 2009, argued that inconsistency is too often vilified, and I would agree in this instance: if Glee suddenly became a predictable show but in the process lost that inventive spirit that made it so successful, it would be far less interesting to me than it is now when it, on occasion, flames out something fierce.

So when Glee returns, I don’t want them to have solved every problem so much as I want them to have seen every problem, considered what their strategy is for the remaining nine episodes, and figured out the best way to balance the stories they want to tell, the way they want to tell them, and how a diverse and opinionated audience might want to see in the process.

And I’m excited to see the results, whether or not they choose to listen to my concerns.

Glee returns April 13th on FOX, airing after American Idol on Tuesday nights, for its final nine-episode run.


Filed under Glee

14 responses to “Glee Season 1.5: Three Questions Producers Need to Answer

  1. thedemonhog

    Woah, pictures.

  2. Adam B.

    I’m worried about how they’re going to potentially keep the show going without it becoming stale. So in that sense, I guess one of your smaller questions is my biggest. Are they really just going to rehearse more songs for regionals? Is Sue just going to find MORE ways to screw up Glee Club next season? Totally agree that they don’t give any reason as to why Sue hates Glee Club so much (aside from the money being taken away from Cheerios). The whole idea of a back 9 doesn’t sit well with me, as tonight’s episode really felt like the end of the season. Bringing forth the characters who have been in the background for so long would be interesting. But yeah, Glee has a lot of things to do right in April and possibly Season 2. Maybe the actual season finale will make me feel better, guess we’ll find out.

    Now I’m sad because there’s not much for me to watch. I hate jumping into shows late and yeah.. I want it to be February already!

  3. Marc

    It was explained to me that in Will’s day the Glee Club was the most popular activity at the school. An early episode shows Will gazing at a case full trophies surrounding the picture of his glee club director. As such, I was willing to accept Sue not wanting the Cheerios status being usurped.

    However, just as they changed Terri into a real person, they have changed Sue into a lunatic. Sue is as successful as any high school coach could be. Her team is featured in a cheer leading magazine. She is a local celebrity. Her boosters pay to fly the squad to Nationals. Having Santana and Brittany (who only does what Coach Sylvester tells her) drop out at the last minute would be in keeping with her vengeful spirit. Leaking the set list, and then vowing horror when she is suspended for it, is the mark of a disturbed person. In the real world Sue would just take one of the numerous better positions she has undoubtedly been offered. In the Glee world she now seems capable of bringing a shotgun to school.

    My other problem concerns Rachel. There are only two reasons the Glee Club exists. Will wants to recapture his old glory and Rachel wants some present glory. Not only does Rachel have no friends. Her classmates in the club actively dislike her. I am not nearly as young or emotionally fragile as Rachel, but I would be hurt if I found out that every person I knew was keeping secrets from me. At some point I want a scene where somebody thanks her or her two gay Dads (who might know something about being outcasts) comfort her.

    I realize that it is occasionally important to give people what they want and fans want Will and Emma together. However, I continue to think that the reality of a relationship with Emma might not be as wonderful as the fantasy. (I imagine a scene following the kiss where she is gargling with the mouthwash she keeps in her purse). I look forward to seeing if Emma will return to WMHS, how they will deal with Ken and whether Will (who has been in love with Terri for half of his life) will learn to stand up for himself the way he has learned to stand up for the club. And then there is the problem of Quinn living at Finn’s house.

    Yes, there is less worthing watching on TV now, but I am glad the writers have some time to figure things out.

  4. I’m pretty much alone on this, but I just don’t give a shit that the songs are overproduced. It doesn’t bug me in any way, shape or form.

    As far as Sue goes, I’m still undecided. NOW, at least, she has a very good reason for hating Glee going forward, and while I’d like an “origin story” episode for her character, it’s going to be very hard to do that, I think, even harder than the HIMYM folks’ task was to humanize Barney in HIS origin story episode in season one.

    • I’m perhaps not as flummoxed as most people are about it, and for me it’s more that I’d love to see more spontaneous musical numbers that are recorded live. I think the show has room for both, and it’s grown imbalanced.

  5. Note that I don’t think they should NOT undertake the origin story because it’s hard, but that I DO think some of what makes the character work is her utter irrationality, and if you subject that to any attempt to make it make sense, it can come off as cloying.

    Then again, I liked her subplot in “Wheels,” so.

    • Yeah, I loved the “Wheels” subplot, and thought it actually created a rationale for her behaviour (that she is critical of everyone equally, including herself for not spending enough time with her sister). However, when the show argues that Sue has a SPECIAL hatred for the Glee Club without really explaining why, the rationale seems to fade.

      I think a back story could work because it would only deepen the degree to which Sue’s current behaviour represents a contradiction of other parts of her life, and could justify rather than complicate the way she acts.

  6. Ana Rose

    I think that that Terri should get a chance to sing come spring. Perhaps a ballad will win Will back. It be interesting to see that play out. Though I can imagine the WillxEmma shippers wouldn’t want that.

  7. NicoleB

    In “Vitamin D”, didn’t Terri say that she was a cheerleader in high school? I can see her coming in to take Sue’s position as the coach of the Cheerios while Sue is recouping in Boca. It’d be a way to keep her close to Will, and it would make sense for her plot-wise since she’s going to need to find a way to supplement her income now that it appears she’ll no longer be married to Will.

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  9. Lawrence

    Rachel’s TWO GAY DADS!!!

    (Were they seen in the front row during the standing O?) Rachel is a wonderful force of nature and I demand to know how she got that way. And who lets an 18-year-old sexual predator meathead with a Mohawk (Jewish or not) into their virgin 16-year-old daughter’s bedroom? Let us pray it signifies their implicit trust in her character and judgment. Or does she scare them as much as she did the other Glee kids and Will in “Ballads?”

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