May 4th, 2010
It’s never good for a show about high school to raise comparisons to Freaks and Geeks, but by choosing “Bad Reputation” as the title for this episode Glee entered into that dangerous territory. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation” was the theme song to that show, and it has to be said that there was an element of irony in its use. Deep down, all of the characters on that show cared about their reputations, but what set the show apart was that they cared about them for realistic and dynamic reasons that felt true to life. The show never felt like it needed to sensationalize high school to create conflict, and as a result is one of the best shows of the past decade.
I understand that the “point” of Glee is to sensationalize, but the show can’t have it both ways. The problem with “Bad Reputation” is that it wants to come to saccharine and emotional conclusions but it wants to get there through the sort of bombastic, over the top chaos the show enjoys so much. And while a few of the musical numbers nicely encapsulate the way the characters are feeling, the storylines the episode uses to crystallize and set up those qualities are so far off the mark that I never once believed what was happening on screen.
While the message of the episode seemed to be that people shouldn’t worry so much about their reputations in high school, I think we’re at the point where Glee should be worried about its own reputation as it heads into its second season.
Jane Lynch is going to have a lot of choices for the Emmy awards in terms of submission episodes, but I’m pretty sure that “Bad Reputation” is going to be the one. Sue’s storyline actually worked really well for me here: the initial “Physical” episode was humorous, her response to the humiliation (told mostly through voiceover) nicely captured the character’s anxiety, and bringing back her sister with Down’s Syndrome offered a nice emotional side to the character. She didn’t spend the episode trying to hunt down who uploaded the video, but rather spent time working out her own problems, and it’s perhaps the most sympathetic the character has been since her small little story with the newscaster (which I still think is underappreciated). The show didn’t entirely take away Sue’s bite, as she still said some mean things and glossed over her gloating as she spoke with her sister (I really enjoyed that bit of subterfuge), but the Olivia Newton-John duet was a moment of empowerment for the character, and it was the one story that seemed like it was allowed to really develop under that key theme in the episode. It’s an ideal Emmy episode because she has a lot of screentime, she shows some range, she gets a new nemesis in Molly Shannon (who didn’t get much material but seems to fit in fine, she gets a musical number (with a major guest star), and she still gets some one-liners that are the epitome of the character.
If not for the rule where the Supporting tapes are cut down to only the performer’s screentime, I would probably have suggested she submit “Wheels,” because the rest of this week’s episode was a torrid mess. If there is one more ultimatum about the Glee Club being destroyed over something that the show fabricates and gives absolutely no realistic motivation, I am going to throw something (and yes, I know that’s an ultimatum). The problem with the “Glist” idea is that we’ve been shown nothing to this point indicating that sexual conflict is part of the Glee club dynamic, mainly because we’re never actually shown the Glee Club dynamic. Rather, we’re shown whatever the show wants us to see because it’s thematically relevant, and rather than actually witnessing any of the conflict which the “Glist” represents we’re told about it through exposition. I still don’t know why anyone would ever make such a stupid list, or why they would post it on the walls instead of starting a blog about it, and learning that it was all part of Quinn’s self-esteem issues now that she’s no longer ruling the school fails at retroactively making the story worthwhile. The show can’t pretend that an emotional conclusion makes up for the shortcuts they take earlier in the episode, and the “Glist” was another in a long line of conflicts within the club which lack any basis in our understanding of the show’s characters (and no, “anything can happen because those kids are crazy!” is not a good enough excuse).
In other cases, the show’s problem is that it’s trying to pack too much continuity into storylines rather than no continuity at all. I still don’t entirely understand Rachel’s intentions, or why it had to involve “Puckleberry,” but any of my enjoyment of the meta-commentary on the audience’s surprisingly strong reaction to the pairing was wiped away by the indulgence of the “Run Joey Run” video. To be clear, I think the song itself is a nice bit of production, but the actual video went on way too long to emphasize a love quadrangle that didn’t make any sense – the purposefully bad production wasn’t bad enough to be a sufficient joke to carry the video, and I’m officially at the point where the show doing “videos” is a problem for me. Not only are the production values stretching the show’s reality a bit too much, but they seem to go on forever: the show gets more out of characters interacting with one another rather than acting in different roles, and while the “Physical” video had a clear purpose (to give Sue her confidence back) and a clear angle (switching out the fat people in the original video with young, physically fit men) Rachel’s video lacked all of those qualities. I didn’t see why Rachel was being so desperate (or why she was reverting back to the desperation we saw in the show’s “Pilot,” without any of the earnestness), and I didn’t see why Puck and Finn were so concerned about it, and even Jesse was given no real motivation. How I Met Your Mother had the same problem this week: if you’re going to argue that characters aren’t “over” a former lover, you need to do more than having them say (or act) like they are. It needs to be something that feels genuine, and the “Run Joey Run” video obscured that.
The show had absolutely nothing to say with the rest of the Glee club outside of some Brittany one-liners and an excuse to have them perform some M.C. Hammer, but the show tried to cram in something more substantial for Will and Emma. In the case of Will, I think I’m officially done with the rapping: I actually would have much preferred if they had just done a big dance number to a recorded version of the song, which I know is actually more expensive but it would have avoided the awkwardness of Morrison rapping and focused entirely on the really enjoyable choreography (anyone who redubs the scene with the original gets my vote for some form of elected office). As for Emma, I like that she finally stood up to Will, but I disliked that it was Sue pushing her into it that created that circumstance. It became less of an issue when the Sue story eventually came out on the “endearing” side of things, but I think Emma needs to come to some conclusions on her own, just as Will needs to self-evaluate more than work out his issues through his struggles with the Glee kids.
Of course, being Glee, the final musical number is somewhat redemptive: I liked playing out the dynamics of the love quadrangle through “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and I’ve always had a soft spot for that song. However, the episode beforehand did nothing to create those circumstances: when you put it into song form everything seems like it’s poetic and emotional, but when you actually think about what happened in the episode none of it actually comes together. The show likes to create the sense that a single musical number can capture the emotions of the episode, and it’s true that Jesse walking out on Rachel while singing “turn around bright eyes” is by far the most meaningful part of that storyline, but they can’t substitute those kinds of moments for actual follow-through earlier in the episode. The Sue story had that tonight, going beyond “Physical” to speak to the character; the rest didn’t and “Bad Reputation” suffered mightily for it.
- Great to see Stephen Tobolowsky make a brief cameo playing Julie’s father – I actually actively dislike Sandy Ryerson as a character, but I love me some Tobolowsky (as I’ll probably write about later this week).
- Brittany got two great lines in tonight: “Can you even feel your feet?” covers the blunt honesty side of things, and “I don’t know how to turn on a computer” was another in a long list of fun lines for the character.
- The episode was apparently filled with bad songs, but “Physical” is damn catchy, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is awesome, and are we seriously suggesting that Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer are not integral parts of 90s popular culture? I hate the idea that the music of the 80s and 90s needs to be rescued in any way, and I don’t think the episode tapped into the idea of “bad songs” enough with “Run Joey Run” for me to say the theme was a success.