Offseason Shenanigans: The Return of Glee
February 6th, 2011
For a show which has yet to air an episode in 2011, Glee has been awfully ubiquitous.
No, this isn’t surprising: people can’t get enough of Glee, so it is inevitable that a brief hiatus with a much-hyped post-Super Bowl episode on the other end would result in an infinite number of stories relating to the series. However, what struck me as particularly interesting is the degree to which the series’ absence created a vacuum for something approaching controversy. Ryan Murphy announced that he was breaking up one of the show’s couples because he was bored. Ryan Murphy started a flame war with Kings of Leon. Ryan Murphy claimed that Glee is at least partially aimed at seven-year-olds (in the same sentence, no less).
There were a few moments when people wondered why I, as someone who “deigns” to cover this series from a more critical perspective, wasn’t commenting on these numerous stories. In truth, I just didn’t have time to respond to every piece of new surrounding the show, but I also never felt any sort of impulse to do so. Yes, I could comment on what it means for a showrunner to admit to a show’s fans that he makes decisions based on things which bore him, and there’s certainly analysis to be done of the impact of public flame wars; there is also most certainly a lot to be said about Murphy’s perception of the demographic makeup of his audience, an audience which I would presume is more for the show’s music (a sort of pop culturally-driven Kidz Bop) than for the show itself.
However, maybe because of my scholarly approach, I didn’t feel particularly moved by any of these stories. I wasn’t angry that Murphy was bored because I’d rather showrunners be honest than not. I wasn’t aghast at Murphy’s battle with Kings of Leon because I don’t have the time to care about celebrities sniping at one another over a misunderstanding. And while I raised an eyebrow at Murphy’s comments regarding demographics, that seems like a more detailed, long-term study than it does an instant reaction.
Obviously, other people cared more about these stories, and I think that there is certainly analysis to be done on how these events affected viewer experience. I just don’t find myself writing from the perspective of the affected viewer: my opinion of tonight’s Super Bowl episode, and the show as a whole, has not been damaged by Murphy’s offseason behavior. I was probably more influenced by Ian Brennan’s interview with Todd over at The A.V. Club, in which we got some legitimate insight into how the show is written rather than how the show is publicly performed through its creator.
In many cases, my approach to Glee is very similar to the approach I’ve been trying to take with MTV’s Skins. Both are shows which have become defined by hype, to the point that the text itself has been largely considered secondary. What’s interesting with Glee is that, unlike Skins, the text and the hype are constantly in tension with one another: the musical numbers often remind viewers that the show is about more than the story, and that the “big picture” is often the only picture when the series is sold to viewers. And so, as one of only a handful of critics writing post-air analysis of the series, I feel as if my contribution is considering how individual episodes balance that tension, and focusing on the more textual elements. Admittedly, one must deal with the hype in the process, but I am more interested in the hype as it manifests in the text than I am interested in the hype in and of itself.
So, tonight, Glee comes without much baggage from the offseason shenanigans of its creator; instead, it comes with baggage relating to its post-Super Bowl timeslot, the burden of the cultural power of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and the series’ ability to negotiate the balance between story and hype within what may be its most overhyped episode yet.
And that’s enough baggage to fuel critical analysis, methinks.