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Glee – “Original Song”

“Original Song”

March 15th, 2011

The most problematic scene in “Original Song” had nothing to do with original songs. It was the deliberation between the judges at Regionals, as three ridiculous stereotypes joined together to tell a series of lifeless jokes with no function beyond the initial irony that Kathy Griffin would be playing a Tea Party amalgam of Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin. Any scene which functions exactly as you could imagine based on a casting announcement is what one would call a wasted opportunity, and a waste of the pretty great Loretta Devine.

However, the scene is also problematic because it’s happening outside the context of the episode. While the show often raises the specter of “How is this logistically possible” with its various performances, it often does so with a purpose: a big theatrical number is used to reflect big theatrical emotions, using the show’s loose grasp on reality as a stylistic advantage. There was no use to that deliberation scene, an indulgence and little more, but the musical numbers are more often than not “useful” in telling that week’s story. Some of the show’s best episodes, like “Duets,” are all about using musical numbers (sometimes even elaborate ones, like Kurt’s “Le Jazz Hot”) to represent the characters’ state of mind.

What fascinates me about “Original Song,” which was overall a pretty solid episode, was how transparent it was. It positioned songwriting as a way for characters to express their emotion, but their fairly impressive songwriting skills mixed with the on-the-nose characterization made the behind-the-scenes machinations painfully clear. It exposes the central irony of the big Regionals performance: as the Glee club kids take to the stage to perform original songs that communicate their feelings about love and tyrannical educators, they perform pop songs written by famous songwriters for the purpose of selling iTunes downloads.

And while that doesn’t entirely undercut the episode’s function, it does blunt the impact of an episode which was otherwise positioned as a pretty important character beat.

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Glee – “Special Education”

“Special Education”

November 30th, 2010

The performance episodes of Glee have been pretty universally strong: both “Sectionals” and “Journey” avoided relying purely on spectacle, delivering episodes which consolidate season-long developments. The first episode confirmed that New Directions could survive without Will and come together as a team, while “Journey” brought both Sue’s relationship with New Directions and Rachel’s relationship to Finn to a triumphant close.

“Special Education” is notable in that it is the first performance episode that doesn’t serve as any sort of ending. With “Sectionals” positioned as the closing hour of the show’s original 13-episode order (and filmed before the show became an established hit), and with “Journey” as the first season finale, there was always a sense of closure. By comparison, “Special Education” isn’t even closing out the first part of the season (the Christmas episode airs next week), which means that the event is going to be considerably less climactic than what we’ve seen before.

While not perfect, I quite like what Brad Falchuk and Paris Barclay did with this hour. A self-reflexive deconstruction of the balance between the individual and the group within the series, the episode lacks subtlety but resists the urge to smooth over its various conflicts. While the show doesn’t quite commit to the character drama to the point where it avoids the cheery group number at episode’s end, I thought it had some legitimately interesting insight into what that balance means to the series. The spirit of the show may not be broken, but there are enough cracks in the armor that “Special Education” successfully delivers spectacle and transition without resolving anything.

Allowing for the Christmas denouement next week.

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Glee – “Furt”

“Furt”

November 23rd, 2010

In what was generally considered to be the “end” of the series’ bullying arc, Glee becomes self-aware. Its characters realize that they are in an after school special about bullying, and that they need to do something about it. More than the two episodes which preceded it, “Furt” is about the reality of bullying, about the ways in which something serious and important can be undone by bureaucracy or the social structure that creates bullying in the first place.

At the same time, of course, the episode is a celebration of the wonders of wedded bliss, and the relationship between children and their parents. The congruity of these ideas is more than a bit suspect, but in defense of “Furt” I think this is part of the point. The problem with bullying is that it is chalked up to the realities of life, to the chaos that Glee often embodies to a fault, and the episode’s serious tone offers some introspective character moments that resist the simple morals we might have expected.

It becomes an episode about chain reactions, about the ways that one decision can inspire others to do something more about this; it is also an episode about how even every single character on a series banding together around someone being bullied isn’t enough to change the culture of high school bullying.

Which keeps even a character marrying themselves from upending the role of reality in this universe.

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