Tag Archives: Idina Menzel

Glee – “I Am Unicorn”

“I Am Unicorn”

September 27th, 2011

When “I Am Unicorn” ended on what I guess we could nominally consider a cliffhanger, I was sort of stunned.

See, in order to have a cliffhanger you need to have a narrative, and that’s something that Glee has largely avoided since the conclusion of its first season. Now, to be fair, the show has had recurring storylines that have occasionally been made more prominent: Kurt’s bullying arc, for example, was a major force that changed the dynamics of the entire series by moving Kurt to the Warblers.

However, the narrative that emerges in “I Am Unicorn” (and which was foreshadowed last week) is holistic, encompassing a larger percentage of the show’s characters than ever before. It’s a collection of narratives that, while remaining tied to the show’s central themes and the musical conceit that the show has relied on, are not about the Glee club winning Sections/Regionals/Nationals and that on some level aren’t about “the Glee Club” as an entity.

Instead, they’re narratives about characters: they may be uneven, and they may not necessarily pay off in the end, but by the end of “I Am Unicorn” I was convinced that Glee is capable of being a subtle show when it wants to be.

And that was a very, very weird feeling.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FOX’s Glee

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FOX’s Glee

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show’s chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

While critics have been somewhat divided on Glee’s quality, they have been fairly consistent in terms of its importance to the current television landscape: with its unique business models and its nearly earth-shattering levels of hype, the fact of the matter is that Glee is a phenomenon, so in some ways it represents the ultimate test of how “success” measures with the Emmy Awards.

The show has a lot of things going for its beyond the metric ton of promotion surrounding the series’ first season: it has a breakout supporting performer in Jane Lynch, Broadway imports like leads Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele to lend its musical elements some credibility, and some meaningful messages about difference and humanity sharing space with its elaborate production numbers. While I’d argue that Lynch’s Sue Sylvester was inconsistently used, and that Morrison and Michele were overshadowed from a character perspective by Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley, and that its messaging was highly contradictory at various points, I think Glee is going to get an “A for Effort” by Emmy voters. Sure, the show isn’t perfect, but it’s doing so many interesting and potentially brilliant things that voters seeing only the episodes that work (the Pilot, “Wheels,” etc.) are probably going to look past smaller issues and focus on the parts of the series which brought it so much hype and success.

While part of the show’s appeal is its ensemble cast, FOX’s Emmy campaign has been pretty focused: Morrison and Michele have been labeled as leads and will contend in the category on the strength of their musical performances, while Lynch is the breakout “Comic” side of things and so is a shoo-in for a nomination and a likely favourite to win in the Supporting Actress category. For the most part, though, the more emotional storylines (like Kurt and his father, or Artie and his disability) are being lumped in with the series as a whole, a compliment to the musical performances which set the series apart. And to be fair, while I think Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley gave the series’ best performances, they weren’t particularly comic, although the same could be said for more or less everyone but Lynch and Heather Morris (whose Brittany was the series’ comic highlight in the back nine).

The series’ best chances for wins, to be honest, probably come in the Guest categories: Neil Patrick Harris, shut out for his work on How I Met Your Mother, gets a number of strong performances and a meaningful (but still funny) storyline in “Dream On,” while Kristin Chenoweth (who won for a quasi-musical role on Pushing Daisies last year) has a similar turn in “The Rhodes Not Taken” which is going to garner her a nomination. These roles manage to capture, within a single character, all of the things that make Glee work, which is not always true for the other characters (Michele’s Rachel, for example, only got to become a dramatic character when her birth mother was revealed, while Morrison’s dramatic material with his ex-wife was a series low point). I’ve often argued that Glee would work better without serial continuity, and these guest roles best capture that sort of fleeting, but powerful, emotional connection the series is going for.

The Glee being sold to voters is the Ryan Murphy-led Glee of “Wheels,” which is perhaps the smartest choice: while I prefer Brad Falchuk-led Glee (“Sectionals” and “Journey,” for example), FOX is trying to connect with voters’ emotions immediately, and the show’s finales are sort of dependent on you having some sort of attachment to the characters in question. The fact of the matter is that Glee is the kind of show which will create those emotional reactions for better or for worse, and I think it will play to its favour with voters: while it might be messy and inconsistent, that isn’t going to matter with Emmy voters who pop the screener into their DVD players and see something completely different than everything else on TV and anything that’s been on TV in the last decade.

And that’s going to go a long way for the show on Thursday morning.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Matthew Morrison)
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Lea Michele)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Jane Lynch)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Neil Patrick Harris)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Kristin Chenoweth)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series
  • Directing for a Comedy Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Chris Colfer)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Mike O’Malley)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Idina Menzel)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Kevin McHale)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Dianna Agron, Heather Morris)

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Season Finale: Glee – “Journey”

“Journey”

June 8th, 2010

“Life only really has one beginning and one end – the rest is just a whole lot of middle.”

In his attempts to inspire his Glee Club to achieve despite the nearly insurmountable odds placed before them at the upcoming Regional championships, Will Schuester makes the above remarks. And while I don’t think this was intentional, there’s a wonderful meta-commentary about the show itself in this statement: sure, the fragmented nature of the first season means that there were really two beginnings and two endings, but at the end of the day everything else was just a whole lot of middle that was more middling than I would have desired.

But if the back nine of Glee’s first season saw the series flipping and flailing wildly as it flew through the air, “Journey” demonstrates that this series knows how to stick a landing; in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the show would be amongst television’s best if they did two-episode seasons made up entirely of premieres and finales. Sure, the episode more or less feels like “Sectionals 2: Electric Bugaloo,” following the same patterns as the fall finale, but there is an unabashed sincerity to its storytelling which remains grounded without having to be undercut at every turn. It makes the show feel like it has earned this blanket sentimentality, that it truly has taken these characters on a journey which has changed their lives.

Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a great essay earlier today about Glee’s radical sincerity, but when I think about it nothing about “Journey” felt radical: so embodying the resiliency of the series’ spirit, and unapologetically engaging in theatrics we might have rolled our eyes at just a year ago, Glee proves that even considering all of the hype and success there remains a confident, passionate, absolutely entertaining series about a glee club that, gosh darn it, refuses to stop believing in itself.

And while I’m still going to dock the series some points for its poor form in the air during its back nine, I’m willing to throw up a good 9.5 or so for its landing, as “Journey” is unquestionably a series high point.

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Glee – “Theatricality”

“Theatricality”

May 25th, 2010

Glee is a show that needs to know the limitations of its own premise, something that I don’t know if Ryan Murphy is all that interested in. I think he’s concerned that if he limits the show in terms of the stereotypes it can fight or the type of music it can do, he will be “giving in” to the same types of negative forces that the show’s messaging speaks against.

In some cases, especially musically, I want this show to push certain boundaries and break down misconceptions about genres of music or the role that music can play in our lives. In others, however, I wonder if the show’s format is actually capable of providing a grounded take on those issues without exaggerating them into something completely different. The show has only gotten away with its choice to confront issues of difference through some strong performances, and in “Theatricality” the eponymous quality results in a ludicrously overplayed storyline about the battle between jocks and the Glee club which has absolutely zero nuance. Other storylines, meanwhile, suffer because they do have nuance and yet often step too far into the emotional for that nuance to emerge in a satisfying fashion.

It results in a combination of stories that are fine until you actually think about them (something the show unfortunately rarely bothers to do once it’s reached its powerful statement on morality or the strength of individuality) and some which never come close to being emotionally effective because there’s not an ounce of realistic human behaviour.

And no amount of “Theatricality” can keep me from feeling like the show is ignoring some pretty glaring concerns within its so-called morality.

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Glee – “Dream On”

“Dream On”

May 18th, 2010

I made a case a few weeks ago that Glee would work better if it wasn’t so concerned about plot or character development: if each individual episode were allowed to serve as a standalone story about high school students overcoming adversity through the powers of song and dance, I think the show would feel less rushed, less burdened by the need to maintain something approaching momentum. By focusing on ongoing character arcs, it means that the show’s whiplash storytelling feels like the show is being pulled in fifteen different directions, and characters who appear only occasionally in the “main” narrative feel objectified when they’re given the “spotlight” on rare occasions.

“Dream On,” I would argue, works in a bubble: if you choose to take an entirely anachronistic view to this series, then there are inspirational moments, some decent jokes, and some strong musical numbers, all of which is well directed by Joss Whedon and bolstered by Neil Patrick Harris’ presence. However, once you start thinking about these characters as something more than archetypes and think about where they’ve been in the past and how they came to be in these situations, you start to realize that something doesn’t add up. We’ve seen these stories before, and in some ways we’ve moved past these stories, and the expectation of character development feels betrayed by the apparent regression.

I want this show to be able to show me growth in its characters, and I want it to work harder at developing ongoing storylines that make sense and which enrich the show’s storytelling, but I feel like they don’t have the execution or the vision to pull that together, which makes me wary of the show’s long term prospects amidst the hype surrounding its more successful (and more popular) elements.

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Spring Premiere: Glee – “Hell-O”

“Hell-O”

April 13th, 2010

I considering myself an appreciator of Glee, one of the few “deconstruction-focused” critics who has been writing about the show in a dedicated fashion (some weeks, it’s just Todd and I), but I don’t like that being a “fan” has become an all-or-nothing proposal. I can like the show while admitting that it has some pretty considerable flaws, but it seems like FOX’s promotional blitz has very clearly divided those who are chugging the kool-aid and those who are sipping it politely and discussing the sugar to water ratio, and as someone who falls in the latter category I can already sense that this is becoming one of those shows where any sort of indepth, negative review is going to be attacked for “missing the point of the show” and the like from some – but not, of course, all – viewers of the show.

This is unfortunate because I think how Glee tries to accomplish its goals is actually far more interesting than the goals themselves, as the balance between music and dialogue, or comedy and drama, or fantasy and reality all create some very intriguing problems that Ryan Murphy and Co. have to deal with on a weekly basis. That the show isn’t always successful shouldn’t be a surprise considering the volatile elements it chooses to take on each week, and the idea that its can-do spirit or its exuberance can account for its occasional missteps is the sort of romantic notion that only works in the show’s universe, not in ours.

“Hell-O” is a strong season premiere not because of the hype, or because of the musical numbers that the show chooses, but because those musical numbers are very well focused, the introduction of new characters is well-handled, and the thematic parallels are useful enough that the contrivances necessary to create them are forgivable. After a closure-heavy conclusion that wrapped things up too neatly, the show manages to complicate things quite effectively as it prepares for what appears to be a lengthy run – forgive me if I don’t let the show run around the hurdles every week.

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