May 11th, 2010
When Ryan Murphy said that the back nine episodes of Glee were going to use “Wheels” as a template, I didn’t know that the show was literally going to take plot elements of “Wheels” and just sort of spin them off into different variations on the same story. “Laryngitis” is the latest in a series of episodes which feels repetitive of what we’ve seen before, as we get a focus on the relationship between Kurt and his father, focus on the tensions created by Rachel’s substantial ego, and even the introduction of disability as a way of putting other concerns into perspective (with Tina’s stutter being replaced by Rachel’s tonsillitis).
The episode embodies many of the thing that I’ve found problematic in recent episodes, so it may seem strange when I say that it was ultimately quite successful. Yes, the show doesn’t entirely work as an out-and-out after school special as Ryan Murphy seems to want it to be, and I still think the show’s all-or-nothing attitude is reckless in ways that only the show’s best characters can really handle, but the stories the show rushed into this week featured characters who I like to spend time with, and reached conclusions which felt honest to those characters in ways that previous episodes did not. The reason is that the show doesn’t try to haphazardly connect them to broad ongoing storylines: for once the show sort of settled into a groove, capturing a sustained moment within the lives of the Glee Club rather than periods of intense conflict.
Those elements were still present, but they didn’t feel like they were being used as a shortcut to something more substantial, which helps me accept this episode as a singular statement of musical enjoyment when it may not have worked as part of a larger arc.
April 27th, 2010
“I don’t try to change you, you don’t try to change me”
There is nothing I hate more than a show doing everything I ask it to and nonetheless leaves me cold. If you had asked me to focus on some of the prevailing problems to this point in Glee’s Spring season, I would have pointed to the narrow storylines which tend to focus on the central love triangles rather than the supporting characters, so to have an episode that so clearly focuses on characters like Kurt and Mercedes seems like it should be right up my alley.
The problem with “Home” is that it feels like the show is being changed rather than changing, characters emerging from their prison of one-dimensionality and returning to the last time they had anything close to character development. At times this results in beautiful musical numbers and emotionally resonant scenes which speak to the larger series, but as an actual episode “Home” feels equal parts honest and dishonest thanks to the sense that none of it has been earned from a narrative perspective.
You could make the same argument about “Wheels,” I realize this, but I think that this episode contained more of both sides of the show’s schizophrenia as it relates to certain characters, and comes directly after an episode which presented such wildly different versions of these characters that the jarring lack of continuity cannot be overcome by an emotional performance of a Burt Bacharach song, no matter how hard the show tries to make it so.
December 9th, 2009
“Winning could make everything good for a while.”
I do not understand the rules of the Sectional Show Choir competition, nor do I know exactly what comes after it in New Directions’ journey. Glee is a show that despite being about what seems like a shockingly bureaucratic existence (with sponsorship disqualifications and everything) wants absolutely nothing to do with that complexity, and as such “Sectionals” boils down to the above: if they win, things will be better.
But what Glee has been doing all season is hiding inherently sombre stories beneath the shiny gloss of over-produced musical numbers. Rachel Berry soars every time she takes the stage, but beneath that surface she has no friends and feels like that’s never going to change. Quinn gets up to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and yet her pregnancy is a source of constant anxiety as she knows how much Finn will be hurt when he, eventually, figures out the truth. And Will Schuester used Glee as a distraction from a marriage in tatters, dancing and mashing up songs when he should have been communicating and patching up his relationship with Terri (and, you know, touching her stomach and discovering her lie earlier).
I’ve accepted, at this point, that Glee’s delayed reaction to some of its early problems (including its somewhat mean-spirited comedy and the aforementioned fake baby storyline) is inherently part of its characters’ journeys – the show is awkward because teenagers are awkward, and it’s inconsistent because high school is inherently impulsive and volatile. And while I am far from suggesting that the show has been perfect this season, I at least feel like the journey it has taken with these characters is consistent with its investigation of what happens when the world of show choir intertwines with a collection of diverse personalities for the sake of both comedy and drama.
As such, “Sectionals” works as a finale precisely because it has no romantic notions about what “Sectionals” is: this is not a simple celebration of musical talent, nor a simple culmination of any one character’s journey. It’s a neon band-aid that makes a wound look a whole lot prettier, capable of healing those wounds but also capable of being ripped off and leaving scars that no neon band-aid will ever be able to fix. It’s an hour of television that highlights life’s futility while celebrating its transcendence, never once suggesting that one will ever cancel out the other.
And it’s a rather fantastic end to what has been a fascinating (if not quite consistently amazing) first thirteen episodes for the show they call Glee.
November 25th, 2009
Last week, I had an extensive Twitter conversation with Jace Lacob about Glee, and the argument boiled down to the question of whether or not the show’s characters were one-dimensional. And what was interesting is that Jace and I don’t disagree: the show’s characters are, on occasion, blindly one-dimensional. However, I argued that the show is still in its infancy, and that considering its identity crisis it’s actually doing a decent job of slowly sketching out its characters.
However, I do think that one of the show’s problems is its decision to have characters waver between substantial character development and broad archetypes week by week. While a show like Friday Night Lights, with a similar ensemble cast of characters that often move in and out of the show’s narrative, is dealing with fairly grounded and realistic characters, Glee is slowly humanizing caricatures. And as a result, you have a character like Artie fluctuating from a handicapped student struggling to relate to his classmates to a random background character in a wheelchair, which feels false. Rather than the character development compounding over time, changing the way the show’s dynamics operate, the exact opposite is happening: while individual episodes give Kurt or Quinn or Puck storylines that expand on their identity, outside of the main serialized storyline (Finn and Quinn’s baby) they revert back to their original modes.
It creates a sense that, for a show which is at its best when characters are being developed and explored in a concentrated fashion, the plots of the show itself don’t actually seem to be changing in kind, and the show reverts back to a farcical comedy more often than not. At the heart of “Hairography” is the fairly simple premise that beneath the distractions we create for ourselves is a sense of our true identity, as various characters test out potential distractions only to find that their heart takes them in a different direction.
However, Glee is a show that is all about distractions, and while this individual episode may have peeled everything back to show the supposed true colours of the various characters the show is never going to stop delivering show-stopping musical numbers or interjecting random musical sequences into largely unrelated scenes. The result is an episode that, rather than representing a legitimate step forward for the series, only draws attention to some of its long-term, cumulative limitations: it can tug at the heartstrings and build character when it wants to, but this is never going to start being a show about twelve kids singing on stools.
Especially not with a fake pregnancy storyline hanging over it.
October 14th, 2009
“An environment of constant irrational terror”
Andy Dehnart (who can be found on Twitter at RealityBlurred) posted a piece of commentary at MSNBC yesterday that, earlier today, exploded into a lively twitter discussion amongst critics. His argument is that the show relies on stereotypes when it could be developing character, and that it needs to eliminate some of its more one-dimensional characters (like Sandy) and provide more depth to its central Glee club members. What’s interesting is that I don’t think there’s anyone who is going to argue with this point, especially if we apply it to Terri and her fake pregnancy. The strangest thing about Glee, from critics’ perspectives, is that most people tend to agree that it has its share of problems, especially when it comes to the adult characters on the show. The difference comes in how people rationalize those criticisms and weigh them with the show’s undeniable charm, and its quick-witted one-liners that most people tend to enjoy.
“Throwdown” is yet another dividing point, an episode that highlights the show’s best character (Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester) and as a result features a lot of great one-liners and some solid musical numbers. However, as someone who tends to lean more critically on the show than others, it’s an episode that shows you that Dehnart’s complaints aren’t the show’s only problem. Yes, its adult characters are one-dimensional, but the show’s plotting is just as problematic: storylines seem to happen to characters as opposed to because of characters, and the result is that the Glee club itself is trapped in the middle of wars and plots (the environment of constant irrational terror, in other words) that may be entertaining in the short term but are doing nothing to foster long term development.
Linda Holmes from NPR made the note that it’s impossible for Glee to hit the mark every week, as the mark is tiny and specific. I’d argue that the show is hitting that mark enough to keep me watching, but I’d also argue that it is more consistently missing it where it counts (narrative, character development) than where it’s most popular (the musical numbers, the one-liners). And while that’s a pattern for cult success, it’s not a pattern for dramatic or comic fulfillment.
September 16th, 2009
“Acafellas,” by and large, is like an answer to my prayers (or, if not prayers, then at least requests). Last week, I noted that I enjoyed the show as a whole but felt that they were moving too quickly with the main storylines and not giving us any time with the supporting characters. And, by and large, this episode managed to move at a pretty quick pace (the show certainly didn’t become slow) while spending plenty of time with pretty much everyone. The show is a large ensemble, and this episode felt like an effort to both address ongoing storylines (including the main ones covered last week) in small scenes while spending time with entirely new settings and character pairings.
This is not to say that I think the episode was flawless by any means, but I think it’s an example of the show’s particular brand of humour and musical performance proving capable of expanding into other areas outside of the “core” storylines. While I still have some issues with the way the show tends to pace itself with individual storylines, this episode managed to handle a lot of material in a single hour, covering various bases with a fairly high degree of success.
But, be warned that I’ve still got some issues with the way the show likes to rush to the good parts, so to speak.
May 19th, 2009
As always, as a less than official TV critic, I haven’t been amongst those lucky enough to have seen FOX’s new series, Glee, ahead of time. This is not usually an issue, as I’m able to avoid any spoilers or any really strong opinions on these shows, but ignoring Glee has been nearly impossible. Between the constant deluge of ads that FOX has been deploying, and between every TV critic under the sun having extremely polarizing reactions to the series, ignoring Glee has been fundamentally impossible. People either love the show or, well, they agree that there’s other people other than themselves who will probably love it.
Amazingly, however, I managed to keep myself from seeing a single clip, or more than a few images, from the series: sure, I’ve seen the criticism, but this unique musical television “event” (premiering after American Idol despite not truly debuting until the Fall) remains entirely unspoiled in terms of its tone and in terms of its execution (although I’ve obviously listened to the critics enough to know some things to look out for). As a result, I can honestly say that I went into Glee with, primarily, no real expectations one way or the other. The result?
I’m a little bit in love.