Tag Archives: Rachel Berry

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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Glee – “Mattress”

“Mattress”

December 2nd, 2009

Over the weekend, I was chatting with a friend about Glee, and inevitably the conversation came to Terri Schuester. I find it’s usually a topic that every Glee viewer has in common: whatever they think about any individual episode, no one seems to actually like this character. And while I feel bad for Jessalyn Gilsig, who got stuck playing someone who nearly everyone hates, I think that from its very conception the character was a failure. In an interview with the L.A. Times (where she charmingly notes how a review of an episode which made an elated mention of her absence in said episode on the same site made her want to crawl back into bed), she notes that the character was conceived as a justification for Will’s flirtations with Emma; Will needed a reason to be straying from his marriage, so Terri needed to be someone who audiences didn’t like.

However, what I think Ryan Murphy and the rest of the show’s writers didn’t quite understand was how the show was going to be sold and what kinds of stories would dominate the early going. The show was never going to feel natural being about Will Schuester, to the point that those episodes that did focus heavily on his character (see: “Acafellas”) flopped primarily because the show’s core audience (and most of its mainstream buzz) were there for the less dramatic elements of the series (the music, the one-liners, etc.) or for the younger characters who were connected to the music/jokes but still capable of being expanded dramatically. The show had so many identities that a storyline which might have worked if this was an intense character drama like Mad Men had no chance of ever connecting with audiences, to the point where the character and the storyline were dragging down the rest of the show around it.

What makes “Mattress” work as an hour of television is that the show surrounding that storyline has matured to the point where Ryan Murphy has a handle of who these characters are and how they are able to wake up every morning with a smile on their face. For someone like Rachel, it’s knowing that she’s doing everything in her power to be a star, and for someone like Terri it’s knowing that she is doing everything she can to keep her husband from leaving her. By separating the means from the end, the show is able to take Terri and turn her into a character that is still inherently unlikeable without being so inherently unlikeable that she serves as a blight on its sense of momentum.

It’s not the best hour the show has ever done, but like “Wheels” before it the episode represents a clear sense that Ryan Murphy is back in control of this series just in time for it to head on hiatus.

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Glee – “Ballad”

“Ballad”

November 18th, 2009

If you were to go back to the pilot, you would believe that Rachel Berry was the heart and soul of Glee. At that point, she was the person who most believed in Glee club, who saw it as the only place where she wasn’t the subject of ridicule and where she could express herself in the way she most desired.

But since that point, Rachel has become almost heartless. She turned her back on Glee club to join Sandy Ryerson’s musical, and she’s generally judgmental and frustrating before she’s caring or supportive. And yet, because Rachel is the strongest soloist (only Mercedes) on Glee, she’s remained at the centre of storylines and the club itself even while she seems convinced it’s actually holding her back from something better. It’s created a scenario where Rachel isn’t actually likeable, which is somewhat problematic if she’s supposed to be our heroine.

“Ballad” is a continuation of this theme, as a Glee Club exercise has everyone singing emotional ballads that bring out their deepest insecurities (in pretty uniformly effective ways) while Rachel is stuck in a “Hot for Teacher” scenario that never successfully bridges the comic and the dramatic (tears aside). I’m all for the show integrating more comedy than last week’s more emotional episode, and parts of this week’s entry nicely balance the two even with a lot of musical numbers involved, but Rachel’s storyline is effectively emotion-free, something that’s going to grow more and more problematic as we move forward.

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Glee – “Mash-Up”

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“Mash-Up”

October 21st, 2009

Commenting on last week’s episode, Chris Becker noted that Glee has its share of problems, and one of them is (on occasion) actually calling attention to its own problems. By signalling out the minorities within Glee club, the show drew attention to the fact that it has largely ignored issues of diversity, so Sue’s strategy turned out more disturbing than funny. When you have a show that can be hot or cold like Glee can, and that tends to go in as many directions as Glee does, this is almost inevitable, but I would argue there’s a way to avoid it.

Ian Brennan, one of the show’s three creators and who was credited with the Chenoweth-infused “The Rhodes Not Taken,” uses this episode to actually call to our attention some of the show’s problems and actually treats them as problems. Folding them all under the theme of the mash-up, used here not as a drug-infused sideshow but a meditation on the process of bringing two people together in a potentially artificial process, Brennan depicts consequences in a way that the show often avoids, and continues to probe questions of high school popularity while not shying away from the darker side of teenage existence.

It may not be as eventful as “Preggers,” and its musical elements risked over-using Matthew Morrison, but by bringing all of its elements under one key theme that spoke to issues that have been plaguing the series for a while “Mash-Up” is perhaps the most complete episode of the show yet, struggling to balance its various elements only when it had a point to make about the trouble of balancing those elements.

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Glee – “Preggers”

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“Preggers”

September 23rd, 2009

“I don’t want to be a Lima Loser the rest of my life”

On Sue’s Corner, Sue Sylvester tells it like it is. She’s bold enough to take a pro-littering stance, brave enough to say “Yes We Cane,” and ballsy enough to ask the homeless how that homelessness thing is working out for them. In Lima, Ohio, Sue Sylvester is a big deal with her two mentions in USA Today and her satellite interviews (that’s lingo, for interviews done by satellite), but without her national championships she is nothing. The studio boss tells her, flat out, that if she doesn’t remain a champion outside of this small little town she is no longer going to be telling the town how Sue sees it.

Because, without her success as the head coach of the Cheerios, Sue is nothing. She and Sandy, her new compatriot, are both teachers who don’t quite know how to deal with teenagers, and if not for her success Sue’s blackmail would be a desperate stab at power rather than a reminder of her existing control. She’s a big fish in a small pond, a fact which remains dependent on her continued success and perhaps one more mention in USA Today.

“Preggers” is an episode about the fact that the teenagers at the core of the show do not yet know what kind of fish they will be, and being stuck in this small town is doing very little to inspire them to greatness. Everyone has a different story, but to some degree your place of residence can just as easily make you (as it does for Sue, whose success breaks expectation and thus deems her a champion worthy of a public opinion segment) as break you. It’s the kind of place where Kurt is too scared to tell his father a truth he probably already knows, and where a sudden pregnancy is defined less by immediate consequences than long term ramifications. If these people are going to avoid being Lima Losers, they’re going to have to find a way to avoid the same kind of pitfalls (and, since this is technically a comedy, pratfalls) which await them.

And while part of Glee’s DNA implies a certain degree of fantasy, football players breaking into a dance sequence without getting a delay of game penalty for example, another part of it knows that life is not a game, and that musical numbers or no musical numbers high school is very, very rule. And, with an episode that seems to embrace this dichotomy rather than exploiting it for sudden shifts of tone designed to shock the viewer, Glee again returns to what made its premise so darn compelling in the first place.

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