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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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