Tag Archives: Ryan Murphy

Glee – “The Substitute”

“The Substitute”

November 16th, 2010

“Are you on anything? Because this is trippy.”

“The Substitute” is terrible, except that it’s sort of great.

Every moment stands on the precipice of being terrible, predicated on tenuous connections to our reality. And yet, with a willingness to indulge in fantasy the episode achieves something approaching self-actualization, finding the honest moments in storylines that could very easily have been devoid of such honesty. Some moments are worse than the show’s baseline of ridiculousness, while other moments spin that ridiculousness into the kind of character moments that the show often struggles with.

Ian Brennan, returning to the material of “The Rhodes Not Taken,” tells a story about loneliness, albeit in an episode so jam-packed with storylines that the actual feeling of loneliness is largely theoretical. While not quite the series’ best episode, “The Substitute” makes so much with so little that we can’t help but find it admirable.

If, also, a little awful.

Continue reading

18 Comments

Filed under Glee

Glee – “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”

“The Rocky Horror Glee Show”

October 26th, 2010

The test of an episode so heavily based around a specific musical property is how it is integrated into the series as a whole. While Rocky Horror superfans are likely to judge the episode based on its relationship to the musical, I’m more interested in the musical’s relationship to the characters. I watched the movie for the first time over the weekend, and while the music is obviously the main reasons for this crossover it’s also easy to see how various characters could fit into particular roles. Finn and Rachel are a logical Brad and Janet, Sam might as well be Rocky 2.0, and the other roles all have enough meaning and interest that whoever fits into them could gain a new level of interest as a result (especially if the show is interested in the musical’s more subversive qualities).

At a few points, I think “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” succeeds in this area, albeit with some missteps. By admitting that the musical is inappropriate for this setting (small town Ohio), both through the actual storyline and how a variety of characters respond to the material, the show doesn’t pretend that it is entirely natural for these two properties to come together. In those moments, the episode is fairly grounded, problematizing the staging of the musical in ways which have potential to speak to the show’s characters.

The problem is that the central reason this connection is being made is the part of the show that simply doesn’t work, something that was entirely absent two weeks ago where the show was at its best in a long while. By grounding the musical in Will and Emma’s relationship, and in Sue’s efforts to destroy the Glee club, the small character moments are ultimately complicated and often undermined by the sense that tying this into one of the series’ weakest ongoing storylines takes leaps in logic that limits the potential impact of the musical’s presence in the episode.

Continue reading

27 Comments

Filed under Glee

Glee – “Duets”

“Duets”

October 12th, 2010

I’ve talked a lot about the “Three Glees” theory in the past (TM Todd VanDerWerff), where each of the three co-creators have a different perspective on the series. However, in most instances we focus on the whiplash between the various different episodes, a sort of multiple personality disorder, but what I don’t think we’ve theorized on as much is the way in which these Glees comment on one another. I think this was because, before “Duets,” I don’t think there had ever been an episode of the show which so clearly commented on the work of one of the other writers.

Since the show is basically serialized, there is always an element of connection between the episodes, but “Duets” offers direct commentary on both long-term characterizations and specific events from “Theatricality,” an episode which I had some serious problems with earlier in the year. Ian Brennan, scripting his first episode since the premiere, has created an episode which adds unseen depth to previous storylines, makes pretty substantial strides with characters both old and new, and in the process convinces me that in a scenario where one writer is to take over the series, Brennan is without question the show’s white knight.

“Duets” is not the most daring episode of the series, but it is unquestionably the most consistent, and that alone makes this one of the series’ finest hours.

Continue reading

44 Comments

Filed under Glee

Glee – “Britney/Brittany”

“Britney/Brittany”

September 28th, 2010

A week after opening with an unquestionably meta opening, Ryan Murphy did not stray far from that example with “Britney/Brittany”: in the opening scenes, Will expresses how he wants New Directions to know when to show restraint, while Kurt and many other students express their desire to branch out into something more exciting, youthful. It picks up directly where last week’s opening left off, questioning the song choices the series makes, which I’d argue is an interesting question that this season does need to respond to.

Of course, how much you enjoy “Britney/Brittany” depends on both its framework (which has some issues in terms of balancing fantasy and reality) and how Britney Spears’ presence plays out throughout the course of the episode. As someone who admittedly enjoys Spears’ music on the level of cheesy pop fare, I thought choosing Britney was not in and of itself a mistake; however, the show was let down considerably by the way in which her music and its legacy were received by those both within and outside of New Directions.

While musically satisfying, at least for me personally, “Britney/Brittany” suffered from an inelegance which is likely to cause any future themed episodes to raise even more red flags than this hour.

Continue reading

19 Comments

Filed under Glee

More “Not Boring” Than Usual: Surprises Elevate the 2010 Primetime Emmys

More “Not Boring” Than Usual:

Surprises Elevate the 2010 Primetime Emmys

As a whole, the Emmy Awards live and die on surprise: sure, there’s always favourites, but the idea that “anything can happen” is what keeps us watching a show which so often punishes us for becoming emotionally involved. For every pleasant surprise there has been soul-crushing complacency, and so we watch hoping that something will cut through the pain in order to give us some sense of hope for the legitimacy of these awards.

And while we eventually leave each evening lamenting numerous mistakes, comfortable in our superior knowledge of what is truly great in television in a given year, I don’t want that to obfuscate the moments of transcendence. Sometimes, moments come together that defy our cynical expectations, moments that find the spontaneity in the scripted or make the spontaneous feel as if it was planned all along. And while I remain the jaded critic that I was before the show began, any chance of carrying that attitude through the entirety of the show was diminished at the sight of Jon Hamm booty-dancing towards Betty White, and all but gone by the time Top Chef finally ended The Amazing Race’s reign of terror over Reality Competition program.

It was a night filled with surprises, whether in terms of who was winning the awards (with a huge number of first-time winners) or in terms of emotional moments which resulted from those winners – sure, there were hiccups along the way, and there were still a number of winners which indicated that the Emmys are still stuck in their ways, but there was enough excitement for me to designate these Emmys as “not boring.”

In fact, I’d go so far as to say they were more “not boring” than usual.

Continue reading

9 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards

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)

6 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards, Glee

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.

Continue reading

19 Comments

Filed under Glee

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Official Ballot Miscellany

Official Ballot Miscellany

June 4th, 2010

Earlier this evening, Emmy voting officially began; this isn’t particularly important to us non-voters, but it does mean that the official ballots were released (PDFs: Performers, Writing, Directing), which means that we know who submitted their names for Emmy contention and can thus make our predictions accordingly. In some cases, this simply confirms our earlier submissions regarding particularly categories, while in other cases it throws our expectations for a loop as frontrunners or contenders don’t end up submitting at all.

For example, Cherry Jones (who last year won for her work on 24) chose not to submit her name for contention this year, a decision which seems somewhat bizarre and is currently being speculatively explained by her unhappiness with her character’s direction in the show’s final season. It completely changes the anatomy of that race, removing a potential frontrunner and clearing the way for some new contenders (or, perhaps, another actress from Grey’s Anatomy). Either way, it’s a real shakeup, so it makes this period particularly interesting.

I will speak a bit about some surprising omissions and inclusions in the categories I’ve already covered this week, but I want to focus on the categories that I haven’t discussed yet, including the guest acting categories, writing, and direction, which are some interesting races this year.

Continue reading

12 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards

Glee – “Laryngitis”

“Laryngitis”

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.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Glee

Glee – “The Power of Madonna”

“The Power of Madonna”

April 20th, 2010

Glee, as a series, requires the audience to believe in the power of positivity on a regular basis: regardless of the problems that face New Directions as they chart their new directions, there is a sense of hope and perseverance which lifts them from their somewhat sad existence in rural Ohio towards stardom in whatever form it may arrive. The series’ shameless positivity is one of its most distinctive qualities, an outlook which keeps the show from seeming too critical of its characters and their differences, and while I have some concerns with how that positivity is occasionally used to sort of gloss over its investigations of diversity I think it’s part of the show that should ultimately be celebrated.

However, if I have come to believe in the power of Glee’s positivity, I don’t necessarily think I feel the same about the power of Madonna, or “The Power of Madonna” as an episode of the show entirely predicated on the idea that the ubiquitous singer is somehow a stand-in for all of the values the show represents. Beneath the mountains of hype surrounding this particular episode, you realize that just about everything is taken for granted in an effort to bow down at the altar of Madge: characters rush into decisions for the sake of lyrical connection, allegiances change for the sake of demonstrating the power of Madonna’s message, and not once does a single character other than men behaving driven by sexism actually stop and question whether or not we’re willing to buy the outright idol worship on display in the episode.

Taken as individual scenes, the use of Madonna’s music indicates the quality of her contribution to popular music over the past quarter century; taken as an entire episode where none of those sequences were given the necessary development to create anything even close to real character development, “The Power of Madonna” both reveals Glee’s most fundamental problems and indicates that the show has every intention of pretending those problems don’t exist simply because they know that it will scream “You Must Love Me.”

And, well…I guess I’m “Frozen.” [Okay, seriously, that’s it for Madonna song title puns, the rest of the review will be pun-free. I’m “Sorry” about-DAMNIT.]

Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Glee