May 10th, 2011
Ian Brennan has always been the Glee writer most interested in embracing the series’ meta qualities, but there are two moments in this week’s episode where he goes one step too far. First, Sue’s list of most-hated songs the Glee club has performed were very clearly a bit of self-deprecating commentary rather than something Sue would actually observe – the notion of apologizing to America was particularly strange, greatly exaggerating the reach of “Run Joey Run.”
Now, note that Brennan wrote the episodes in which both “Run Joey Run” and the “Crazy in Love/Hair” remix appeared, so he’s picking away at himself more than the show itself. This was also clear when Jesse discussed the whiplash nature of his relationship with Rachel disintegrating, which was most evident in the Brennan-scripted “Funk.” In both instances, I found the commentary obnoxious, and it pulled me out of the scenes themselves and into the artifice of the series.
Of course, the show does this quite often, but it felt like “Prom Queen” had a particularly steep climb in regards to fully integrating the viewer into its world. This goes both for the episode’s climax, which was the topic of a huge spoiler controversy over Twitter a few weeks back, and the performance of a particular viral video sensation of questionable quality. I am not among those who asks that the Glee universe presents itself as cohesive or realistic, in part because the show is clearly built around their world extending into our own with concerts, downloads, and everything in between, but also because I think this meta quality has a certain charm to it…when used properly, and when used sparingly.
While it is unfortunate that the climax of “Prom Queen” had to be caught up in the online kerfuffle and thus rendered somewhat less effective, I would argue that the episode as a whole transcended Brennan’s obsession with the show itself to deliver a couple of strong moments which felt honest to Prom at McKinley High School.
And yes, that more or less includes “Friday.”
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.
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.
“The Rhodes Not Taken”
September 30th, 2009
I want you to imagine an episode of television programming which features the following: a guest appearance from Kristin Chenoweth, a battle between Kristin Chenoweth and Lea Michele on a song from Cabaret, a duet arrangement of Heart’s “Alone” featuring Kristin Chenoweth, Kristin Chenoweth in full on rodeo mode during a Glee Club performance, and a full cast rendition of a really great Queen song.
And then I want you to imagine me, someone who enjoys every single one of these things, not enjoying the episode at hand. Crazy, no?
Well, unfortunately, that’s how I feel about “The Rhodes Not Taken,” an episode that suffers from a rapid-fire plot development and misplaced emotional emphasis. While I loved Chenoweth’s performance in the episode, and all of the musical elements, it suffered from the fact that every bit of realistic character development was saved for a character who isn’t actually in the show at all. By placing so much of the episode’s impact on the temporary replacement for Rachel as opposed to Rachel herself, her bizarre indecision is never framed as anything close to character development, left to feel like sheer plot contrivance.
It’s an episode that wants to be like “Preggers,” but in perhaps a cruel twist of fate the genius of Kristin Chenoweth only sets them back in the grand scheme of things.
“Megan Fox and U2”
September 26th, 2009
Saturday Night Live was last Fall’s biggest pop culture sensation. With Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression saving the show from a weak Obama impression, and Thursday timeslots building the show’s reputation, it built to some of its best numbers ever and its cache went beyond viral internet sensations written by Justin Timberlake/Lonely Island and into the show itself.
But suddenly, coming back this Fall, there is no election to provide a new impression that will keep people tuning in, and the Thursday shows are less a chance to built momentum and more a chance to burn material that might have been saved for the Saturday show under different circumstances. So while this week’s Weekend Update Thursday was somewhat tepid, it was still pulling away people and ideas that could have been put to use here.
This is all relevant because the start of Saturday Night Live’s thirty-fifth season is a collosal failure of comedy, an endless string of one-joke sketches which feel the exact opposite of culturally relevant. If the goal of this episode was to remind us that Saturday Night Live was capable of being funny even without Sarah Palin or a political climate which welcomes satire, then they have not succeeded: perhaps unfairly handicapped by a host who can’t actually act, and perhaps feeling too secure with a musical act that knows how to put on a good show (but, really, didn’t live up to that), the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live delivered a complete and total dud, one where we expect a Judy Grimes-style “just kidding” at the end that says what we’ve seen is some sort of big mistake.
And that’s probably not the best way to reassert your cultural relevance.
February 15th, 2009
It’s been a few weeks since I checked back in with Flight of the Conchords, and it’s really out of perpetual mild disappointment: it’s not that the show has become unfunny, but rather that part of its charm has more or less disappeared. The show has felt like it was reaching in order to recreate some of its comic highlights from the first season, with the expanded roles for Murray and Mel not being entirely unwelcome, but the charm of the show came less from the parts and more from how they came together into musically-themed episodes. The first few episodes of the season proved that the show was capable of surviving without the same kind of memorable songs, the same kind of thematic consistency to the episodes, but there was still something missing.
I think that “Unnatural Love” captures it, though: whether it was returning to the love life of our characters (a highlight for much of the show’s best material, including “If You’re Into It”), or the direction of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, various fantastic music videos), this one just felt like it was operating on a different level. I actually think that some of the other episodes this season had some sharper comedy, but the songs were so much better here, and the comedy still in plentiful supply, that this is easily my favourite episode of the season thus far.