The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Thoughts on Glee

Posted by therebelprince on September 22, 2010

I don’t watch much network TV, a fact which is both my greatest joy and sometimes my biggest alienation. I don’t know whether it’s because I watched so many of the ‘high’ dramas (Deadwood, The Sopranos, etc) during those formative years when my creativity emerged; whether it’s because I watched so much television as a child that the formulas – Dorothy shooting Rose down with a witty bon mot, Xander and co arriving to save Buffy in the nick of time – were so burned into my brain that I needed an escape from the predictable and expected story twists I had utilized in the fifty thousand TV shows I devised and planned as a child. Or maybe I’m just a snob. It does mean that I spend my nights alone, huddled with my remote control pausing obscure frames of Twin Peaks while the cool kids settle in for the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries.

But every now and then, I do actually tune in to what the kids are watching, and so I thought I’d share some thoughts on Glee as the new season gets underway.

It happens all the time (and so we shouldn’t be surprised): a series taps into the pulse of a medium at exactly the right moment and suddenly, everyone’s talking about it. Dallas defines the ‘80s as much as Seinfeld defines the ‘90s, be you an academic promoting Seinfeld’s nihilism or a culture maven arguing for the glamorous façade of America when Dallas rose to prominence. The difference, though, is that I proudly proclaim these as two of my favourite series of all time. However, somehow I feel a bit uncomfortable confessing to anyone that I do watch Glee every week, and that – even if I’m alone on this – I really enjoyed seeing Mr. Schue lead a crowd of teens singing “Ice Ice Baby”.

I’m not saying Glee is this decade’s Seinfeld: god, I hope not. But Ryan Murphy has exposed the vein of something that’s been lurking around television for the last few years: it’s okay to be a loser. It’s okay to be geeky. It’s okay, god forbid, to like musicals. (Although… well, we’ll discuss that later). Sure, the self-defeating hero isn’t something that Tina Fey created; Charlie Brown was doing it long before. But what we see in Glee is a steadfast rebuttal to everything that sitcoms of the last ten years have stated: sappiness speaks to something inside us, doesn’t it? After Seinfeld, we embraced Arrested Development and its ilk with open arms. So good was it to have a series which didn’t feel the need to sweeten every blow. Gone (or at least sidelined to the hell where According to Jim lingered) were the days of Friends, where any awkward moment or brush with sincerity would be smoothed out by a crowd-pleasing gag. We looked for the disjointedness of Michael Bluth failing even though he was the ostensible heart of his series. Glee, somehow, has managed to have the cake and eat it. Seeing Rachael Berry and her cohort humiliated in public is a truly cleansing experience. She’s dweeby and eager, and her friends are by turns loudmouthed, self-important, and prone to end-of-episode realizations that will change the way they view the world… until next week. And yet, when Mercedes leads the entire school in a rendition of “Beautiful”, and Sue Sylvester is made to look like the Wicked Witch of the West, our hearts leap in our chest.

Glee has taken the post-modern (sorry) view of character and genre, and buttressed it up against a very retro storytelling structure. Each week, our characters do learn things. Each week, Sue would’ve gotten away with it… if it wasn’t for those pesky kids. But we love them for it. And truth be told, surely a “guilty pleasure” must speak to something so deep within us that we’re afraid to expose it. Somewhere inside all of us (or at least anyone who watched a lot of Green Acres and The Love Boat as a child), we long for a return to the days when our media was easy to parse, and emotions were as obvious as the music playing on the soundtrack. Glee tells us that it’s fine to emote. It’s fine to cry, to sing out loud, to be finicky or look different or have two gay dads. It might not be the show of our era, but it certainly is one of them.

Diverse observations:

  • Speaking of Rachael’s two gay dads, a lot of gay-friendly media seem to be complaining that they haven’t appeared yet. I don’t honestly take this as any kind of negative attitude from the show’s creators. As a showrunner, you have to think about casting: if the actors who play Quinn’s parents are booked for another gig, the show will survive. But if you nonchalantly cast the parents of the main character for a short guest stint, you’re gonna hope you can get them back again. Best to save up the appearance until the plot dictates. Or so I feel.
  • Please don’t mistake my intentions: the show is camp to the max, and a two-year-old could probably critique the consistently shifting character identities and the overt “will the Glee club be disbanded?” formula that seemed to hamper every single episode, but no one is taking this show that seriously, are they?
    • For all my praise of the show, I run hot and cold on its song choices. On the one hand, I was at first disappointed. After a nod to musical theatre in the pilot, Glee quickly realized that an audience of Broadway geeks wasn’t exactly aiming high. So when we were suddenly subjected to unceasing mash-ups of Top 40 hits, I felt a little bit rejected. Against the odds, this geeky musical had gone mainstream. But as the season progressed, I think Murphy and his crew found a great niche that fit us all in. Sure, I couldn’t care less about the Lady Gaga episode, but then we got a beautiful Burt Bacharach week! And the exquisitely bad “Run Joey Run” video! Hopefully they’ll continue with the ‘something for everyone’ philosophy. I certainly understand why some tweens were put out by Kristen Chenoweth singing “One Less Bell to Answer”, but personally this show has opened up my musical knowledge a bit, and I hope others see it that way too.
  • On the subject of music, I do think one serious issue for the show’s long-term critical success is the uncertainty over what kind of musical it is. Some weeks, it’s a strait-laced ‘behind the scenes’ type, where the songs only occur on stage. Other weeks, characters wander through crowds like they’re in a music video. And occasionally – as when Mr. Schue and April roller-skated late last season – they do both in the same song! I’m not saying they have to choose, but it’s a delicate balance.
  • I also read harsh criticisms of Mr. Schue every now and then. Look, poor Matthew Morrison has certainly been saddled with one of those television all-purpose characters. He’s inspiring, attractive and youthful when needed, but also angsty, uncertain of himself, and unpopular at other times. Morrison, however, has done his best even in the most ludicrous of situations.
  • Especial props to Chris Colfer, Heather Morris and Mike O’Malley, who really broke out of their characters’ respective stereotypes to make for some truly great television moments.
  • Less successful, of course, were the infamous baby subplots. I could’ve done without Terri’s pregnancy faking as much as the rest of you, but (big surprise, I know) I liked the fact that the series gave us an atypical character. Why should we have to like everyone? What’s wrong with characters you have to think about, and whose motivations you don’t necessarily agree with? Of course, on the other hand, the main reason she was a bitch was to provide an early – but easily-removed – obstacle in the Will/Emma relationship. While Emma is adorable, I’ve never felt like the two had to be together (particularly cause the show threw at least two other women into Will’s lap this year). I look forward to Jon Stamos’ dentist character but please, Glee, either end the will-they-or-won’t-they business, or at least make us believe Will isn’t just bed-hopping into her life.
  • I haven’t mentioned Sue Sylvester, but do I need to? Jane Lynch has quite literally never failed to impress, whether she was having her nipples tweaked on Arrested Development or serving crab puffs on Party Down. Her Madonna videos would possibly have been funnier as cameos rather than as full three-minute clips, but I don’t begrudge the show giving Lynch’s profile a well-deserved boost.
  • Well, there we go. I will be watching Glee this season but if you see me in public, don’t bring it up, okay?
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