Wednesday, June 9, 2010

‘Glee’: Why Don’t I Love You?

When the pilot episode of Glee first aired—around this time last year—I was sure that it would become my favorite new TV show. It contained so many things that I love: Splashy musical numbers, a dark sense of humor, Jane Lynch, a tongue-in-cheek approach to a high school-set drama, an appreciation for the underdog, the adorably adorable Matthew Morrison, and some truly talented actors and singers. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect episode—the poorly done syncing of the musical numbers was often painfully distracting—but I had high hopes. Glee was poised to be a show that I would fall in love with.

Then the show’s first season officially kicked off this past fall, and the love affair I was prepared to have never came to fruition. The show turned out to be something that I did watch, and for the most part enjoy, but it was such a disjointed mess that I never managed to get past the “just friends” stage. The song syncing never got any better, plot holes and dropped storylines abounded, there was WAY too much Rachel Berry (played by the talented, but often grating, Lea Michele), and I never grew to find most of the characters as endearing as they were obviously supposed to be.

Even elements of Glee that I did like eventually got on my nerves. I adore Jane Lynch, as anyone with even the slightest sense of humor should, but her portrayal of rabid cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester got to be too much. Sue had some great zingers and scenes throughout the season (like her relationship with her sister who has Down Syndrome and the “Vogue” video from the Madonna episode), but somewhere around mid-season the vitriol she constantly spewed had run its course with me. I always found it kind of ridiculous that a sports coach would be so threatened by the glee club (it would have made more sense if she was the school’s band director or something like that), and her snarking on Will’s hair was such a one-note joke I can’t believe it was repeated in every episode she appeared in. Is a guy having thick, wavy hair really that funny? Plus it totally works on Will (Matthew Morrison), so just let it go, Sue.

The musical numbers are what initially drew me to Glee, as even my most casual acquaintances know I am cuckoo for cocoa puffs when it comes to musicals. But the syncing, the auto-tuning, and the crappy pop tunes were, well, often not very good. When Glee orchestrated a good number, they knocked it out of the park—Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth’s duet of “One Less Bell/A House Is Not a Home,” the whole gang doing “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Proud Mary,” damn near everything Kurt (Chris Colfer) performed—but I found most of their performances to either be kind of annoying, or worse—totally forgettable. Their choice to constantly feature Rachel and Finn (Cory Monteith) as soloists was a big part of the problem, as Rachel is annoying and makes the most agonizing faces while singing (someone needs to tell Broadway vet Lea Michele that she’s not on stage and the camera picks up every exaggerated expression she makes) and Finn has a perfectly nice backup singer voice that was never meant for solos. So many of the other glee kids shined in the rare occasions they were given to stand out (the aforementioned Kurt, Mercedes, Puck, Santana) that turning Glee into “The Rachel and Finn Show” was a huge mistake. And while I love Matthew Morrison and his gorgeous tenor voice, I could die happy never having to listen to Mr. Shue rap again.

The uneven storytelling and gaping plot holes are probably what hurt Glee’s chances with me the most. No TV show is perfect in this area, and as with all entertainment, some suspension of disbelief is required, but there’s suspending disbelief, and then there’s just plain sloppy writing. After Quinn’s parents kick her out for being pregnant, and she subsequently has to leave Finn’s house after Puck is revealed to be her baby’s father, she is presumably left homeless for a while as this issue isn’t revisited for several months, until she mentions in some throwaway line how living at Puck’s place sucks. Jesse St. James—the Rachel Berry from a rival glee club—woos Rachel, they break up due to only slightly contrived reasons, then they get back together when Jesse realizes he truly has feelings for her. Then out of nowhere, he hates her and goes back to his old glee club, and this relationship is never revisited again. OK, I know high school kids can be fickle with their affections, but what happened to that whole “I think I really like her” arc? And then there was that whole Emma marrying the gym teacher thing. Because she secretly liked Will, but he was still married at the time, so she started dating the gym teacher, who she didn’t like at all and forbade to ever touch her. Then after an episode or two of “dating,” she decided to marry him because if she couldn’t have Will, she might as well settle. Oh, and the gym teacher knew about her crush on Will the whole time, but figured if she was willing to settle for him, then he was cool with it. That whole plot was so rushed, forced, and unbelievable, I don’t know how the writers ever thought the audience would actually believe that wedding would take place.

As the season went on, I felt like Glee started out wanting to be one kind of show, but then after seeing the sort of manic followers it got (cloyingly referred to as “Gleeks”), it decided to be what they wanted it to be. So what started out as a darkly funny and insightful show, turned into a bubblegum pop karaoke-fest where things like logical story progression and credible character arcs don’t matter much. Remember some of the things that went down in the first few episodes? The original glee director gets fired for hitting on the students. Will cons Finn into joining glee by planting marijuana on him. Quinn is the president of the chastity club, discovers she’s pregnant, and manages to convince her boyfriend that he’s the father, even though they never had sex. Finn thinks about the time he ran over the mailman to keep from climaxing too soon. Dark, dark, dark. Now that the first season of Glee has ended and we see the direction the show has taken, is there any chance that things like that would happen in the next season? Doubtful.

So if I have so many issues with Glee, why do I continue to watch it, right? Well, because there are occasional moments where I really do enjoy the show and see glimpses of what I think it was originally meant to be. Like Kurt and the football team doing the “Single Ladies” dance. Or Will coming to the sad realization while his personal life if falling apart that he’s trying to relive his long-gone glory days through the glee kids. Or the achingly touching story of Kurt and his father, who love and support each other, but struggle to truly understand each other. Or any time Brittany or Mike Chang (aka “Other Asian”) get a featured dance solo. And the guest stars Glee gets are like a musical nerd’s wet dream: Kristin Chenoweth! Idina Menzel! Victor Garber! Jonathan Groff! Neil Patrick Harris!

I think Glee’s tragic flaw is that while it has some truly entertaining moments, the sum of its parts is lacking. So I’ve learned to take it for what it is: A TV show that I usually enjoy, but rarely respect. I’m hoping the Glee team takes some time this summer to think about where the show is now and where they want it to go, because the trail it left from where it’s already been is in serious need of a cleanup crew.

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