Monday, April 26, 2010


Glee seems intended, if not destined, for guilty pleasure status - that uneasy category where you either recognize something you like is more or less objectively bad, or you just don't feel up to explaining why you like it. For pop culture critics this almost seems like an irrelevant category: If it sounds good it is good, or in less succinct words the pleasure is the message and it can't be bad if you like it.

So I suppose this is the point where I explain that Glee overcomes its limitations and frequent lack of imagination but in fact it really is simply a bad show and if I like it then that's only in sections and scenes, at times enough to convince myself that there just might be something there though increasingly less so. (If "increasingly less" even makes sense.) Simply look at the characters: a stardom-aiming Jewish showbiz kid, a jock who really just wants to sing, a chubby black diva who thinks wailing is singing, a scheming cheerleader, a ditzy blonde and then the effeminate gay guy who is given almost every stereotype trait you can imagine. They are all stereotypes which isn't a problem -- nearly all narrative art relys on stereotypes to some degree -- but that stereotypes is all they are. And to judge by the progress so far, all they will be. It's as if the writers completed the pilot and decided "Whew, we are finished with that. Who said characters are hard? Now on to some improbably convoluted story about a fake preganancy...."

Maybe this rudimentary, even defective, sense of drama is why there are so many messages and often the weakest part of the series. The episode about handicapped kids was particularly dim. How many high schools would let large numbers of its students into wheelchairs just to prove a point that they all already know? Making a musical number out of this borders on insensitivity if not outright offensiveness - "Rolling on the River"? Why not just have them do ZZ Top's "Legs"? The decision to give Sue a sister with Down's syndrome was apparently a tactic to make her more human (or "well-rounded" as creative writing teachers might have it) but was such an utter misjudgement that the sister was immediately dropped.

And though I didn't expect performances of Cole Porter or Bob Dylan, the music choices have been particularly bland, on purpose you'd have to think. Songs from Wicked? Lionel Richie? Celine Dion? That horrible Beyonce song?

So then why am I even bothering to write about this or to have watched all of Glee so far? Because when it worked you could see the potential for something more substantial. Admittedly my ideal version of Glee would be closer to Moulin Rouge directed by Frederick Wiseman but even within its current confines the show sometimes struggles to life Herbert-Wise-style. The two rap numbers were amusing (though I have to wonder why even bother doing "Gold Digger" if you're going to censor the lyrics), there really should be more than the one Bacharach song, the bit from Cabaret was effective and an almost vicious version of "You Keep Me Hanging On" was one of the highlights. In fact what gave me some hope that Glee might turn out different is that it was slowly making the evil, manipulative cheerleader into the moral core of the show (minus, of course, the evil and the manipulation).

But the two episodes since returning from a long break seem like whatever the creators were doing they used up all their ideas. Already. The cheerleader was completely sidelined along with nearly all the stories from the earlier episodes (the whole Will-Emma thing put on hold, the Will-wife story nearly forgotten, Sue right back as if nothing happened before, etc). Which made the first episode back a series of song performances that mostly had no connection to the story, might as well make a concert film instead of musical.

But there was worse to come. An episode of all Madonna songs sounded like an iffy idea at best - in practice it was about as hellishly tedious as anything could possibly be. Sure some people claim, usually with more enthusiasm than sense, Madonna is a feminist icon but to hear everybody in the show chant this mantra makes you feel like it can't possibly be true. Again there's little connection of the songs to any story but the greatest failing is that the performances are more pastiches rather than anything original. A recreation of the "Vogue" video was probably a blast to do in real-life but is completely pointless otherwise. Only a marching band number showed that there might have been any potential in Madonna at all. Too many more episodes like that and -- well I can't resist this-- and I will gleefully abandon Glee.