No time in recent memory have I seen a network push a television show as forcefully as Fox is pushing Glee, a story about a group of high school outcasts who band together to start the little show choir that could. Ever since last spring, when the pilot debuted after the finale of American Idol (another huge sign that Fox is investing in its success), there have been countless billboards looming over subway entrances in which characters holds out their hands, making an “L” for loser hand gesture that creates the “L” in the show’s title. Not to mention commercials all summer long on each of the major networks. If market saturation was the goal, its success was evident; within days of the show’s spring premiere, its first “single,” a version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” that closed the pilot episode, shot to #1 on iTunes and the show seemed on its way to being the first critical hit of the fall television season.
Then it had its fall premiere. After watching two more episodes Ryan Murphy’s creation, it has become evident that the writers and producers are pushing as hard as the marketers. And much like the basement theater productions I did as a child, their seems to be such a focus on marketing the show that the elements that will ensure prolonged success—like decent writing, for instance—have been all but overlooked.
Now, from the abundance of Twitter and Facebook updates I can already tell you I’m in the minority. People love this show. And it’s hard not to when theater regulars like Spring Awakening’s Lea Michelle and Hairspray’s Matthew Morrison have the opportunity to grace us with their vocal prowess in lavish production numbers week after week. But these renditions of pop tunes from the likes of Rihanna and Salt-N-Pepa only provide momentary spark before the viewer is confronted with scenes that not only find the actors directed like they are all starring in different shows, but have them spewing one-liners not grounded in any reality.
Herein lies the key problem of the show: the only thing consistent is its inconsistency. One moment you have the incomparable Jane Lynch, who plays a cheerleading coach hellbent on disbanding the Glee club—which, by the way, is pretty much the main plot point of the show—delivering dialogue with such dry humor that she seems like a lost character from Arrested Development. Then you have flashbacks that aim to also be like that much superior show, but fail because they come so far out of left field that the leave you scratching your head instead of keeling over from unexpected laughter. Is it supposed to be funny? Serious? Both? Films like Election proved you could master that balance, but this show often seems confused about where the jokes, and the plot lines, are.
Which leaves the focus mainly on characters that are hand crafted from the Juno dictionary of quirkiness. One student has gay dads (which led to one of Lynch’s best lines: “Gay parents encourage rebellion. There have been studies on this.”). Another wants to have sex with his friends’ mothers. Morrison’s character, the leader of the Glee club, has a shrewish wife, played by the miscast Jessalyn Gilsig, who’s faking a pregnancy and acting her way through scenes like she’s playing to the back of a stadium-sized theater. At the end of each episode I find myself apathetic about the journey of everyone involved. Perhaps this has to do with the show testing out different characters at this early stage to see who the focus will be on as the season progresses; but by focusing on so many people (secondary characters are introduced with Simpsons-like frequency, only we’re in Season One, not Season Twenty…best to keep the focus on a core group for now) the audience isn’t allowed to focus on anyone. One student’s recent coming out should have packed an emotional wallop but I found myself focused more on his military jacket than the words coming out of his mouth.
Perhaps most infuriating of all are the musical numbers. Taken individually they are nothing short of thrilling, albeit over-produced, music videos often laced with precise, musical choreography. The production values are incredibly clear. What’s not clear is what reality these numbers are taking place in. Some are presented as performances or rehearsals the Glee club is doing, and it is these performance-based numbers that make sense in the context of the world the writers have attempted to create. But just as quickly you get a number like “Take a Bow” or last week’s “Bust Your Windows” in which the editing makes it look like the number is being performed both as a performance and then at times a narrative-driven musical theater number where the characters walk down the school hallways or hang out in the parking lot singing with a full chorus of dancers. It is moments like this I wish the creators would opt to make Glee a network version of Moulin Rouge! where pop songs were used as narrative devices for characters. Instead we are getting middle of the road.
Now one can hope it will become better. In an age where we’re as used to watching TV on DVD as we are to watching TV on TV, we have the luxury of breezing through a show’s often-inconsistent first episodes to get to the meatier story lines. I want to be connected to this show. If there’s ever a show I should love, it’s Glee, which plays into the theater geek that my childhood drawing of Bernadette Peters proves me to be. But if it continues be a show that preaches fierce individualism while using stock characters who seem to exist for the purpose of iTunes sales and trendy advertisements it’s going to have a hard time sustaining my interest. Come on, Glee! Make me happy.
What do you think, Ranters?! Do you love Glee?