“Glee”ful no more.

I’m done with GLEE.  This may be the most controversial thing I’ve written in awhile.

Yes, I started out on the train, right from last fall.  I was inspired by their rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin'” but since the break, I feel the show has gone 0 for 3 in making me feel as charmed as I did a few months ago.

Problem #1 TOO MANY SONGS

I know.  It seems blasphemous on the surface to even say that, but the last three episodes have been nonsensically stuffed to the gills with songs.  The Madonna themed episode can be somewhat excused, but really – what the hell did the “Vogue” video have to do with telling that story?  NOTHING.  It was there because the writers wanted it to be.

As we (should) all know, you don’t put things in a story just because you as the writer want them to be there.  It has to make sense for the story and for the characters.  The Sue Sylvester video, while cool and interesting, didn’t serve any real purpose for the show. 

I wouldn’t mind the number of songs per episode if they didn’t feel so obviously jammed in there now.  For some reason they’ve felt the need to really try to tie the songs together thematically much closer to the story, so now you get “here are some songs about saying ‘Hello’ while we are meeting new characters” or “here are some songs about ‘Home’ while our characters try to figure out where their homes are’ (metaphorically, of course.  Rachel didn’t suddenly get lost in town and couldn’t find her house).  The Madonna theme was even a stretch, though I understood why they did it.

Let’s break out the songs from one of the first episodes and compare with the songs in the most recent episode: 

Episode 2 (we’ll start with it, since it’s more indicative of the show I came to enjoy than the pilot):

“Say a Little Prayer”
“Take a Bow”
“Gold Digger”
“Push It”

That’s, on average, one song per act.  Yes, there are one or two other songs used in the episode, but not as full songs or only in the background.  Now, here’s what we got this week with Episode 16:

“A House is Not a Home”
“One Less Bell to Answer”
“Fire”
“Beautiful”
“Home”

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big difference (only one additional song, right?) except that “A House is Not a Home” also got a HUGE reprise in “One Less Bell to Answer.”  Also, think about it from a number of minutes standpoint.  In episode 2, they spent, approximately, 12 minutes in songs.  Of course there’s some story stuff going on while they are singing, but at least two of the songs are just sung in the classroom or on the stage as show numbers, not as part of the narrative.  In episode 16, there was singing for nearly 18 minutes!  Out of 42 minutes, that is a HUGE chunk of time your characters are not talking or furthering the story.  There is so little dialog in fact, that the episode feels loosely strung together as opposed to intricately weaved.  Storylines which should all come together seem to wander off.  The strongest story for Episode 16 was regarding Kurt and Finn’s single parents dating each other (which, I like the idea of, in theory, but there being absolutely NO setup for this narrative thread was annoying and distressing).  That story kept getting bogged down with songs that really seemed to not deal with the issues of that story – that is, Finn moving on from mourning his dead father and Kurt feeling left out of the male bonding Finn has with Kurt’s dad.  Those are powerful, interesting character reactions, and yet they are given short shrift because, at least by the show’s logic, it’s more important that we find a way to work Kristen Chenowith back into the story (after her one and done episode felt pretty played out already), and allow her to sing 2 duets with Matthew Morrison.  Really?  I like the adults, but I thought this show was about the kids??

Problem #2 THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHO THEIR CHARACTERS ARE AND HOW THEY SHOULD BEHAVE

The bigger sin than there being too much singing, is that the characters aren’t acting like their established selves, and they haven’t actually been given good justification or reason to suddenly act differently.  Detailing all of the ways the characters have shifted in just 3 episodes could take all day, but I’ll just point out one: There is no way on God’s green Earth that Diana Agron’s Quinn would reach out to Mercedes.  Suddenly the evil cheerleader is nice to her?  NO. WAY.  They’ve established that Quinn’s a conniving itch with a B, and yet now she’s all sunshine and light because she’s pregnant?  What the hell planet are the (male) writers living on?  She may have some sympathy, but it’s almost character whiplash to change her so significantly so quickly.  If there hadn’t been a 3 month long break halfway into the season, I think the character differences would be even MORE noticeable.  Not to mention, there’s always been a certain level of silliness to the show (which I happily accepted) – like somehow Mr. Shue not uncovering Teri’s fake pregnancy for as long as that went on (I mean, come ON), but I gave the show a pass because it had been pretty entertaining anyway.

I guess I’m all out of passes now.

I like Sue Sylvester – she’s my favorite character of the show – the writers obviously love writing her lines, and she always has the best ones.  In fact, when they gave Shuster a “good” comeback for Sue, it actually felt out of character for him (worse they couldn’t settle for one comeback, they gave him two about her hair).  Worse, it didn’t work for HER character — she’s hurt that he made fun of her hair?? Seriously?  That is NOT how the character has been established.  I love the depth they’ve given Jane Lynch to work with, but the blackmailing story is so silly it isn’t even dignified for her to play it for more than one episode.

Problem #3 SOME CHARACTERS HAVE COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED (SO FAR)

Ken Tanaka?  MIA except for a brief mention in Episode 14, the first one back from the break.  The man was LEFT AT THE ALTAR!!  And they haven’t dealt with that?  This is the problem of not keeping track of all of your characters in an ensemble and giving them fair treatment.  What about Teri?  She was also in Episode 14, but nowhere to be found in 15 or 16.  That’s a long time to not have any contact with a character who played a pretty vital role in the first half of the season.  Even Emma (Jayma Mays) had no lines in Episode 16, and she has a pretty big story going on herself – she left Tanaka at the aisle and started (almost) dating Shuster.

On the flipside…

Problem #4 THERE ARE TOO MANY CHARACTERS

The mix they had going into the break was good.  The snarky cheerleader spies Santana and Brittany were great for small bits, but now they are getting expanded roles.  Why?  In part, because they were so great in the small bits, the writers want to use them more.  The downside is the more ‘gay shark’ lines you let Brittany say and the more you let Santana take over the Quinn bitchiness, the less time you have for all those other characters.  It’s no wonder they are starting to get lost in the shuffle.  Like the poor Asian girl (who, I actually couldn’t remember her name as I was typing this) – Tina!  She already has a tough time establishing herself as one of the ‘minor’ characters.  She certainly doesn’t need anyone else eating into her screentime.  The actress, Jenna Ushkowitz, was the one person on the Paley Festival panel WHO DIDN’T GET ASKED A QUESTION. AT ALL.  That’s just wrong.  You don’t make the person sit on the stage with 10 of your coworkers (or however many were there) and then not ask her at least one question.  I felt so bad for her.

Problem #5 STOP WITH THE TOKENISM

It’s one thing to have diversity.  It’s another to consciously choose that diversity so that those characters become emblems or symbols…poor Tina is ‘token Asian girl’ and as much as the show would like to say, ‘hey, she’s not REALLY the token Asian girl – look! We didn’t give her good grades or some other horrible stereotype!’ She’s still there to make use of the fact that she’s ‘the token Asian girl’ in stories.  It’s ridiculous.  It all needs to stop.  Focusing an episode on each person’s issues/problems/whatever is fine, but when it gets to the point that we don’t really know who they are and what they’re doing there, it just gets stupid.  Finn is a great character.  Did he have to be white to be that character?  Nope.  But that’s who he is.  But Artie? — so far, Artie is defined by his wheelchair.  What’s weird is that the characters sometimes know this about themselves (as do the writers – they put it into their dialog all the time).  In the Madonna episode, Mercedes felt she was only being given small solos in songs so she could sing the power notes at the end… AND SHE’S RIGHT!  She’s had one or two solos on the show now, but usually her singing is to hit a particularly bluesy/soul/ power phrase in a song.  So, if the writers know this is how they are using their characters, why do they keep doing it?

I think they want to stop.  I think that’s why they’ve started changing up the character reactions to things…but unfortunately, those reactions aren’t organic to the characters as they have been established (see Problem #2).  It’s just a mess.

Problem #6 SUBTLETY IS NOT AN OPTION

This show doesn’t know nuance.  It doesn’t know how to make a theme interesting and tie together multiple storylines without hammering you on the head.  As I mentioned earlier, the theme of ‘Home’, that is, finding your own sense of home was so muddled and weird and made no sense, the characters had to keep saying ‘Home’ in lines of dialog just so it would make sense.  The effect: Like someone striking me repeatedly with a SLEDGEHAMMER.  When your characters keep stating your theme, it is no longer interesting, clever storytelling.  It is insulting your audience.  I don’t care if the themes are good or powerful – I know the show wants to be a positive force for kids – but kids are smarter than this show gives them credit for.  Hell, Disney Channel shows do theme better than this!  Kids do not need to be texted (modern telegraphing) WHAT THE EPISODE IS ABOUT.  They’ll figure it out without the characters telling them.

I thought my annoyance at the first two episodes back was an anomaly, but when this week’s episode was EVEN WORSE than the two before it, I knew I was ready to jump off the GLEE train.  Which is sad, because I really enjoyed it, but I think they learned the wrong lessons as to what was making the show work and what wasn’t.  Maybe this will change in future episodes and they’ll find their rhythm again.  All I know is I’m not going to jump to watch GLEE on my DVR as I did before — it has moved down the priority list pretty far.

So, what say you?  Do you still love it?  Did you EVER love it?  Am I out of my skull?  Inquiring minds and all that.

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on April 29, 2010

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 Comments so far

  1. JamesFerguson April 29, 2010 10:15 am

    I couldn’t agree more. I was really looking forward to the show’s return but it seems like the writers sat down and saw where they left the characters at the mid-season finale and thought it wouldn’t work going forward. There probably wouldn’t be enough conflict. So they just decided to change things drastically and I think it’s definitely hurt the show.

  2. Brett April 29, 2010 10:39 am

    What is “GLEE”?

    Motion pictures died when Jolson first sang.

    (and I’m not sure this whole “movable type” thing is gonna last, either…)

    Edison Cylinder B

  3. Kenny April 29, 2010 11:15 am

    I just blogged the flipside of this. My take is: The show was never good, they’ve finally accepted it and are focusing on the things they do well. It used to be 75% bad drama, 15% enjoyable fluff. Now it’s 75% fluff, 15% bad drama. The drama’s bad no matter how you slice it, so might as well fill up on candy while we can.

  4. Shawna April 29, 2010 11:18 am

    Kenny – I am about 2 steps away from the same conclusion. I haven’t gone back to watch the first half of the season, but I think they managed to trick me into thinking it was a good show with bad moments.

    Your summation may be far more accurate.

  5. Christina April 30, 2010 8:01 am

    When Glee was picked up for the back half, I knew going into the season that there were going to be more songs. Heck, the writers themselves even said in interviews, “More Songs!!” It makes them money, keeps the shows revenue up and is a constant reminder from Wednesday morning until next Monday that there are going to be MORE SONGS to download, memorize, and commit to your brain.

    They are getting slightly lost and the issue is that they aren’t going to actually fix it, because technically it isn’t broken. It’s getting higher ratings, more press (even negative like this) and making them more money.

    As for Quinn, I think you might be overlooking her overall story arc. I pay close attention to her character and I think she’s grown a lot from that stereotypical bitch. I think she only was the bitch because she was the head cheerleader. There have been true moments where I think the real Quinn came out. The “baking” scene with Puck. Her face when Finn was singing to her about having her baby. When the group sang “Keep Holding On” to her at the end of Throwdown, she had an emotional reaction to them caring about her.

    I don’t think it was too far of a stretch that Quinn would reach out to Mercedes. In all honesty, Glee is her family now. If anything is a mystery about Quinn it’s: Where is she living??? The girl was kicked out of her house and is clearly still not with Finn and his mom. So… where is she living?? With Puck? I want to know that more than I want to get upset at the show proving that she can take care of the baby on her own.

    I agree the songs are the “selling” point of the show and shouldn’t be chosen to guide the story. The songs should be chosen to compliment the story – after they’ve written it. It just doesn’t seem that way anymore. Will I stop watching? No. I still find the stories and characters entertaining which doesn’t have to mean they are phenomenal stories, just something that makes me want to watch again next week.

  6. Brouke April 30, 2010 10:43 am

    Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with you, especially on the out of character stuff. I had a very hard time believing Quinn would be that nice to Mercedes; in the Madonna ep. she was making fun of Rachel right along with Santana and Brittany. If anything, she should be jealous of Mercedes for becoming a Cheerio. The problem with issues just popping up for one ep. is kind of irritating too; I didn’t see Mercedes self-conscious about her weight at all before, and also the situation with Kurt and Finn’s dad and mom, respectively. Those things need to be built up. The writers do need to learn how to better manage all of their characters; I don’t think Matt or Mike have ever even spoken a line. As far as the Vogue video goes, I understood that to be Sue making sure Will didn’t “beat” her to doing Madonna and testing out new looks at the same time, while Kurt and Mercedes used it to get on her good side to become Cheerios. I agree that the integration was pretty weak though. That being said, I’m going to keep watching; I haven’t reached my breaking point and still enjoy the show.

  7. Shawna April 30, 2010 1:41 pm

    I find it interesting that while there seems to be some consensus that the show is going in the wrong direction generally, GLEE seems to have built up enough goodwill from fans to continue this way. At one point do the negatives of watching the show outweigh the positives? Can that happen?

  8. Anna May 2, 2010 2:28 pm

    wow! I haven’t even watched this season.. but now, I don’t know if I will at all. Sounds awful.
    You definitely make some excellent points here.

  9. Christina May 3, 2010 5:16 pm

    I got bored with Glee after episode 5 or 6. I haven’t watched since. I continue, however, to watch every ep of Modern Family. (Multiple times.)

  10. Randy May 3, 2010 10:17 pm

    I’m just wondering why nobody’s noticed that Kenny’s math adds up to 90%.

  11. Brouke May 5, 2010 12:32 pm

    I assume the negatives will outweigh the positives when the wonderful little moments of the show start to go downhill as well. Taken out of context, some of the problem scenes/situations are really good. I thought the Quinn and Mercedes moment was very sweet, but it doesn’t fit with their characters. I enjoyed the Vogue video, but it didn’t need to be there. And then there all of Sue’s one-liners and other hilarious, fun character moments. They keep up the energy of the show, but on some level, they’re also part of the problem because it seems like the writers are catering to that instead of trying to create solid episodes.

  12. Montez May 9, 2010 2:50 pm

    I’m not a ‘hollywood tv’ person – but this is my opinion. I like tv and movies because they are not real life. I have enough crap in my life to deal with – more reality than I need. I like to watch tv (and movies) to escape from the realities I deal with every day. I don’t need to be educated or be enlightened. I just want to be entertained. And Glee still does it for me. But hey, what do I know? I actually liked Cop Rock.

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