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”
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”
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