Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Trouble With Glee...

Last week I had an ongoing twitter conversation with YA author William Kostakis about Glee. I have to admit it got a little tense.

We both love Glee.
We love its ridiculousness. The camp. The fun. The music. We love it.

But then we diverge.
He thinks it's pretty good as it is. It is what it is and that's enough. Me - not so much. Just because I love something doesn't mean I don't see its flaws.

While I am overjoyed that Glee is returning to screens in April, I am hoping for some changes. Glee isn't perfect. There are areas where it can be tweaked to become even better. When several of the cast members were nominated for Golden Globes I was more than a little perturbed. While they are all brilliant singers, most of them haven't been given the material (or demonstrated the acting ability) to warrant a nomination - Jane Lynch excepted.

We excuse Glee because it brings us joy. The singing, the dancing, the quips all excuse story issues and sometimes tepid acting.

But I ask you this - were Glee song and dance-less...would you watch it for the stories only? When you go to YouTube are you searching for scenes or for dance numbers?

Problem #1 - Consistency
The songs are performed well but the structure of the show is a mess. Both as a seasonal arc and on an individual basis, the consistency of character development and the overall storyline is bordering on horrific.

The fantastic Kristen Chenoweth guested in episode and was outstanding. However, it's made clear that Will had a GIANT crush on her but there's no sight of already threatened and unstable Teri. Following episode, Teri finds out about Will and Emma's flirting and she's all over the situation like crazy on toast. The eight fingered teacher...never seen again after Acapellas. Mercedes crush on Kurt was never mentioned again after the episode. Mercedes takes issue with Rachel getting solos, sings her butt off proving her awesomeness then meekly submits during the sectionals solo to Rachel. (I guess she didn't feel that strongly. Really? She doesn't have other songs prepared. Really?) Does an awesome Barbra Streisand cover excuse some really shoddy story machinations?

And Rachel....Rachel's madly in love with Finn...with an exception to the week when she fixates on Will, then she's back in love with Finn. Never mentioned again, no residual weirdness.

Also....with all the songs they've performed throughout the first half of the season, they decided to sing a new one when their options were flogged? How on earth does that make sense? You Can't Always Get What You Want was amazing but what was the point of all the other songs they worked on with the intent of performing them at THE SECTIONALS!

The solutions to most of the conflict is rather Brady Bunch in its isolation. The story lines are usually so brief that they can be tied up with a red bow and never heard of or referenced again. This isn't great storytelling in a holistic sense. I still love watching it though.

The solution? They need story lines pronto. The road to Sectionals and two convoluted pregnancies weren't enough for the first half season. These two story lines were the only major ongoing ones. There is a whole cast relegated to love triangles, one episode hook ups/crushes and "issues". Love and Sectionals weren't enough.

Though Kurt's storyline, which didn't fall in either category, was the best handled storyline of the season so far. It was a three episode sporadic arc but the emotional resonance was there, the song choices were great without being obvious (Single Ladies, Defying Gravity) and the acting was solid (bravo Chris Colfer and Mike O'Malley).

Problem #2 - Guest Stars
Ryan Murphy has the means of getting really big names on the show. Stars want on, whether in person or their songs. The iTunes royalties, name recognition and ratings alone make it VERY worth their time. While Josh Groban (funny and quick) and Kristen Chenoweth's appearances have been fantastic, they shouldn't be the norm. With announcements that Olivia Newton-John, Jonathan Groff, Jennifer Lopez, Neil Patrick Harris and Idina Menzel are soon to appear, I am feeling both excitement and dread. As much as April's (Kristen Chenoweth) appearance on the show allowed her to rock out, it did absolutely nothing for the story of the Glee club and specifically the members of Glee.

My ask is that stunt casting doesn't prevail at the expense of secondary characters. While I love Groff, Menzel and Harris (no comment on Lopez), it's feeling like Glee Variety Hour. I'd rather an episode devoted to the wonderful world inside Brittany's locker (imagine how wonderful that could be) or developing Artie, Tina, Kurt, Mercedes or the dancing ethnicity twins (Mike and Matt). The show needs to concentrate on the core cast. I LOVE the people they plan on bringing on but they need to stay true to the story of the actual Glee members.

Guest stars are fabulous but small portions are ideal. Josh Groban's small appearance was great and should be the norm, not the Kristen Chenoweth story slice. The show's called Glee, not temporary Glee cast member hiccup!

Fingers crossed that the stunt casting with Glee members' parents are actors rather than singer/actors (I consider theatre people the exception to this). Victor Garber (Will's Dad) is welcome anytime.

Problem #3 - Music
I hear you sharpening your knives already but let me get this out. While I LOVE the singing and dance numbers, I don't like the clunkiness of some of their song choices. Papa Don't Preach? Really? Obvious much? I don't care how appropriate it is to Quinn's storyline, it didn't work. Especially singing it to children... Was it funny? Mildly. Was it sung well? Not particularly.

I prefer Glee when it's loose and less produced. Hate on Me is one of my favourite numbers and could probably be considered one of the least choreographed.

Also, don't let Mr Schu rap! The man has a way with melody. Why do they continue to inflict his vanilla rap on us all?

Also, no more singing to sonograms...too cliche. Even the most devout Gleeks winced during that scene.

Problem #4 - Finn
He's tall. Frankenstein tall. That's the only selling point I have. I don't get why he's the bee's knees, other than being the typically vanilla, non-threatening boy band type that tweens get their knickers in a knot over. Rachel likes him as he sees her for what she is, rather than the prima donna that she can sometimes be. While that is admirable, he's also super humanly dumb (not a great character choice by the producers, mildly dumb would have been fine), rhythmically challenged and let's face it, not the best singer.

They have written themselves into a corner with his stupidity. Not knowing what a library is classifies him as ridiculously stupid. The posturing of the Glee club's male hierarchy is also a stretch. The other guys are to be considered lesser singers if Finn is the saving grave and lead male. What? On what planet does that make sense? Everyone of the guys (possibly even NO singing, NO talking, JUST dancing Mike and Matt) sing better than Finn.

Forget Rachel, Finn should be challenged for male lead.

Problem #5 - Tone
This could have been tossed in the consistency section but I decided to harp on about it by itself. Nothing was more jarring than the Terri/Will reveal scene in Episode 12 - Mattress. This was mainly due to the fact that the scene didn't mesh with the show. He played it too big. (I know many people would disagree.)

In a show that is largely farcical in a heightened reality, you have to make sure the tone is consistent. If the storyline arcs aren't, then you're going to have issues. While I agree that Will's reaction was warranted for the circumstances, I don't think the level of reaction (especially the aggressiveness) was consistent in the tone of the show or the character itself.

What Can Be Done?
I am not one to point out problems and not make some suggestions. Here are my ideas, not saying that any of them are good.
  • Flesh out the rest of the Glee members....specifically Tina, Artie, Mercedes. Currently they have one episode issues (that are never to be heard of again) or meaningless story lines. Give them something of quality.
  • Establish if Cheerios (Santana and Brittany) and Footballers (Mike and Matt) can sing.
  • Have more complicated arcs that make sense (aka remove necessary character stupidity to make story line work).
  • Appropriate levels of Sue - she's great as is. Let's not RUIN a good thing by using her too much and making her integration into Glee-world unreasonable.
  • Keep guest star appearances short, sharp and shiny. Don't stunt cast ever episode.
  • For someone who "loves" Finn, Rachel sure flirts in her affections a lot - Finn, Puck, Mr Schu and shortly Jon Groff (though who can blame her). They need to establish her connection to Finn more. Why is she in love with him? Is she in love with him? They've actually established Kurt's love of Finn better than Rachel's.
  • Brittany - keep her the same. Please. A quip here, a quip there. Dead-glorious-pan galore.
  • Can every song NOT be introduced as Regional's fodder? There were heaps of Sectionals songs and yet they ended up using a new one - go figure!
  • No more filler episodes. In a thirteen episode season, the A story line of the majority can be considered as such. A pointless storyline for the sake of a gimmicky routine doesn't cut the mustard...think Mattress' Jump and Wheels' Proud Mary.
What brings me Glee...
It's not all negativity.
  • Routines like My Life Would Suck Without You that closed out Episode 13 - Sectionals. It was the perfect combination of performance, choreography and story relevance.
  • Mark Saling's Sweet Caroline. While I am sure the whole throwaway aspect of the Rachel/Puck dalliance (or Puckleberry as shippers have named it) was created for this moment, it was worth it. Sung simply, not over produced and just swoon worthy.
  • Playing against the cliche...Kurt and his Dad...brilliant.
  • Quips...I can never get enough whether from Sue, Brittany or Kurt.
  • Great spread of music influence from mainstream pop, to musical standards to Billy Idol re-imagined. When they get it right, they get it amazingly right.
  • The cast. Some may not be completely there yet on the acting front but on the whole they are such a winning bunch that I love them enormously.
  • Chris Colfer...some may say Jane Lynch is the break out star, I beg to differ. Kurt Hummel is a breath of fresh air over a dusty, tired remote. I re-watch episodes to focus on his background work...the boy can work his face like a fine tuned watch!
  • Lea there nothing she can't sing?
Stupid is as Stupid Does...
  • The Drug Storyline of Episode 6 - Vitamin D. While Glee isn't drawing everything out in terms of story lines, they are wasting great possible dramatic arcs by dismissing them as one episode jokes. We've seen this with Puck and Rachel, a pairing with great potential that was used as a throwaway. However, this pairing received so much attention, this throwaway is now being resurrected due to audience demand. Great thinking, producers!
  • Reality show...they are casting new Glee cast members as part of a transparent, reality show like process. NO. Too much. How about they focus on the Glee members that we don't know very well? I still can't tell you which male dancer is Mike and which one is Matt. So that's a big fat no to whoring the casting process and to bringing in new cast when the old ones haven't had nearly enough screen time.
  • Leaks. The story leaks to the media are ridiculous. I love spoilers but I shouldn't be able to have producer endorsed exposure to the storyline, the songs (even recordings), etc prior to the broadcast. There are very little surprises for me going into episodes before. Keep some mystery, Ryan Murphy.
Forgiveness can sometimes be evil.

We are all willing to forgive Glee. I am willing to forgive it for a lot (and after this post you know I have issues to forgive).

The Will/Sue Lindy Hop. Really?

Was that character consistent? No?

Did I enjoy it? Yes.

Was it more than a one note, never to be referenced again joke? No.

The last word goes to William who responded to my 140 character issue rant about Glee with this....


kate.o.d said...

yes, i think you might be over-thinking it just a tad. but that's ok!
glee is really silly and very funny. fave song would have been young girl/don't stand so close to me = hilarity!
but my issue with the show is that i don't even know if these kids can sing because their voices are so altered with auto-tune that they sound like computers singing. or britney's quite revolting to listen to.
i say, let them actually sing!

Bang Bang Bang Firgal Moonlop Bang Bang Bang said...

I have not yet seen glee. I am going to my friend Sarah's place next saturday for a prolonged lunch and five hours of getting into it, as she tells me it is the second coming.... After reading this I realise I must seriously watch it thus to prepare myself for the debate.

My sincere thanks.

Firgal Moonlop

Chelsea said...

I agree with most of this, though I am still pretty forgiving--I'm an easy sell when something's as fun as Glee, though I'm also still giving them slack because it's new. They've only got so much leniency time before viewers start going, "You mean they're not going to fix X and Y is never going to get better?"

And I like Finn okay, but OMG, why is he the lead? I've been asking myself that ever since they let Artie sing. Holy crap. And if they're *not* going to do anything with Finn and Rachel and all the love triangles, then I'd rather like to see more of Kurt and Mercedes and the others. I'd like to see more of them anyway, but if all the rest of it is going to be fluff that doesn't go anywhere, then why not spend that time developing the other characters?

But I still love it, even if it's not perfect. *sigh*

Amra Pajalic said...

I agree with all your saying-especially the inconsistent storylines. I have to say that one of my favourite songs was Artie singing 'By myself alone' I think the title goes something like this. I kept finding that song on you tube and watching it. Although the super annoying thing was they didn't have the actual clip from the show-just a still image which was super annoying.

I do hope they pick up their game in the second season because as you say, good will will only get you so far.

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I love Glee as is, but you make some really valid points-especially that we let a lot pass because it makes us happy. Lets hope they do the number of guest stars right, and not have one every episode.

robby (once upon a book blog/fourteen years) said...

I love you, Adele. This was so fun to read.
I've never really been able to get in to Glee, and you pretty much just explained why.
Again, I loved this. You are wonderful.

wkos6295 said...

You talk about me behind my back and... Google Alerts is the one to tell me? Betrayal. Absolute betrayal.

... :-P

I do share most, if not all, of your fears (HOW can they keep the Sue SylvestLOLs coming, I don't know), it's just, the guest stars comment rubbed me the wrong way. I'll get to it in a second...

Yes, some of the arcs are a mess, some plot points are rushed, and some characterisation (I'm looking at you, Kurt) is practically offensive in its simplicity, but you cannot deny the brilliance of the mid-season finale.

Tone-wise, though, I personally like the darker side. Will's Waah-Waahs attack in 'Mattress' excepted (that was more melodramatic than dark), the show usually does dark, meloncholy and sadness very well (their version of Chaplin's 'Smile' - brilliant). The dark humour (from tasteful depictions of premature ejaculation to Sue littering to make sure the cleaners can buy tacos for their children) works, it's what attracted me to a show that was a bit corny in its characterisation and plot, whereas, lighter eps that revolve are Beyonce's Single Ladies... make me want to barf.

That episode was border-line tacky, and yes, if Beyonce popped in as a cameo, I'd say that the guest stars don't work - but the producers and writers have demonstrated restraint - and you only need to look at their treatment of rapper Eve for an example. You don't mention her in the post, so I'm assuming, you didn't know she was a guest (the female Glee teacher of the disadvantaged girls' school) - she didn't sing, or rap, and she didn't holler her presence... she just performed the role. And she was in a few episodes. So, back to what I couldn't quite get across in 140 characters: trust that the creative tem can be clever with their incorporation of guest stars. I think the incorporation of guest stars is something they do well. These incorporations can be subtle winks to the audience, that are a bit of fun.

My biggest gripe with the show, though, is that for a musical that relies on MUSIC to convey the meaning of the characters, they need to use appropriate songs. Whiloe I loved the use of Chaplin's 'Smile', the misappropriation of Lily Allen's 'Smile' made me angry. I wanted blood.

My next-biggest gripe: Too many characters. You cannot juggle that many well, and I hope that this second half of the season focuses on the others in the Glee group, because I don't think there's much more to Finn or Rachel than we already know. But then again, I don't really want it to - the Asian, the Wheelchair Guy, the Jocks, the Bimbos don't interest me all that much (and before I get called out for being prejudiced, let's not pretend their roles are any more complicated than 'The [Insert Stereotype]').

Donna Gambale said...

Wholeheartedly agree. This show is so fantastic and has so much potential that I'm looking forward to seeing it improved!

BookChic said...

I'm easily amused so I've never had the problems with Glee that other people, like you, have had. I do that with pretty much all my TV shows. I watch to be entertained, and don't really think much past that. That's my non-thinking time, lol. But I did enjoy reading your post. I do have a couple things to add though.

Hopefully with there being criticism out there now, writing of these last 9 episodes of the first season will take that into account and we'll see development and more consistency. Though with three writers with different views on what Glee should be, that may be hard to do.

With the new cast members, there's going to be three and they won't be showing up until the second season, so we've still got these nine to flesh out the original characters who haven't gotten as much screen time.

Daisy Whitney said...

I agree with a lot of what you say about the show, but it's such a refresher from Grey's Anatomy that I still just love it for its joy!

Tammy said...

Great post! I agree with alot of what you have issue with-especially the messy story lines concerning the main characters. They can sometimes leave you scratching your head. Hopefully we will see them fine tune a good show and make it great!

Steph Su said...

Adele, I love you. Can I print this out and frame it? Better yet, can I print out another copy and send it to the producers of this show? I completely agree with you, right from when I watched the very first episode and saw that there were going to be a lot of problems considering plotline and character development, but the dialogue was teen-movie hilarious and "Don't Stop Believing" ohmygoodness took my breath away and made me a fan. Honestly, I'm surprised that Glee was allowed to get away with all its issues for so long. Haven't people pointed out to Ryan Murphy yet that he hasn't yet shown the ability to write a story arc to save his life? Someone stick him in a workshop, pronto.

For the record, the Asian one, Harry Shum, is Mike (I remember this by thinking of alllll the Asian Mikes that I know. Couldn't they have gone with better names for the poor two boys?)

But they're bringing back Puck and Rachel?! *gasp* YAY!

jackmcclane said...

I am a 37 year old married father of 2 girls. I can't get enough of Glee. The reason is simple. It's FUN! It's an escape from the everyday world and I love seeing my foot tapping away.

Your point re would you watch it just for the story lines is accurate though. If there was no singing and dancing, I most likely wouldn't watch it.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post and I agreed with a little bit, but just a weeeeeee little bit!


DevonWren said...

I completely agree with you on most of these points, especially when it comes to the transition between Episode 15 (Madonna) and Episode 16, even though EP 16brought me to uncontrollable floods of tears on all three occasions that i've watched it, t was still a complete contrast to the light-hearted hillarity of Ep15.
Would love to see this all sorted out, and Kurt is deffo the best character. I think Chris plays it perfectly, Ep 16 especially - hence the crying.
I would probably still watch it without the singing and dancing, but that's just a personal thing

Dying for things to get sorted out between Kurt and his Dad in Ep 17, or 18, just quick. My heart can bearly take it anymore..!

Chess x

p.s. I appreciate your insight though :)