An Open Letter to Glee

Often, when I sit down to write a blog post, I have no idea what I’m going to write.  I’ll just sit down and start writing, hit upon a vein I like, and then start the post over with a little more focus.  Every so often, however, I actually mull over a topic for days.  I stand in the show and come up with my snarky comments or arguments.  I’ll start looking for funny pictures to include in my post.   This post is one of the latter. I read a column from Orson Scott Card which got me thinking.  I actually stood in the shower this morning and tried to determine how I wanted to express myself on the subject.  So, imagine my surprise when I got to work, logged onto my computer, and found that my friend, WhiteEyebrows, had written a post that very closely matched my own thoughts.  However, as I don’t really care if people think I’m a copycat, I’m going to write my post anyway.

I used to watch a lot of television.  I used to really enjoy it.  But over the last year or so, many of the shows that I used to love watching ended their runs.  Others became so hackneyed and clunky that they quickly made their way off my TiVo season pass list.  My TV watching has been whittled down to 3-4 hours of TV a day to 3-4 shows a week: I watch The Simpsons when I eat or cook meals.  I watch Family Guy, The Biggest Loser, Good Eats, So You Think You Can Dance, and will watch Lost when it comes on in February.  And starting this fall, I began watching Glee.

For those who don’t watch Glee, I’m not going to try and explain the premise of the show to you.  If your television is EVER tuned to the Fox network, you have undoubtedly seen enough in the promos to get a fairly decent glimpse into the show.  It is certainly not everybody’s cup of tea.  I watch it every single week.  But here’s the thing:  I’m not really sure why I watch it every single week.  The show simultaneously delights and infuriates me.  

Wasted Potential.  There is nothing more frustrating to me as a patron of the popular video arts than seen a very promising concept almost-but-not-quite reach its potential.  And Glee just barely misses the mark pretty much every single time.  It drives me nuts. 

Despite having walked away from the performing arts, my heart is still much much among the musical theater nerds.  I was never in choir, but I went to a university that has one of the most well-travelled and well-known show choirs in the world.  They were an exclusive cult who never failed to engender both contempt and envy.  And, if you were close enough to the action, they were a bundle of trashy drama so intense it could have put Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of Orange County to shame.  Despite multiple auditions, I was never allowed into the club, which left me frustrated and bitter, but in retrospect, probably a lot better off.  So, when I get to see a show about a dysfunctional Glee Club, supposedly based in Lima, Ohio (the town where my parents grew up), and starring one of my all-time favorite actors, I have to be there.

Glee, in its best moments, shines mightily with energetic and snappy musical numbers, featuring a much wider variety of musical styles and eras than I expected.  There are moments of such sublime hilarity and potent emotional truth, and the show swings back and forth between them fairly easily.  Matthew Morrison, the teacher, is an extremely talented song and dance man from Broadway, and he pulls out everything he can from the scripts.  The superb Chris Colfer gives such an amazing performance that it’s worth re-watching each episode and just following him in the background.  That man never wastes an on-screen moment.  Amber Riley and Lea Michele are FIERCE singers.  They had Kristen Chenoweth as a guest star…something to which every television show should aspire.  And best of all, it features one Jane Lynch, quite possibly the funniest woman to work on television since Lucille Ball. 

But when the show isn’t hitting its high notes (*groan*), it’s wallowing in the mud.  For about 70% the show, it begins to feel like what it really is: the result of a corporate boardroom meeting where someone said, "Hey.  High School Musical was really big.  Let’s see if we can’t make something like that and we’ll put it on opposite American Idol, because they’re, like, totally the same audience."  And the writers, who never developed the skills of writing truly funny comedy for television because they were all out of work thanks to "reality TV", just grabbed as many stereotypes as they could muster, threw them into a blender, and turned it on high.  The result is a cadre of unrealistic, one-dimensional, and COMPLETELY unbelievable characters stuck in ludicrous situations and reacting in thoroughly incomprehensible ways.

Some Examples:

  • The Head Cheerleader (Bitchy Blonde) gets pregnant and convinces her boyfriend, the Star Quarterback (Dumb Jock) that he’s the father, even though they’ve never had sex.  How does this happen?  They were in a hottub together, and he had a premature ejaculation.  And she got pregnant from that.
  • The Head Cheerleader (Bitchy Blonde) actually got pregnant cheating on her boyfriend with another Football Player (Sex-addicted Bully).  He’s upset because he knows he’s the baby daddy, and wants to support his child, despite the fact that he regularly sleeps with women old enough to be his mother.  If Glee were to be believed, high school jocks could be having sex with a different woman every night of the week.
  • The Guidance Counselor (Pretty Obsessive Compulsive) has a crush on The Teacher (Clueless Nice Guy) but instead decides to marry The Coach (Gruff Jerk with Small Shorts), who completely repulses her, just because she doesn’t want to die alone.  The Coach agrees to marry her even though she won’t touch him, doesn’t want to be seen in public with him, they have nothing in common, and it’s obvious that she’s in love with The Teacher.
  • The Teacher (Clueless Nice Guy) doesn’t realize that the child his Wife (Spoiled Princess Former Cheerleader) is carrying is actually just a ploy to keep their crumbling marriage together.  Despite being six months pregnant, he has no idea that his wife is actually wearing padding under her shirt.  And best of all, Wife is planning on adopting The Head Cheerleader’s baby and passing it off as her own, as though she had given birth to it without her husband ever knowing.

It’s like they were playing Hollywood Mad Libs.

This show perpetuates every single bad stereotype it can find, and does so with ferocity.  As a result, all of the characters become cardboard cutouts, and not real characters.  With very few exceptions, none of the characters ever get to step into the third dimension.  It’s a shame really.  It’s okay to start someone off as a stereotype, but if you don’t ever let them blossom beyond that, then what reason do you have to care about what happens to them?  Take Phoebe from friends: she was a major stereotype–a dippy, ditzy earth child.  It could have been so easy to let her be nothing more.  But she ended up being one of the most lovable characters on TV in the 90s because she was so much more than that. 

There are myriad other problems with the show as well:

  • Uneven style – Sometimes the characters narrate their thoughts.  Sometimes they don’t.  Be consistent.  If three episodes go by without any Wonder Years narration, and then one character does it for 30 seconds in the middle of an episode, it just stands out like a sore thumb.
  • Unsatisfying story arcs – Coming from someone who actually likes happily ever afters, this show just mangles the stories of the characters.  Each episode has fifteen different subplots going on simultaneously, and we never get to delve deeply enough to care about any of them.  And at the end of every episode, there’s this giant leap from "mess" to "neat little package" as if the writers went, "Crap.  We’re almost out of pages, and everything’s got to be wrapped up.  I know!  We’ll just throw in a musical montage!"
  • Too Many Stories – With such a large ensemble cast, it’s not possible for us to care about every single person all the time.  Focus!
  • Characters have no redeeming values – With very few exceptions, most of the characters are grating, mean, bitchy, frosty, stupid, or ugly.  Show us the GOOD!
  • Flagrant abuse of auto-tune – The audio engineers for Glee appear to have attended the T-Pain school of pitch and noise management.  They have auto-tuned the HELL out of these vocals.  Even the few singers in the cast with amazing voices (Rachel, Will, Mercedes, Kurt, Artie) are auto-tuned so heavily you can actually hear the glitching.  And if the good singer’s recordings are glitchy, imagine how heavily they auto-tuned the ones who can’t actually sing. (Emma, Puck, Quinn, Finn).  If you’re going to put on a show about kids who can sing, how about you cast some kids who can sing.  If you want to be true to life, how about letting some of the kids really stink?  (At least in my high school, pretty much everyone in the choir was terrible.)  Don’t cast people who can’t sing, and then auto-tune them so much they sound like ShowChoir by AppleTalk.™
  • Stupid Men – There are few habits of television writers that drive me more bonkers than the portrayal of men as stupid, clueless oafs.  Is someone REALLY going to believe that his wife has been pregnant for six months and not realize that it’s a fake?  Is the high school quarterback really going to believe that he got his girlfriend pregnant by having a premature ejaculation in a hot tub?   There are some stupid men out there, but there are also some really smart, observant ones.  Stop making us all look like morons, please.

I wouldn’t get so up in arms about the quality of the show if I didn’t want it to be so much better than it is.  I like the idea of this show.  I like most of the musical numbers (despite the fact that nobody in the cast actually knows how to dance at all.)  I like the potential it has.  I wouldn’t have written such a butt-long blog post if I didn’t.

I’ve watched the first half of the first season religiously, even though I’m not really sure why.  I enjoy it and I don’t.  I’ll probably continue to watch it.  But I’m not sure I can give it to many more chances.  So please, Glee, please stop auto-tuning your singers to death, treating your characters like cardboard cutouts, and trying to wrap up 15 stories in a single episode. 

And until then, I’ll just make myself happy by watching these:

2 Replies to “An Open Letter to Glee”

  1. Ha ha ha!  Nice!
    Amen on the stupid oafs.  Really… what guy wouldn't know for SIX months that his wife was faking a pregnancy.  There's willing suspension of disbelief… and then there's STUPID.

  2. I like Glee, but I totally agree with you about the use of auto-tune. It sounds awful. It would be OK in the dream sequences for some of the kids to sound like the over-produced recordings some people their age listen to, but it spoils the scenes that are supposed to be happening in reality, and seems completely at odds with the love-yourself message of the show.

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