Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ATVC 2012: Glee

Spoilers abound, so beware.

22 episodes, FOX (September 2011 - May 2012)

I had a particular identification with Glee's protagonists in its third season, because, at one point in my dark, dark history... I was exactly like them. At 18, I did the drama thing. I auditioned for renowned theater programs, I traveled the country trying to get one of those illusive spots in the most respected theater schools around. I had perfect grades, a great resume, what I thought was raw talent. I worked my ass off. But I came up empty, only getting accepted into my safety schools that weren't at all good enough to warrant the money I had to fork over. Instead, I chose to take some time out, lived, worked, and am now embarking on a future that is already turning out to be a better fit for me, and something that I feel I have a real chance in.

Glee's third season was terrible, but it was in its appalling depiction of senior year, post-graduation prep that blew my mind in how bullshit-leaden it was. Rachel Barry choked in her audition, yet was given another chance after essentially stalking poor Whoopi Goldberg and encouraging her to see her perform again. I can assure you, this would never happen. Despite goofing up in a major, terrifying performance, Whoopi deemed her ready to fill one of the twelve or fifteen spots that make up the admitting class. Again, this was bullshit.

But it also affected every other cast member. Mercedes has a performance video posted on YouTube against her will, and instead of being barraged by horrible comments like literally every one of the millions of amateur performance videos on YouTube, she bags a manager off the back of it. Quinn, despite spending most of the year rebelling and attempting to steal her baby back in a ridiculous child abuse scheme, turns out to be Yale material. Finn is berated by his teachers and guidance counselors (!) into deciding exactly what he wants to do with his life right now, like right now, since time is apparently running out.

What bugged me further is this insistence that the Glee kids are actually at all special. I get that the show wants to promote this 'follow your dreams, everybody is special' mantra, but it entirely ignores the crushing realities of actual existence. I'm a firm believer that most people can act a little, and that every high school across the country has at least a couple of students who have a lot of performance talent, but the way the show conveniently ignores the real-world handicaps that will majorly dent any real chance of success isn't just contrived, but also pretty dangerous. Life is tough, even more so in the social-economic climate that we're in right now, and yet the show feels perfectly comfortable telling everybody, whether they're disabled, overweight, moronic, overly flamboyant, of color, or possessing of questionable talents, that they should actively pursue a future in the arts, even if the odds are overwhelmingly against them. Don't get me wrong, there are people in the world who really should pursue their passion (as much as I dislike her, Rachel at least craves a career in performance), but there was this general tone of fame-hungry nonchalance that crept into most of the cast this year. Few seemed truly committed to what they were saying, and it's irresponsible for the show to ignore the harsh realities of it all. I completely respect that the show wants to promote this message of tolerance and social acceptance of all types of person, but by making the outcasts of society constantly get what they want and show that the villains always get punished... it's not just creating a perfect utopia of happiness, it's outright lying to impressionable kids.

"But Glee's a fantasy!", I hear you say. Yes, I can go with that. But the show, more than ever, wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to play with absurdity and heightened comedy, while at the same time trying to depict real-world 'issues', only with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. In Glee world, domestic violence is a woman's problem that only women can be responsible for getting away from. It's also perfectly fine to publicly out people, because it just gives them the confidence to come out later on. It's fine to betray your partner and upload a sex tape of the two of you on the internet, because it teaches them a valuable life lesson. Don't text and drive kids, because you'll get paralyzed! But only for a couple of weeks, and then you'll be able to give guys boners again and dance around with your friends. Just sleep with guys to make them feel better. That's fine. Suicide and depression is horrible, but it's just a phase that you'll quickly get over. Being gay is great, but it's not okay to show any real tenderness or intimacy in public. That's just wrong. And there's no better way to be out and proud about your lesbianism than singing I Kissed a Girl, which totally isn't a shameful sack of shit promoting female bisexuality as something that you claim in order to turn on your boyfriend.

Glee is capable of saying important things, but they're consistently depicted in such a half-assed, tonally ugly way that any message is entirely drowned out in contrivance. It's the kind of show that can proudly claim that they address all these issues, without actually running with them long-term -- using raw emotion as some kind of short-lived mouth-piece to fuel the drama in one subplot within an already busy episode. It's just awful, and the idea that all these impressionable kids are buying into the kinds of messages the show promotes is completely depressing.

But even outside of the moralizing, the writing remains appalling. When I was a kid, we had these sweeping, melodramatic TV romances that felt real and emotionally-charged, even if they were still the ratings-baity contrivance parties that we have today. On Glee, a major love triangle equals Mercedes randomly dating Sam and that personality-free fat guy who must have had three lines of dialogue all season. The triangle is so unimportant that seeing her sing I Will Always Love You to Sam reads as hilariously random, another 'depiction' of so-called emotion that has absolutely zero emotional power beneath it. Brittany and Santana get praise for being a lesbian couple on TV, but I still have no idea what exactly their relationship entails, especially when Brittany comes off as seriously mentally challenged most of the time. It just reads as rapey and strange. Rachel and Finn's relationship had been headed for an inevitable car crash all year, two characters together only because the writers dictated they should be, while Kurt and Blaine always, to me, read as creepily unbalanced. I said it last year, but I can't believe people actually 'ship these couples. Remember the days of Willow and Tara or Joey and Pacey? Yeesh! These guys are all romantically involved because the writers have decided to have them all get involved, not because any of them have any real chemistry or sense of attraction beyond the purely superficial.

There's no denying that Glee is very good at depicting those heightened moments, the ones where you're fueled by emotion, or when you finally get to put on a show that you've been building towards for months, and I admit that certain moments in the last two episodes of the year got to me (Finn and Rachel's break-up was wonderfully performed, and I loved the shot of Rachel dissolving into the Manhattan crowd), but the show became so alienating and hateful at times that I'm seriously done with it. Especially since they're apparently doing a bunch of different shows at once next year, all split off with varying character-driven adventures, with Lima High filled with a bunch of characters that clearly work so well, like... Tina: the girl that never speaks, or one-joke Sugar, or the pointless Jesus kid, or that horror-show stereotype Irish guy whose name I can't even remember. Oh, and characters like Sue, who hasn't been funny for years, and the consistently sleazy and ridiculous Mr. Schu. This show will not end well, and I haven't got the time nor the energy to tune in anymore.

I liked what the show initially represented: the depiction of the underdog, the artistic freedom of performance -- but we've ended up with a show about a bunch of so-called misfits who seem to run the world, are undeservedly rewarded for no reason, pursue dreams that will never work out, and who randomly change personality and their romantic inclinations with the passing wind. Glee is one of the most fascinating shows on television for those very reasons, but I'm not self-sabotaging enough to give it any more of my time. D-

Favorite Episode Nationals (3.21), since it mostly removed the narrative garbage and settled on merely putting on a show -- which was just as rousing as ever.


  1. I saw the first two seasons of Glee but was just so overwhelmed by the plethora of shows this year to catch up with season 3. I take it by your review that I should just forget about the show and not even start season 3? I don't usually like giving up on shows but this seems like an atrocious year that would just be a waste of time.

  2. I watched up until episode 11 then decided I had put myself through enough. It was abominable.

    You pretty much said it all, I loved what you said about the show starting with a topic, and then not running with it. I can't friggin' stand when the drum up stupid stories out of nowhere either, just to deal with some heavy topic, like Santana's sexuality. And about Kurt and Blaine, I never bought into them as a couple either; totally unbelievable, and not at all relatable.

    There's so much you said that I agree with, but you said everything that needed to be said. How long until they pull this shit from the air?

  3. Nad I only watched it because they were introducing a team of writers, and I hoped that would make the show more cohesive, but it didn't. Personally, if you disliked season two, then you'll dislike season three even more. It is interesting, though, from a critical perspective, just because it's by far the worst-written show on television. It's completely insane.

    Panda Ratings are down, and all the changes next season sound like it could finally kill the show. I hate wishing for a show's demise because that means a bunch of people are left unemployed, but Glee is horrifying. Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen a show as mind-numbingly ridiculous or consistently offensive, that treats its audience like morons. Gah.

    I think I need to abandon this show for my sanity.