Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Television Finales Op Ed-Glee Style

Is Glee having a case of the Terrible Twos?  I'm torn over my overall reaction to Season 2 but before I work this out by writing this out, let's jump back in time
Now, jump off your Hoverboard
2 years ago, probably almost to the day, the performance episode of the American Idol season finale was airing and Kris Allen was getting ready to surprise a very vocal, very angry group of Adam Lambert fans by taking the crown that year.  It had been a pretty good evening over on Idol, back when Simon was still stewing in that last seat.  But it was what came on next that I was actually even more, if that's possible, excited about.  For several weeks by that point Fox had been airing TV spots and previews about a show featuring what seemed to be the Bad News Bears of show choirs.  I was beyond excited and although a solid 60% of that excitement was due to the a cappella version of "Don't Stop Believing" that has now become synonymous with the series the other 40% of that excitement was due to the fact that I was in show choir in high school, am a sucker for music-related projects and still like high school-set dramas despite that fact that at my last birthday I blew out 28 candles.  Well I didn't really, I didn't have enough room on my ice cream cupcakes for 28 candles but so goes life.  Perhaps I'm poorly adjusted to adult life, but I was pretty into the idea of Glee.  And then the pilot blew me away.
Granted, Fox had mounted it's 4 horseman of the media advertising apocalypse to make this show a success, most likely because it was such a risk (let's face it, the last musical telvision show had been Cop Rock and who remembers that?!  Put your hand down Steven Sondheim!)  Musicals are always categorized under "niche" for some reason and "niche" almost never translates to ratings.  But it's first season Glee defied the odds.  The fact that it had such tremendous financial backing was secondary to the creative team.  Ryan Murphy & co, rarely play it safe.  If you're looking for proof just check out "Nip/Tuck" and the criminally under-watched "Popular".  He's a guy who seems to run with stereotypes so far that you're not sure whether you've been lapped by them, duped by them or flat out punched in the gut by them, but they almost never resemble what you thought they would.  This was the guy who could lead us into the brave new world of post-millennium high school in a way we hadn't seen before and it worked.  The writing was superb and funny and biting and sarcastic.  Every line was a double edged sword or entendre or however you'd most appreciate it being put to you.  It was new and fresh and musically delicious and who didn't love it?  Besides men who are too afraid of admitting that a little dash of musicality here and there will always make life better, it seemed like almost everyone did.
I was excited for the second season.  Sure there had been perhaps two or three episodes in season one (post-winter hiatus) that perhaps hadn't lived up to previous standards but those were tough standards anyway.  Off the top of my head I'll say "Funk" for sure, left me wanting more, but overall, when I scan through the episode titles, I remember at least one performance, and therefore the general storyline of the episode.  That's not so easy for me to do with this season.
The first six episodes (Auditions, Britney/Brittany, Grilled Cheesus, Duets, the Rocky Horror Glee Show and Never Been Kissed) were all somewhat reliable to me.  Some people might complain about the theme episodes (Britney and Rocky Horror) but I'm really fine with these two.  Others hated the blatant attempt to bring up the notion of religion with the Grilled Cheesus episode.  For me, I enjoyed it.  I thought the whole idea of Glee was built on the notion of satirization and if you can't stand the heat by all means, there's the kitchen door.  As for Never Been Kissed, is there a person reading this blog who hasn't heard Darren Criss and the Beelzebubs performance (as Blaine and The Warblers)?  It was maybe one of the best introductions for a character on a TV show in the last 5 years.
But then it felt like the sails on S.S. Glee started to droop.  I'm aware that any ship that would be that big probably wouldn't have sails, but allow me my creative license.  It seemed like there was just too much going on in a way.  Actually that's where I'm torn, I'm not sure if I felt that there was too much or not enough or if that changed from episode to episode for me.
In a second season that had already introduced at least three new characters (Sam, Blaine, and the minor character of Coach Bieste) and promoted two more to a more regular basis, though still apparently as "guest stars" (Lauren Zizes and Mike Chang) it felt like, for all of the avenues that could have been pursued story-line wise, by the end of each episode I was underwhelmed.  Everything has felt extremely haphazardly put together, like at the creative meetings, nothing much was turned down.  Each episode looks like the visual equivalent of 5 people sitting around going "and then we can do this, and how about this, oh and don't forget about this story" in excited, rushed voices.  The lack of cohesion was just never solidly there.  Here's Holly, she's going away, no she's coming back so that Emma and Will can't be together.  Here's Finn and Rachel, nope they're not together (for the dumbest reason ever) so that Finn and Quinn can get together so that later we can break them up to get Finn and Rachel back.  Emma's married, but not really.  Now she's definitely not married.  And it felt like for a while there, every week was a different message with an exclamation point.  Bullying is bad! Religion is a personal decision! and the biggest exclamation point of all ACCEPTANCE!!  I appreciate all of these, I do.  But it felt as if a lot of these messages were delivered just as wonderfully, if in a more subtle context, in the first season.  To try and make Glee mainstream accessible (and therefore boost the ratings) it seemed like the brilliancy of satirization had, more often than not, been replaced with, what is so often the downfall of great performance-related art in America, the dumb-down effect.
Here's the deal.  People who don't like shows are never going to like shows because they'll never get over their own issues.  At least not a majority of those people.  If I took 10 of my friends who are Bruce Springsteen fans and said "Glee is doing a Bruce Springsteen episode" 8 of them would roll their eyes and utter profanities cursing the television and record companies for allowing this travesty to take place while 1 of them would be really excited.  The other one probably wouldn't change their plans to watch the episode, but would watch it anyway if it was on, or if forced into submission by their partner.  Ratings have become the bane of the television viewer's existence because it plays into every creative change that is made by the head honchos.
There were several things that this season did beautifully.  I liked the attempt to educate people about the journey of homosexual teens both through the Karofsky storyline and through the somewhat surprising, but, I think, ultimately satisfying Santana storyline.  I loved the introduction of the new characters, I just wish Sam had had more exposition and hey, whatever did happen to Coach Bieste?  Was she just brought in to prove that "unattractive" women can be kissed by Matthew Morrison?  I loved that just about every family dynamic is being explored, from a blended family (Kurt and Finn became step brothers) to the toll taken by the economic downturn (Sam should have gotten more time with this storyline) although I am still anxiously awaiting the introduction of Rachel's fathers.
But then there are the major issues with this season: Why did Sue suddenly go from being razor sharp to Dr. Evil, a villain so over the top that the humor was often time sucked out immediately even before the punchline had been delivered?  Why is there an insistence on messing with fan-approved relationships?  No one wanted to see Finn and Quinn back together, so why force it?  When did cameo-casting become Oscar or Tony-nominated required?  I'm still baffled by how many people actually like Sunshine Corazon, despite the fact that Charice has only been given roughly 15 minutes of screen time over the season (and that's generous).  In fact, I'm somewhat baffled by how many people know Charice.  This show worked because it was new people and new faces with talent, the occasional high-brow guest appearance is always a treat, but to be touting guest appearances and catering to those storylines more than to the core characters is a little distressing to an audience invested in the relationships.
There will be people that disagree with me, for different reasons (they didn't go far enough, they didn't change enough, they pushed too far, no way, this season was perfect!! etc. etc) but I'm just hoping that what was once my favorite show of the year, was maybe just using this season to re-set its course and recover from the adulation.  Maybe the bar was set too high, maybe the theme episodes are going overboard, or maybe there just should have been more Sue, but this was a tougher season to get through for me, although ultimately I still have to applaud the show because hey, I still laughed more than I would have if I wasn't watching, I legitimately wiped tears from my eyes more than once this season and I still downloaded:

-What I did For Love
-Teenage Dream
-I want to Hold Your Hand
-Baby
-Blackbird
-Get It Right
-I Feel Pretty/Unpretty (one of my nominations for best song of the season)
-Somewhere Only We Know
-Try A Little Tenderness (because seriously, more people should know Otis Redding)

In fact, maybe my reaction to this season was my fault.  Maybe my expectations were too high.  Maybe I just wanted things to feel easy, the way they had last season.  Everything felt so difficult and forced and overly-wrought.  It shouldn't be that tough, not for a television show.  But hey, Glee, I'm only saying these things because I still love you and still have lots of things to look forward to.  The only thing I ask is, how about once a relationship is settled, we let it simmer for a while.  SPOILER ALERT, I'd kind of like to see Sam and Mercedes pan out, and hey can Blaine and the Warblers show up at McKinley?  Oh and please stop kowtowing to pop culture.  You're the show that makes pop culture not the show that picks up its tossed out scraps, so please, no more Rebecca Black-esque covers.

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