Sunday, November 21, 2010

Broccoli-Flavored Frosting (On Still Not Feeling Gleeful)

I don’t like Glee.

Though a simple internet search would turn up plenty of hatred, frustration and accusation of shark-jumping for Glee, I still feel like the admission that I don’t like this popular show puts me in a category with people who kick puppies or people who or who steal the ratty clothes off the backs of Dickensian orphans. Why? I’m not sure. I suppose the general public believes that Glee means well and that we should all support it, even if it’s not our cup of tea. But it’s not my cup of tea. Like, I wanted tea and I ordered tea but instead I got dirty rainwater served in an old coffee can. And now I’m reluctant to order tea from this establishment ever again.

My frustration with Glee stems from the fact that I thought I would like it. I enjoy Ryan Murphy, and I watched Nip/Tuck even went it lost any pretense of social commentary and instead just tried to elicit a reaction of “Holy fuck, I can’t believe I’m watching this.” And I liked Popular. And though I’m not especially keen on musicals, they have their place and, if done correctly, may not necessarily suck. So I when the pilot for Glee aired in May, before the series debuted the following September, I watched it. My reaction: “There is no way this show will ever catch on.”

But, of course, Glee became a surprise hit and I was reminded that I don’t think like most people. Since then, I’ve caught the occasional episode, and even made a point to watch the Rocky Horror episode because I adore The Rocky Horror Picture Show and figured there’d be no way I would regret the forty-five minutes it would take to watch Glee’s take on it. (#wrongagain) And while I have a long list of complaints with the series — If I’m supposed to like Rachel, then why does the show seem to try so hard to make her seem unpleasant and underserving of my support? Why are they still adding characters when they have yet to give me a reason to care about original characters like Tina or Mercedes? What could they do to make me care about Mr. Scheuster again? Why did they Nerf an unabashed villain like Sue Sylvester by giving her a developmentally disabled sister? Why does Glee seem to task Chris Colfer’s acting, singing and all-around performing abilities harder than any other actor on the show? — I think I finally realized what my biggest gripe with the show is. I don’t get the rules.

It’s like this. I love Community. I think it’s funny, but I really enjoy that it has this fantastical element that allows the writers to pull of plots that most shows couldn’t. The underlying silliness allows Community to go in whatever direction it choses, and provided it doesn’t confront the audience with a “serious” episode — something especially heartfelt or something that halts the onslaught of punchlines, like if Annie’s drug addiction returned and it was was used as anything other than a source of comedy. I’m even fine with a show introducing a ridiculous situation and basically saying, “Okay, this is something that can happen in this universe. Go with it.” I mean, a friend pointed out to me that Community’s premise — Jeff being sentenced to community college for after getting caught practicing law without a license — is hokey and implausible in that sitcommy way Seinfeld parodied with Jerry’s failed show-within-the show, which had a judge ordering someone to work as someone else’s butler. But taken from the get-go as a founding element of Community, I can accept this premise. I watch. I laugh. I enjoy.

To use a cliche to explain how I view Glee, I’d say that the writers are either pissing down both legs or trying to have their cake and eat it too. Maybe it’s both: pissing on both cakes while eating them, which would be hard to do and maybe that’s why I don’t think the show works. It wants to be fantastical and whimsical and OMG-anything-can-happen!!! and all that, but it still tries for those life lessons and those Oprah-style “a-ha” moments. But given how flighty and silly the show is otherwise, these serious parts strike me as hollow. The “Grilled Cheesus” episode this season totally frustrated me, because though I feel like Colfer did a nice job acting out Kurt’s grief, the plotline seemed to me more like the result of some higher-up’s decision to do a “serious” episode than an any sort of thoughtful rumination on life, death and religion. And two weeks after that heavy-handed mess, the TV viewers who had been asked to accept a realistic, dramatic situation were then asked to swallow the notion of a small-town high school mounting a production of Rocky Horror, despite everything about Rocky Horror, in the span of seven days. For me, that’s too much. The Gleeverse is lacking focus and coherence.

I’ve noticed other things that point to “rule violations” or possibly even a lack of rules altogether: More recently, the show crammed a realistic bullying storyline into an episode that also featured an all-boys academy singing an a cappella rendition of “Teenage Dream” … and then getting embraced by their fellow students for doing it. Like, fine — fantasy is great, but it just cannot be that bullying could be a problem in the same universe where any high school’s all-male choir to could cover Katy Perry and not themselves become the victims of horrendous bullying. Going back to the “Rocky Horror” episode, it seems like Emma Pillsbury broke a role by bursting into “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a Touch Me,” even though most musical numbers are diegetic. If people in the Glee world can just spontaneously start singing in the manner of characters in typical musicals, shouldn’t this musically inclined bunch be doing that all the time? And why the hell were Mr. Schue and Gwynneth Paltrow’s character performing on stage with the students in the “Singin’ in the Rain”-“Umbrella” mash-up?

I guess, then, Glee should get points for ambition, but I’m too bothered by the inconsistency to enjoy the show even when it does something right. (And it does get things right, I’ll admit. Brittany S. Pierce is brilliant, in her way, and the show knows how to use her perfectly. Gwyneth Paltrow as Mary Todd Lincoln? Amazing.) In the Weekend Update following this year’s VMAs, Seth Meyers pointed out the awkwardness of Lady Gaga speaking to congress about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mere days after she wore a dress made of raw meat: “It’s very hard to be the girl in the meat suit on Sunday and the voice of reason on Tuesday,” he said. The logic applies to Glee as well. You can be frosting or you can be broccoli, but when you try to be both, you’ll never truly succeed. You can’t be escapism most of the time and then act like your characters exist in this grounded, functional world and then expect me to buy all of it.

With all that said, I’m doing giving Glee second chances. I’m just not going to make the effort to watch it anymore, despite protestations from must of my friends and a curiously large percentage of those whose opinions I actually value. Glee can be broccoli-flavored frosting on its own, and everyone else can continue eating it up. I, meanwhile, am going to start working though backlog of Modern Family, Fringe, The Walking Dead and other TV universes that make more sense to me.


  1. I was a (somewhat fervent) Glee fan during the first half of season 1, but I have since given up on the show (for all the reasons you stated). It's incredibly frustrating (especially as a screenwriter) to watch a show that you love go to shit the way that Glee has. One minor/major qualm I have (minor in that it's incidental, but major in that it's in almost every episode and points to the glaring lack of verisimilitude in the show) is the fucking slushies in the face. First of all, no high school in the world has a slushy machine. Secondly, if the school bullies were using the slushy machine for the sole purpose of tormenting the unpopular students, it would be removed. And third, who the fuck is cleaning up after all the slushy attacks!? I mean, If I was the custodian at that school I would be demanding suspensions for any kid bringing a slushy on school grounds. Plus, there was that one episode where Mr. Shue had to take a second job as a discount night janitor at the school to make extra cash because the school couldn't afford to pay the regular janitor anymore. Uh, what? I feel like the show is written by a schizophrenic.

    But on the plus side, I have since fallen under the spell of Community (despite the fact that I may have been the person mentioned above who complained to you about the absurd premise of show). After a slightly rocky start, it's become a really damn good show and one of the funniest on TV (again, for all the reasons you already stated). Also, for "Troy and Abed in Moooorning!" (spin-off please!).

    So, to sum up...we're in total agreement.

    How do you feel about Outsourced?
    (I have yet to see it, but everything I hear makes me want to take a pass).

  2. My biggest problem with the show is its commercialization. In the first half of season one, there were two-three songs per episode; now, there are around six. It often feels like many of the episodes are thrown together after the producers are able to buy someone's set list ("What should we do with this Britney Spears music?" "Let's make them hallucinate at the dentist's office to teach them about female empowerment, or something!"). They know that most of their fans will buy the CDs (number 8 is almost here!), and this show will be around as long the CDs sell.

    On a separate note, I like the idea that I, at 25, could probably be on that show as a high school junior.

  3. I totally agree with you about every point in this post, but somehow still like the show. I got to a breaking point about halfway through the first season, and just let go and decided that, for some reason: a) it's okay that I don't like or care about any of the characters; b) it's okay that the show has absolutely no cohesive thought process behind it; c) it's okay that the show horribly abuses auto-tune, which normally drives me batty. Somehow, that's all okay.

    I watch it with no expectations, when I'm tired and grumpy and don't want to think about anything, and just choose to turn off every analytical fiber of my brain (normally impossible). And every once and a while there's a scene where the whole football team dances to Beyonce and the world is a glorious place, and I don't care that, from a writerly perspective, they had to do every single thing I normally despise in order to shoehorn that scene into the show--I'm just glad I saw it. Y'know? Also, Emma Pillsbury's cardigans.

    (Rocky Horror episode managed to break through my Zen shell, though, I must admit. WORST.)

  4. Your post is extremely eloquent and you have put into words something that for me was just a nagging feeling.

    At the beginning of season one I was really intrigued. When they returned for their season 2 I immediately felt the change and it was no good. I thought it was because that got light headed from all their success going up to their heads. My main complaint was that they stopped caring about anything that might even resemble continuity or a story.

    Now, they've completely lost me and it is a shame since I am in awe of Chris Colfer.

  5. Thanks for all the responses. This is actually quite validating.