What Happened to Glee?

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A long time ago on a blog far, far away — or, in May of 2009 on my previous (and short-lived) blog Jump the Snark, I blogged about the pilot of Glee*. Such promise, such fun, such a  great pilot that looked like it couldn’t possibly stand a chance because it was all about the outcasts and losers and they were singing.

This was great. What happened?

Nearly three years later, here we are, and Glee is so damn popular it’s finally inspired another musical show, Smash. (I’ve got this pilot recorded, but haven’t yet watched it, so I can’t and won’t yet comment on what I think of it.) Beyond all expectation, Glee not only survived, it thrived! So I should be rejoicing, right? The Have Nots finally Have! Except that in the process, Glee has become just plain awful.

The things that are wrong with the show have been described at length in a number of places around the internet and in news media in general. And I agree with just about all of them. At its root, to my eyes and ears, the problem is this: the show lost its heart, forgot what it was about, and overwhelmingly assumes and expects its audience to be resoundingly stupid. Characters and plots alike have no consistency, and both jump out at opposing and unbelievable extremes. And while both have moments of brilliance, they far too often fall into mockable parody and unfulfilled potential.

Let’s take Quinn. In the pilot episode, she was head cheerleader, most popular girl, and broke stereotypes by choosing to be chaste, breaking off make-out sessions with Finn to pray. An interesting twist, though one soon abandoned when we learn the good Christian Cheerleader slept with her boyfriend’s best friend and got pregnant. Quinn’s pregnancy, I would argue, is one of the more interesting plotlines in Season 1, and we see the girl at the top of the world fall to the very bottom, and make the brave (and often unexplored on TV) choice to give her baby up for adoption. Her relationships with everyone in her life are affected — her parents kick her out, Finn dumps her, Puck matures (to a degree), Mercedes becomes a good friend, Sue

Remember when we were besties?! No? Yeah, me neither.

Sylvester kicks her off the squad, Quinn finds friendship, support, and comfort from the Glee kids, even using the vestiges of her power to help them out more than once. Then in Season 2…just about all of that may as well have never happened. She’s shallow, she’s still a cheater, she has no discernible relationship with Mercedes at all. The girl she asked to be present for her ordeal of childbirth, the girl who invited her into her home, and they have zero conversations! Rather than maintaining Quinn’s maturation, or intentionally contrasting it’s absence with her obsession at reclaiming her former glory, she’s just another inconsistent character whose extremes continue to make no sense in Season 3, where yet more interesting ideas are wasted on her by having her slate cleaned in the end once again.

Rachel and Finn are a ridiculous and pointless on-and-off couple, similarly never showing they can stick to personal goals for more than a few episodes (Rachel’s Season 2 pledge to herself to focus on becoming a star rather than on getting Finn back is abandoned almost as soon as she finishes singing “Firework”). Will Schuester is likewise flung far and wide and irritatingly so by the whims of each week’s plot. Santana, Brittany, and Kurt show some possibly the most promise on their respective journeys as lesbian, bisexual, and gay male, and have rightly gotten the show a lot of attention for their stories. These are often well-done, if not perfect (but then, characters really should have flaws and theirs are at least mostly consistent) (mean-spirited cruelty, stupidity, and self-righteousness, respectively). But the biggest problem character, in my opinion, is Sue Sylvester.

Sue was a great villain in Season 1. Outlandish villainy and great one-liner insults played straight-faced by a woman intensely focused on herself and success at what she did. A single soft spot, her sister who has Down syndrome, humanizes her and introduces her second soft spot, a student named Becky who likewise has DS and becomes her…well, lead minion, really. (And actually I find her relationship with Becky to continue to be interesting and hilarious: Becky’s actress is great, their Dr. Evil and No. 2-esque pairing is really amusing, and it’s an interesting and rather bold choice to have a character with DS not be a good guy. Becky’s vicious! And connected!) In the finale, we see another secret weakness in Sue’s armor — it’s okay for her to beat up on Glee, but when other people threaten her school? Hell, no! Those are HER victims, dammit. She votes for them at regionals, and when they don’t place, she arranges to have the club kept around anyways, because what’s the good of being a villain if you’ve got no nemesis?

After that, it’s all downhill. Sue becomes an abusive bully who should’ve been fired a hundred times over for her inappropriate, physically threatening (not to mention emotionally abusing) behavior towards students, coworkers, and superiors alike. She has physically assaulted students on her and with items that could be classified as weapons. And her ‘ridiculous’ plotlines have only gotten worse as well — marrying herself? Really? Season 3 has only made it worse, most recently, in the episode “The Spanish Teacher,” when she had a talk with teenaged male high school students about donating

Dangerous child predator and bully, played for laughs.

sperm because she was seeking to be artificially inseminated. And when her inappropriate behavior is later brought up by the guidance counselor Emma? It’s only about that she said the same to Will, to whom Emma is now engaged! Why hasn’t this woman been fired several times over?!  And arrested, for that matter. It’s been proven as well by that same episode that she doesn’t have tenure, her lame blackmail on Figgins has been a dead-in-the-water plot since sometime in Season 2 at the latest. Why is a show that has done some ground-breaking and wonderful anti-bullying storylines completely ignoring the biggest bully character in their cast?

Also? The songs are over-autotuned! These kids have talent, let them show it already!

I may finish out this season, but at this point I’m not sure if I’ll bother coming back to it next year. They lost the heart that gave them such promise back in Episode 1. Their cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ was and still is great, and the moment it created in the pilot episode was fantastic. It’ll always take me back. But the show has lost that direction and that core in a shower of ridiculous glitter-bombed extremes.

And that’s my rant, on Glee!

*Comments are now disabled there, and there’s no sense in following it as I don’t post there anymore. So, comment here and follow this blog, if you are inclined towards either.
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10 responses »

  1. To be fair, Glee has *always* had terribly inconsistent character development. All that has been happening from Season 1. It is not and never has been a good show.

    I still watch it from time to time, though, since it has zero competition on Tuesday nights and 8pm is around the time I just want to sit somewhere and watch something stupid while I also read something else.

  2. It was never great at it. But it was at least *less* bad at the time. What could’ve been a stutter-start (my hope at the time) turned into a downward plunge for which there is no end. (sigh)

  3. Katie, Watch SMASH, Yyou’ll love it. Hope the series lives up to the pilot. Clearly Glee didn’t.

  4. The problem Glee has always has is not being able to decide whether it’s campy and fun or an after school special. So, it vacillates between the two which just makes it inconsistent and sometime annoying. Personally I PREFER the campy Glee, so I loved shit like Sue Sylvester marrying herself.

    It’s a show that has had some good moments, and some good characters, but could have been So. Much. Better if, say, Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex) or John Waters had been in charge.

    The creators have said they’re going to start graduating some of the kids after this season, which means it will be a very different show next year. It may not survive, or it will be an opportunity to re-invent itself.

  5. I suppose for me it’s more the contrast of Sue being played for laughs in such campy things as marrying herself, vs. such AWFUL things as shoving students, insulting them, throwing things at them, lighting things no fire, etc, that makes me dislike the camp for her character. I can’t find her funny at this point, which has nothing to do with Jane Lynch and everything to do with how she’s been written.

    They’d better hurry up and make some real storylines with folks like Rory and Sugar if they want people to give a crap about them come next season.

  6. Finn & Rachel getting engaged was the “jump the shark” moment for Glee in my mind (though Jesse St. James is coming back so let’s see how he reacts/laughs). I actually haven’t seen the last couple of episodes. I know I will watch them, but I just don’t care much for the characters anymore. With Sue, I just threw up my hands and gave up at some point in the beginning of season 2, I tune out her bullying because it’s just ridiculous. With Will, all last season was just excruciating to watch. With Quinn – they ruined her character starting with the back nine episodes of season 1 because they pushed her character aside and missed some presumably hilarious moments when Quinn lived at Puck’s house and some touching moments when she lived with Mercedes… there’s some actual drama there. I wonder if they would have paid more attention to Quinn if she “just got an abortion” instead. Instead of focusing on Madonna & Lady Gaga ‘tribute’ episodes, it would’ve been nice for them to focus on actual plot lines (I know, it’s been said before). And Q in seasons 2 & 3… I feel bad for Dianna Agron because the writers have simply given her nothing to work with.

    I could go on but it is gorgeous outside so I won’t. The best part of the show since the pilot episode is the addition of Jeff Goldblum as one of Rachel’s dads. I haven’t actually seen the episode yet, but Jeff Goldblum singing, yay!

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