What Happened to Glee?

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.

Progressive responses to bullying FTW

I read this last week about my hometown: Needham bullies get therapy not detention. (It’s running under the title ‘Alternative responses to bullying’ now.) A quick excerpt:

Under a new antibullying program, Needham Youth Services director Jon Mattleman and his staff use YouTube videos and other unconventional strategies in an attempt to not simply punish aggressors, but to transform them.

In Massachusetts, the suicide of bullied South Hadley teen Phoebe Prince last year spawned first-in-the-nation legislation that requires school districts to develop bullying-prevention plans and set up systems to track and report incidents.

But Needham’s Bullying Intervention Program, designed by Mattleman and his staff over the summer, makes the town among the first to supplement its required school-based prevention program with mandatory counseling for bullies who get caught.

“Most school systems just identify these kids and suspend them, and they think that will be a deterrent,’’ said Mattleman. “Our belief in Needham is different. Yes, we want to send a strong message, but we also want to rehabilitate them.’’

I think this is fantastic, and it makes me proud to hear it’s my hometown that’s pushing the envelope on how we look at bullying and what to do about it. In fact, I think Massachusetts overall has a way of being rather progressive about big issues like this (first state to make gay marriage legal, after all).

I went through some bullying when I was a kid. Mine came almost exclusively in the form of being mocked by my peers, for reasons I still couldn’t tell you, and also some social exclusion. It sucked. I hated a lot of things about 5th grade because of it (Among other things, my personal Mean Girls got my entire class to participate in an April’s Fool joke on me. It might’ve been worse if the joke hadn’t been really lame and very transparent – they had everyone trying to tell me I had something on my face. I didn’t.), and Middle School was a wash in its entirety and I consider it overall to be three years I want back at the end (The high point was in 8th grade, when the people I ate lunch with, every one of them, moved to sit at another table entirely so I couldn’t find them and sit with them. I spent a month or so eating lunch in my homeroom with a few other refugees who were there for their own reasons. It was far less stressful in there.).

(Yes, my parenthetical grammar and punctuation were all over the place there. Deal with it!)

It hurt. I had also somehow gotten into a habit of having best friends who kept moving away after a year, so that made things difficult, too. But as down as I got about it, even when I was upset and crying over it, I never let them make me believe I was worthless. Those times I cried? I hated that I was crying about it, that it mattered enough to me to upset me.

Thankfully, I found friends who were genuine, whom I loved for who they were and who loved me for who I am. And we’re still friends today.

This article, though, has me thinking about those kids who made some of my middle school years miserable. I can understand now that, yes, learning to deal with some of this stuff is part of growing up–not everyone will like you, and you need to find out how to deal with that. You also need to find a way to deal that’s healthy and helpful, that doesn’t involve lashing out at others in return. Like I said, I don’t know why those people decided they wanted to make fun of me. Maybe they don’t even know. But I do think that approaching bullying like this is a significantly better way  than just continuing to dole out punishments that are clearly ineffective. Don’t just tell them it’s wrong–show them why it’s wrong, show them that their words have power, and that power needs to be used for good. Especially in a time when online attacks and cyberbullying are becoming bigger problems, and in those mediums, all we have are our words. Few people do evil things believing they are really evil – Disney villains are the only ones who go around touting themselves as ‘O Mighty Evil One’. Real evil looks much more like you and me.

It’s a sort of minor version of the imprisonment issue. What good is a person being behind bars for any stretch of time if he or she is never rehabilitated? If that person never really comes to understand that (a) what they did is wrong and (b) learns how to stop themselves from doing it again? Because let’s all be honest, how many times have you done something that’s not right, and then later, knowingly, done it again anyways? Just because you know it’s wrong doesn’t mean you won’t do it again. Of course, tossing them in jail is easier than putting all of them through therapy until it finally works. But that doesn’t mean it’s the more effective solution.

Likewise, throwing a kid in detention for bullying is easier than taking the time to show and teach him that what he’s doing is wrong, and making him understand that enough to stop doing it. But is it worth it? I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be. These are kids. It’s our job to raise them to be good people.


(And FTW stands for “For the Win”, in case you’re unaware!)