21 September 2011

‘Glee’-nalysis: ADH ‘Glee’ Disorder

Not pepperoni.

Glee has returned for a third season, and on the strength (a word I use dubiously) of its premiere, I fear that my erstwhile optimism for the show will not survive for long. As you may recall, the concluding episodes of last season led me to believe that Glee’s writers had at last figured out what made the show so special. But very little of that specialness was in evidence last night.

I’m not talking about implausibility. Is it reasonable to think that New Directions would somehow be less popular at school, just because they lost the competition in New York? Would Mr. Shuester really think that purple pianos were a likely way to recruit new members? Would Rachel (Lea Michele) tearfully accept that Juilliard has no musical-theater program instead of shouting, “Who cares? Patti LuPone went there, bee-yotch!” And finally — a food fight? Really? No, no, no, and no — but these are the sorts of lapses in credibility that Glee delivers all the time, and we’re used to them.

Can’t stop the beat, at least until graduation.

Part of the trouble was a kind of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, as the episode skipped all over the map, trying to cover as much territory as possible in the shortest amount of time. Since the specter of graduation has loomed large in fans’ minds all summer, we quickly dealt with the question of who and who is not a senior. Prepare to say goodbye to Rachel, Kurt, Finn, Quinn, Santana, and … Mike Chang?

My guess is that we’re paving the way for Mike Chang’s departure, in order to build tension: will Tina and Artie get back together? This was a set-up — like a great deal else in this episode.

Quick-change artist: A Warbler no more.

Meanwhile, Blaine’s decision to transfer to McKinley High flew by. In the real world, his parents would say, “Boys, boys, I know you want to be together, but you’re 17.” Or else they might say, “Great, Blaine, public school is a great idea, because there’s a depression on, and we don’t want to pay Dalton tuition anymore.” Indeed, there’s all sorts of drama and interest that might arise out of such an important decision — but we’ll never know, because the show treated the transfer as lightly as the exchange of Blaine’s Warbler jacket for street clothes. (Provided that street is in Greenwich Village in 1987.)

Why couldn’t Glee stretch out Blaine’s decision for at least a couple of episodes? Because the show needs him at McKinley — and because legions of screaming Darren Criss fans will not be denied.

It’s not unusual … but it’s profitable.

The show tried to pick up loose ends left dangling last spring. Mercedes (Amber Riley) has a new boyfriend, but — surprise — it’s not Trouty Sam (Chord Overstreet, whose abs are pursuing other projects now).** The creators all but stepped in front of the camera to promise that Mercedes would have more to do this season: I’ll believe it when I see it. (But I’ll be grateful when I do.)

But the hyperactivity was evident in other ways, too. Look at the camerawork and editing of the “We Got the Beat” number in the cafeteria. The choreography featured the show’s best dancers: Heather Morris (Brittany), Harry Shum, Jr. (Mike Chang), and Naya Rivera (Santana). But just try keeping an eye on them. The whole number was chopped into a hash. You couldn’t see what anybody was doing.

Granted, it’s been years since we left behind the Fred Astaire philosophy: his dance numbers had to be shot so that his full body could be seen, the taps had to be natural sound (not dubbed later), audiences had to be given an authentic understanding of the choreography. And granted, too, I may be an old fogey. But I couldn’t tell what was going on.*

A certain amount of jumping around may be expected, but the greatest disappointment for this viewer was how little the writers seem to have learned over the years — and how little they seem to have contemplated over the summer. So many of the plot points being set up were tired retreads of old paths, or made limited sense, or both.

Yeah, right. Skanky Quinn.
That’s her ironic tattoo of Ryan Seacrest in the inset.

So Mr. Shue has yet again gotten involved with a neurotic woman and isn’t getting laid. We did this in Season 1, and even though the woman now is Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays, whom I cherish), I was bored.

So Quinn has decided to be a bad girl — a “Skank” — even though we have already met her parents and we know there is no way on earth they would let her leave the house looking like that. I don’t mind letting Quinn be a vehicle for the psychological reality that high-school kids try on and trade identities like clothes at the mall, and Dianna Agron looked lovely in her skanky drag. But Dianna Agron would look lovely in a gorilla suit, and this plot line makes no sense.

So Santana is yet again a double agent, sabotaging New Directions for the Cheerios. In this case, the producers seemed so fearful that we’d remember she did this in Season 1, they set up the plot and resolved it in a matter of seconds. Which is a pity, because Santana has changed a lot since Season 1, and it might have been interesting to see her conflicted loyalties and fear of exposure over an extended period.

That said, Santana may yet demand vengeance.

Worst of all was Sue Sylvester’s entry into politics. This plot development was hinted at last season, and I welcomed it. Unfortunately, Glee is treating it the way they’ve treated everything to do with Sue lately: as unrealistically as possible.

Thus Sue is able to keep her job as a local-TV commentator. In reality, she’d have to quit or take time off during the campaign — that’s the law — but the script required her to seize a TV platform to launch her anti-art campaign, and the writers didn’t realize that she could have done this in a live studio interview in the TV studio.

Sue doesn’t have a campaign manager. She has Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter), which would make me less uneasy if we hadn’t seen last season’s Christmas episode, in which Sue played the Grinch and Becky played the dog: henceforward, there will come a point at which Becky’s cheery devotion looks like unseemly subservience to lurid exploitation, and despite one good line (“Oh, Becky, your twisted genius excites me”), we passed that point last night.

Worst of worst of all — Sue’s political campaign turns out not to be a new direction but yet another attempt to undermine New Directions.

We’ve been there, done that. And as a result, I can predict Sue’s Season 3 character development for you right now. She will continue to behave like a cartoon villain until April, when she has a miraculous epiphany, possibly tied to the death of someone close to her, and decides to reconcile yet again with Will Shuester. Exactly the way she did in Season 1. Exactly the way she did in Season 2.

Becky Jackson, your days are numbered.

The lack of imagination demonstrated in the Sue plot — the failure to recognize (or ability to resist) the comic possibilities of treating her political campaign with seriousness and greater realism (because how could you outdo the real-life politicians in America now?) — is perhaps the most discouraging development in this show since Terri Shuester faked her pregnancy. The people who make this show simply don’t understand how terrific it could be.

Nevertheless, we got a little glimpse of terrific last night. It came after a dispiriting “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” from Rachel and Kurt, with which they intended to wow some musical-theater kids from other local schools. Despite the fact that the number was mediocre, the audience was obliged to watch the whole thing play out. My mind wandered. Do the producers think this number is good? I asked. Am I supposed to think it’s good? Why is Lea Michele singing like that? And where did Kurt get those boots?

That number turned out to be a set-up. When we finally met those other kids, they performed a mash-up of “Anything Goes” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” that was actually quite good, featuring a contestant from this summer’s Glee Project. More important were the reactions of Rachel and Kurt during the number,*** and their interplay in the scene that followed.

Alternate universe: Rachel and Kurt get their comeuppance.

As I’ve said, this relationship has developed plausibly and gratifyingly over time: it’s what really would happen, but it wasn’t forced on us by the writers (even if it was really just an attempt to salvage audience sympathy for Rachel), and we derive satisfaction from watching it come to fruition. We get mini-payoffs every time the characters are allowed to interact in new situations.

And the scene worked because it was given time and focus to work — it surmounted the show’s ADHD — something you can’t say about anything else that happened in last night’s episode.

If indeed Rachel and Kurt graduate to a new show about their adventures in New York, I’m certain to watch. I wish I were still so optimistic about Glee.

*NOTE: The choreography in the “Anything Goes”/”Anything You Can Do” mash-up was more respectfully handled, which at least demonstrates that the people who produce this show know how to do it right — even if they don’t necessarily choose to. Could the superior handling of this number have something to do with the fact that it was performed by guest stars, who had less to rehearse in the episode and therefore may have had more opportunity to master the moves?

** At least Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) got to make her exit on camera, a courtesy not extended to Sam (or to Chord Overstreet, for that matter). Hey, it’s an extra paycheck, even if it’s not co-star salary.

***With her contrasting, perfectly calibrated reaction shots to Sugar Motta’s “Big Spender” (both before and after) and to the “Anything” number, Lea Michele proved again that she’s a terrific comic actress.


Anonymous said...

Glee Miketana wold be an amazing couple x

William V. Madison said...

I'd never thought about it, but yes, those two could certainly boost the show's hotness factor!