23 February 2012

‘Glee’-nalysis: Quinn Fabray Must Die

Dianna Agron as Quinn Fabray

Glee has completed its winter season with a bang that promises to resolve at least one of the most significant dilemmas the show has faced: at least since the end of Season 1, the writers haven’t had a clue what to do with Quinn Fabray (the gorgeous Dianna Agron). Short of admitting that the girl has some sort of multiple-personality syndrome — which at this point is, really, the only way to account plausibly for her erratic behavior — then killing her off is surely the best thing for the character, for the show, and for the gifted young actress herself, who’s destined, I hope, for better things than, as Sue Sylvester put it this week, “singing ‘oohs’ and backup ‘ahs’” at McKinley High School.

The way has been prepared for Quinn’s demise, along with a Very Important Message in an episode that was heavy laden with ’em. On the chance that you haven’t watched yet, I won’t spell out the details — it’s a doozy of a scene, actually — but I will observe that Quinn effectively said goodbye to the entire gang, most notably to Sue, who will have the satisfaction of having said all the right things in their last conversation. There are no loose threads in the crazy quilt of her story.

How can a show that gets some things so right
be so inept about almost everything else?

Moreover, Quinn’s loss would mean that New Directions had something very real to cope with, all the way to Nationals. Not just Mr. Schuester’s arbitrary weekly themes, but genuine grief for a girl about whom most of the kids had pretty complicated feelings. (Complicated not least because the others can’t ever have known which Quinn was going to turn up: Evil Scheming Quinn, Devout Quinn, Punk Quinn, Honor Student Quinn, Quinn Who Thinks She’ll Never Leave Ohio, ad infinitum.)

Hello, my name is Batshit Crazy Quinn.

Unfortunately, the writers can’t knock off every single character who stymies them. Will Schuester himself, for example, is still in principle the central character in the show, so they can’t kill him — and yet it’s telling that the writers have no idea what to do with him, either.

How to kvell: At long last, Rachel’s gay dads turn out to be
Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell, here listening
to their little girl and her big voice.

Even Will’s relationship with Emma (Jayma Mays, whom I love) posed a challenge to the writers, once they realized that her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which they’d treated as a joke for two seasons, is in fact a serious condition that observes certain rules, shall we say, that they couldn’t ignore any longer. So what to do with Will? “Hey! Let’s make him the campaign manager for Mr. Hummel’s congressional campaign!” Lotta mileage that one provided.

Weirdest Coming-Out Story Ever:
Inadvertently outed by Finn, Santana (Naya Rivera, right)
was targeted by a politician who clearly never heard of libel laws. With Heather Morris as girlfriend Brittany.

At least Sue’s pregnancy and her newfound goodwill, whether hormone-induced or not, is off to a promising start. Then again, her congressional campaign was promising, too, before it turned into yet another — and therefore tedious — way to lash out at the glee club. So who knows whether impending motherhood will make any significant difference in Sue’s character?

The Story Line to Nowhere.
Jane Lynch as Sue.

The fall and winter episodes have been enlightening. It’s now clear, for example, that there are certain things for which the creative team has a gift, and other things they simply don’t know or don’t care how to do. They write sensitive, sometimes wise material about gay guys, but the magic touch begins to falter when it comes to gay girls, and beyond the casting department, they’re hopeless on race. The soap-operatic quality of a serialized comedy–drama about angsty teens is pretty much a given — but even so, their plots manage to strain the viewers’ generous credulity.

Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Corey Monteith) proudly announce
their ludicrous engagement.
Even by soap-opera standards….

It’s also clear that they’ve got attention deficit disorder. Sugar Motta? At the beginning of this season, she sang so badly that Mr. Schue broke his longstanding open-door policy and refused to let her join New Directions. When her own glee club broke up, suddenly Sugar traipses into Mr. Schue’s classroom and joins the gang, without as much as a mention of her tin ear. She’s a mildly amusing character, and I like the look of Vanessa Lengies, the actress who plays her.

Sugar (Vanessa Lengies) shows Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison)
how not to suck all the life out of a room.

We may yet see some interesting conflict between spoiled rich girl Sugar and the penurious Sam (Chord Overstreet), but I wouldn’t bet on it. Sam’s family’s financial situation — the most interesting thing about him — is mostly forgotten now. Mom and Dad are off being poor in Kentucky, but Sam’s in Ohio, so everything is cool, right?

Chord Overstreet: They’re still trying to make
a Czech porn star out of him.

At least the show is giving him something to do occasionally, and that in turn has meant more spotlight for the sensational Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes, long one of the best indicators that the writers never had quite enough ideas at any given moment. She finally got a boyfriend, and he’s played by an actor who appears old enough to be her father’s older brother, but because she and Sam held hands once, suddenly she’s all conflicted and — well, whatever. Somehow Riley plays these scenes with astonishing conviction, and then she opens her mouth to sing, and you think, “She’s got a great career ahead of her, and some day none of this will matter.”

“I Will Always Love You”: Amber Riley as Mercedes.
The scene was produced before Whitney Houston’s death.

Part of the trouble, of course, is that there are so many characters on the show, and they keep adding new ones. The Irish kid! The Christian with the dreadlocks! Evil Sebastian Warbler! How do you find time for them all? When Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.) got a story arc, in the fall, it was practically delivered in shorthand. Dad doesn’t approve of your dancing! Dance anyway! Even spread over a few episodes, the whole story was told in a matter of seconds.

Asian F: Keong Sim as Mike Chang’s disapproving father,
with Harry Shum, Jr., as Mike.

Glee keeps bringing minor characters back, too, notably including Karofsky (Max Adler), the closeted homophobic bully who was the focus of so much attention in this week’s episode. I’ve had reservations about this character from the start, and this week’s step-by-step instructional video, How to Commit Suicide the David Karofsky Way, didn’t help, despite the good intentions.

Karofsky (Max Adler) returned for Valentine’s,
primarily so that we could (almost) lose him this week.

You may not have noticed this — in fact, the gay entertainment website AfterElton.com didn’t — but this week’s episode was a pitch for the Trevor Project, a terrific outfit that’s trying to stop gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens from killing themselves. In addition to a public-service announcement from Daniel Radcliffe, who is exactly the right person to deliver this message to the right audience, the show featured Sebastian and the Warblers taking donations for the group. But Sebastian’s announcement was so rushed, and moreover surrounded by the hubbub of the Regional Competition, that it was easy to miss.

The Couple Most Likely:
Sebastian (Grant Gustin) & Blaine (Darren Criss).
Actually, I wouldn't mind losing a little of the exemplary, even pious behavior from the Blaine–Kurt affair.

So now Karofsky and Kurt are going to be friends, which is of course exactly where we left things last fall, before somebody decided to bring him back and teach us all a Very Important Lesson. And viewers like me are back to worrying that Glee will try yet again to force Kurt to date the boy who once threatened to kill him — which may entail sending Blaine off to sleep with Sebastian. Which, clearly, the producers intend to happen. And it will probably feature a Very Important Message about trust and fidelity.

The friendship between Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rachel remains credible and satisfying.

Ultimately Glee is a show about acceptance: being accepted by others, accepting yourself for who you are, and (especially this season) accepting your own limitations. It’s at its best when it shows how people react when they learn they’re not getting the lead in the school play, not earning the football scholarship or the Broadway contract, not winning the student election or receiving the acceptance letter from drama school.

The cast rose to the occasion for the West Side Story episodes, featuring some of the show’s all-time best musical numbers. Here, our Maria and Tony, Rachel and Blaine.

What I’m trying to accept is simply this: Glee isn’t going to get any better. In fact, given the nature of American television shows, which decline in quality after a few years, it’s probably going to get worse.

We may yet see new episodes as good as the fall episode about sex and love, and we’ll probably see clever misfires like the Christmas episode, too. But week to week and scene to scene, Glee is what it is: hit and miss, and mostly miss.

Accept it.

“Love Shack” got it right.

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