25 April 2012

‘Glee’-nalysis: Senior Moments and Junior Blaine

Darren Criss as Blaine Anderson,
backed up by the New Directions kids.

Much of last night’s episode of Glee was devoted to the impending graduation of several of the series regulars, and the various ways they’re saying goodbye to each other and to those they’ll leave behind. While this sort of thing can get old very fast — and knowing this show, it probably will — it did produce a couple of good scenes last night. I note particularly the conversation between graduating Kurt (Chris Colfer) and his father (Mike O’Malley), characters who have inspired the series’ writers to come up with terrific material time and again. Really, the Kurt-and-Burt relationship provides the series with its only consistently strong scenes, episode to episode. I don’t think they’ve ever taken a single misstep.

Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), now a U.S. Congressman,
bonds with Kurt.

Graduation has meant some curious, seemingly arbitrary decisions as to who is and is not a senior. In what seems to be an accident, Brittany (Heather Morris), who won the office of Senior Class President earlier this season, has for the past couple of episodes given every indication that she’ll remain in Lima, possibly at McKinley High, while her girlfriend, Santana (Naya Rivera), moves on. The scriptwriters haven’t said this outright, but for example when Brittany and Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) announce that Santana has been admitted to the University of Louisville, they missed the perfect opportunity for Brittany to chime in, “And I’ll be going there, too!” Maybe this sin of omission will be corrected later, or maybe I’m a fool to look in Glee for consistency of even the simplest kind.

Love Shack, Baby: Valentine’s 2012.

Very different considerations seem to motivate the writers’ approach to Blaine (Darren Criss). When we were introduced to him, he was a junior at Dalton Academy. He transferred to McKinley, but suddenly he’s a junior, bracing himself to stay behind while his boyfriend, Kurt, goes to acting school in New York City.

What’s at work here is the result of financial fear, plain and simple. Glee is graduating two of its strongest singers — Lea Michele and Chris Colfer — one of whom also plays the show’s most important character, the one who has really set Glee apart from anything else on television and permitted the show to make important statements to a broad audience.

Kurt (with his trusty Margaret Thatcher dog visible in the corner) cheers up Blaine, who can’t handle the painful stress of being Matt Bomer’s kid brother.

Let’s put it this way: last night’s authentically thrilling “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” a celebration of the lesbian fabulousness of Brittany and Santana complete with an all-girl cheerleader dancing chorus, might never have happened if the Kurt Hummel saga hadn’t elicited such a powerful response from the audience.

Glee isn’t just a television show: it’s also a touring stage production, a theatrical-movie company (with only one film made but the contractual possibility for two more), and, above all, a record label. While the character of Rachel Berry and Michele herself divide opinion, there’s no question that Michele is a phenomenally gifted singer, and she helped to keep song sales strong during the early stages of Glee.

Santana (Naya Rivera) and Rachel (Lea Michele), friends at last.
Only lately does it seem that the producers realized how well Rivera sings — but Santana is graduating, too, so adiós to that line of revenue.

Darren Criss proved how much further the song sales could go: his “Teenage Dream” broke all kinds of records, and virtually guaranteed that the character of Blaine Anderson would survive the four-episode arc originally planned for him. I maintain that it was as much the financial question as any narrative or audience imperative that drove the show’s creators to choose Blaine — instead of Sam (Chord Overstreet) or Karofsky (Max Adler), each of whom was hinted at as a potential swain — to be Kurt’s boyfriend.

Keeping Blaine around for an extra season is just a little insurance that the Glee record sales won’t tank next year. The sacrifice of continuity is insignificant when millions of iTunes downloads are at stake.

Blaine casts his spell — once or twice an episode, actually.

It feels a little weird as an audience to be manipulated for such crass commercial cause, but on the other hand, television in the United States is virtually nothing but a commercial, popular medium, one that strives to give the buying public what it wants. Most shows try only to anticipate what they suppose an audience will want, but Glee has proved a remarkable ability to respond to what the audience demonstrates that it does want. Moreover, very few if any shows have ever been swifter or more nimble about this.

The elevation of Brittany, Santana, and Mike Chang to star status is one example. The elevation of Blaine to superstar status is another. I guess we should be grateful for what we can get, and forget about the monetary motivations behind the generous gestures.

Couples counseling in Emma’s office: Will Blaine be quite so compelling once Kurt has left McKinley?
Imagine, for example, the vituperative pandemonium that will ensue
if Blaine ever dares to date anyone other than Kurt.

Random Observation: Brittany had several of her patented clueless lines last night. My favorite was her assessment of Joe, the Christian boy with the Disney’s-Tarzan dreadlocks (played by Samuel Larsen): “Joe’s really pretty, but I hear she doesn’t shave her armpits.” Also awfully good: “Quinn, in my dreams you’re still dancing. And you can fly. And breathe fire.”


Lincoln Madison said...

There are lots of other plot possibilities raised by having Blaine stay in high school: Kurt comes home for a visit, Blaine goes off to New York for a visit, Kurt and Blaine make a collaborative YouTube video — all kinds of excuses to keep Chris Colfer in the mix, at least for a few guest-star appearances....

William V. Madison said...

True enough, but it ain't the same as once a week. And in terms of bench strength, the producers have got to be worried, no matter what bright young things emerge from the next season of Glee Project. (With the exception of Unique, of whom we've seen almost nothing, I didn't find last summer's discoveries to come anywhere near the star quality that most of the regular cast wield so adroitly.)

Clearly, they're banking on Darren Criss for the show's (and the song sales') long-term prosperity. Look also at the Matt Bomer episode, in which Criss got two duets and a solo.