25 May 2012

‘Glee’-nalysis: ‘Goodbye,’ or Where to Start Listing What Went Wrong Here?

Welcome to a universe in which Kurt Hummel’s talent is unexceptional.
Also, welcome to a universe in which guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury didn’t advise these kids to apply to more than one college.

Season after season, Glee strained credulity when the show asked us to believe that New Directions — a high-school club made up of kids who, in real life, are mostly in their mid- to late-20s and impeccably rehearsed and choreographed professionals — didn’t cream the competition and sweep up every award on the circuit. Having made up for that, just last week, with a victory at the Nationals, Glee took a gigantic step backward into the universe of Whah? Out of nowhere, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) didn’t get into drama school in New York — and we’re expected to believe that.

While it’s true that the road to this outcome was paved early in the season, the creators of Glee seem to believe that we don’t even remember Kurt’s NYADA audition, fearless and (of course) thoroughly professional and (moreover) praised by the judge (Whoopi Goldberg). Adding insult to injury, we got no reaction whatever from Kurt, not even a season-ending cliffhanger line like, “I have a cunning plan!” Santana was given that chance, but not Kurt.

Brothers by marriage, and by rejection from drama school.
Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer as Finn and Kurt.

Yet again, I suspect that the writers’ motivation was mercenary. Presumably the graduating seniors of McKinley High School won’t appear so frequently next season (despite creator Ryan Murphy’s insistence in the press lately that “anyone who wants to stay can stay on the show”), and that includes several of the best — and best-selling — singers in the cast. Clearly the character of Blaine Anderson was youthened, or held back a grade, because of nervousness that song sales would suffer if Darren Criss weren’t around. Colfer is another strong singer and the relationship between Kurt and Blaine has become central to Glee’s ability to generate buzz. So if it takes Kurt the entirety of the fall episodes to make up his mind where to go and what to do, so much the better — in financial terms.

Kurt and Blaine: Banking on Glee’s future.

The point of Kurt’s audition was that real art demands risk. He came to the auditorium intending to sing “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera, and then on a whim performed a less conventional number that suited him better: “Not the Boy Next Door,” from the Peter Allen musical, The Boy from Oz. (Luckily, he just happened to be wearing crotch-hugging gold-lamé pants under his tuxedo trousers.) This experience was supposed to teach us something about art and therefore about life — and so it did, until this week.

The risk of art: what a winning audition looks like.

Rachel, on the other hand, stuck to her tried-and-true, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” but choked. True to her character, she proceeded to hound the judge until she got another chance. (This entailed the highly unlikely willingness of the judge to attend the finals in the glee competition. No matter.)

What a losing audition looks like: Rachel rains on her own parade.

Since the beginning of the season, both Kurt and Rachel have worried what will happen if they don’t get into NYADA, what if their dreams don’t come true, what if they’re just big fish in a very small pond in Lima, Ohio. Kurt has had to cope with a couple of serious disappointments, including the loss of the election for senior-class president and the loss of the leading role in the school production of West Side Story. Now he’s got an even bigger disappointment, and somehow no time could be found to show us how he feels about it.

Free at last to get on with her life: Dianna Agron.

How much more interesting it would have been if Rachel had been rejected! Her character has always been depicted as an unstoppable force of talent and willpower: how would she respond to a setback like this? The ensuing plot would have been interesting — and dramatic — and it need not have overturned the lessons of Kurt’s Peter Allen number.

Finn’s decision to join the army and redeem his father’s legacy made sense to me. It also put an end to the marriage plans, and gave Cory Monteith his most effective acting scene ever.

Already, Rachel’s fears of failure led her into a downright foolish decision to marry Finn, so that at least she’d have him to fall back on, or conversely, so they wouldn’t break up when she moved to New York to become a star. This is not the behavior of a confident young woman. So — again — how interesting it would have been to see her fight her way to New York in spite of the obstacles that the NYADA admissions office put before her!

Mommy Sound Machine: Gloria Estefan as Santana’s mother.

I guess it’s up to Kurt to demonstrate that kind of ingenuity and fight now. He’s been a model of resilience since the show started, always ready to climb out of the dumpster where the bullies threw him, and now he’ll probably do it again — selling records all the while.

Murphy rejected what was, to my way of thinking, by far the most interesting option, when he vetoed a spin-off series in which Rachel, Kurt, and Blaine all moved to New York together. We got a glimpse of the marvelous potential when Rachel and Kurt met for breakfast at Tiffany’s, at the end of last season, and again in this season’s finale, when Rachel walked the streets of New York looking for all the world like Marlo Thomas in That Girl. But she was alone, and the possibilities are more limited now.

“I’m going to miss you!” “I don’t see how that’s possible!”
Quinn and Sue say goodbye.

I did enjoy the teary farewell between Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), as well as the guest appearance by Gloria Estefan as Santana’s mother.* And of course I loved Burt Hummel’s (Mike O’Malley) dance to “Single Ladies,” a graduation present to his son that was at once a beautiful, loving gesture and an absolutely squirm-inducing embarrassment.** Every now and then, it seems the creative team on this show remembers what’s happened before — “Single Ladies” was a callback to Season 1. But for the most part, week in and week out, every scene is just a set-up for a song: credibility, character, plot, and any chance of true and lasting glory are secondary at best.

Unrepresentative: Burt Hummel says goodbye to his re-election chances.**

*NOTE: Too bad that Jennifer Holliday was busy on American Idol that night and therefore unavailable to play Mercedes’ mother; we’re left to believe Mercedes has got no parents but rose full-grown from the sea, or something.

**Now that Burt Hummel is a U.S. Congressman, why wasn’t he worried that somebody with a video recorder would post his little dance on YouTube? Clearly, the guy does not have a political adviser or any staff at all. He’s the guy who hired Will Schuester to be his campaign manager, but you’d think by now somebody would try to look after him a little better.


gman said...

Perhaps it became too taxing to make this show believable, or perhaps the pressure to keep the ratings up caused the writers to become more dramatic and consequently, absurd. I would have given up on the show sooner if I hadn’t discovered Auto Hop on my PrimeTime Anytime recordings from my Hopper DVR. The four major networks automatically record on my DVR, and I realized I could watch a program in 40 minutes with Auto Hop, all with only one button press, at the beginning of the show. That (might) be why I watch the first episode next season, but don’t hold your breath.

William V. Madison said...

Thanks for the feedback -- although I do feel a bit as though we've just given your DVR service a generous product endorsement!