Wednesday, 28 July 2010

TV REVIEW: Glee Season 1

Spot the missing minority.

Any regular reader will know I'm not above small-mindedness, so when I say I marathoned 22 episodes of Glee for the expressed intention of ripping it to shit, you know I'm telling the truth. True, this may not be the most inspiring act of critical integrity, but neither is giving this show 19 Emmy nominations. In fact in comparison to that, an article driven from ignorant, petty revenge ( In a year where Community, which for me is the best new comedy in some time got exactly jackshit) is an act of the highest moral standing. I've seen Ryan Murphy shows before, so I had all my pre-conceptions ready to go. Murphy is a kind of rarity for me, in that I think he's a great, cutting writer, whose work I almost unanimously despise. He's got a great ear for dialogue and a leaning toward dark comedy I enjoy, but his talent is always suffocated in glutenous excess. With Nip/Tuck, excess was very much the watchword and restraint was very much a dirty word. Of course this was very popular at the start, until you realized you were watching soulless camp caricatures doing increasingly ridiculous things in an increasingly ridiculous universe and you bail.

Glee, amazingly enough for fans of the show, is actually a toning down for Murphy and for me probably the best thing he's ever done, in that it's OK. He goes too far on fewer occasions then in the past and I think attempts sort of to write legitimate characters. Its kind of composite melding of its obvious influence High School Musical and its less obvious influence Election. But its borrows from that movie quite liberally, from its frequent use of slightly satirical voice-over montage sequences to even its characters. Rachel Berry is pretty much Tracey Flick with a singing voice, and a tad less venom, and the actor who plays Finn ( Cory Monteith, I'm told by IMDB) is pretty much a dead ringer for Chris Klein in that movie, both in their creepily similar visual appearance and identical characters. Depending on which one of these influences its currently being tapped is how much I like the show really, and I deeply prefer it when its trying to be funny then when it indulges in its high school soap opera.

Something about its fundamental ideology kind of ticked me off a bit though. In the pilot there's a lot of talk about acceptance, and allowing people to be who they are and that kind of thing. But this seems to be a glee club only policy in regards to the show, because its seems that otherwise it seems to enjoy laughing at its freaks. From Jacob, the nerd it runs out every couple of weeks to remind us that nerds are ridiculous and laughing at them is OK. To football coach Ken, whose entire storyline in pretty much an exercise in meanness, I know I was supposed to root for Mr Schuester and the cute ginger lady who so adorably mispronounces her L's, but all I could think about was poor Ken, particularly when ginger lady details exactly how loveless and empty their relationship will be to the guy and while in a different context this might have been an awesome scene of black comedy, in a show like Glee, which wants us so desperately to fall in love with it, it just felt out of place and plain vindictive. As if to say a certain kind of outcast deserves unlimited tolerance but another deserved to be chastised. Glee isn't a plea for acceptance then, but a repeal that The Glee clubbers are solitary diamonds in the rough and should be treated as such, and that every other demographic on the show is laughed at or mocked in someway. Particularly people who enjoyed sports.

Still, its easy to ignore sub-textual spitefulness when you get choreographed cover versions of 'Bust a Move' and 'Dream On' all about the place. It's a hard show not to enjoy at times, with the music making a little bit of an effort to be varied, sure show-tunes and Diva anthems are more present then say Metallica, because the show knows its audience and shockingly enough is quite gay. But everyone can sing and when you get the occasional wild-card like a song by The Doors or by Beck, you appreciate it a little more. The performances are a mixed bag really, Matthew Morrison's Schuester is functional at best, dude can sing but his acting and character are one-note and may be known in years to come as the silliest Emmy Nomination of 2010. Lea Michele I think gives a good performance as Rachel and is probably the shows best voice, it may not be terribly naturalistic but it is amusing. But I think like many viewers, my favorite characters are the supporting ones, perhaps because they remain untainted by the shows painfully melodramatic moments of 'sincerity'. Puck comes off quite well, and his 'find a hot Jew' montage is one of the funniest moments the show's had. Ditto moronic cheerleader Brittany, who is an extra for the first ten episodes or so and then quickly became my favorite thing about the show, delivering her lines kind of like a stoned 12 year old girl, only more awesome. Obviously Jane Lynch enjoys herself as Sue Sylvester, but I can feel her acting a bit too much sometimes. She's funny but not as funny as the show thinks she is.

The soapier stuff does suck the life out of the show though, and its still very excessive, sometimes to the point of offense, most notably when they bring teenager paralyzed from the neck down after a football accident to hit home an emotional moment. That was a flashback to Murphy shows of yore that leaves you wanting to throw stuff at the screen, so cheaply crass and manipulative is what's going on in front of you.

Like I said I enjoyed Glee when it tried to be funny, Murphy and crew throw out some surprisingly articulate one-liners and I like Election so much that when something rips it off I like that thing too, but Murphy simply can't write smart drama without going too far with the emotional grandstanding, which means every episode ends in a big, often unearned moment of soul-baring, and these mean nothing when you do them every week. An unless that problem is solved, Glee doesn't have the longest shelf life in the world. To be fair I came in hoping to annihilate it, and as much as I still want to because pettiness disquiets my soul, I'm not going to do that. Glee is an OK show. Does it deserve more nominations then Mad Men and Breaking Bad, no. Not even close to being a question a normal person would consider. But its not High School Musical either, so there's that. Hell I'll probably even keep watching. Tentatively.

Rating: 6/10


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Well at least you didn't hate it.

Take away the four acting nods (which I think it deserves) and leave the 14 other (mostly technical) nods and Glee deserves them all. This sure has it's issues, but I love it and it has no more issues than all the other comedies that get free rides because so many people aren't watching them. Glee's obviously going to be under scrutiny because it seems to be the "big thing" at the moment, and because it's combining two genres (one which seems a tad odd for primetime TV). But I think it holds up well.

I've actually had it on my mind for the past week, and though I understand your complaints; I think they're just as mean to the Glee clubbers (or what ever you call them). Hell, they're mean to everybody (except, probably Artie - and that would probably be low) - that's kind of the point, I think at times: ridiculous, silly, humour. But then, they're always ready to step back and be nice to the same characters (the football coach gets his "good moments").

I think I'll leave it there (I feel a full blown post coming on; and I must be the only person who thinks Morrison is great in his role)...but I'm also one of the people who doesn't love Mad Men.

PS. Good call on that Puck montage though. Salling is offensively underused, easily one of the top three of the Glee kids, acting wise.

Louis Baxter said...

These are some interesting points, and like I said I enjoyed the show and have no issues with its popularity. But for it to beat things like Community or Parks and Rec to the kind of acclaim it has done is to be unfairly kind.

Its kind of like if Spartacus had beaten out the drama category. Now I like Spartacus, just as I liked Glee, but to say its a more dramatically successful show then certain AMC shows is for me at least not rewarding the right things. And I feel that kind of happened here. Its not the show's fault of course but for me better shows had to bow out to allow Glee the accolades it receives. For example, I don't see how Chris Colfer gave a better performance then Nick Offerman did on Parks and Rec.

Plus I think Breaking Bad is better then Mad Men, if that helps any.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Damn it, you're preaching to the choir here on Parks & Rec. I'd give up nominations for Glee and so many other shows I love for Parks and Rec to get a comedy nod along with Offerman - just brilliant. The odd duckling in that oddly strong supporting actor lineup though is Cryer. Though I don't think Colfer is necessarily one of the best actors on the show he gets good material to work with,

(I really need to see Breaking Bad, not living in the US or thereabouts does suck at times).