Glee Season One Wrap-Up
It has sincere, sweet, believable characters, real conflicts, the highest highs on TV, and the most touching dramas. The music is frequently fabulous, and even when numbers don’t quite work, I still love them, but then I’m one of those people who think life is a musical and everything is enhanced by a little song and dance. I even like Will’s rapping, especially on “Gold Digger.” Yeah, I know. I even think Finn’s dancing is just fine. What can I say? He had me at “I can’t fight this feeling any longer.”
If all that weren’t enough, Glee is stuffed with more gifts for a theater/musical geek than one of Terry’s Pottery Barn Christmas advent calendars—appearances by Neal Patrick Harris, Victor Garber, Idina Menzel, Kristen Chenoweth… who’s next, Christian Borle? (Yes, please!)
So is this all a mash note?
I wish. Unfortunately, Glee has some real problems. If a fanatic Gleek like me can get annoyed, you know there are issues. But hey, I’m a woman, a person of color, and someone who just likes my characters and plots to make sense, so yes, I have some beefs. Not many. Just four:
1.) The Woman Problem – everyone has mentioned this so I’m just singing with the choir here. It’s not just that Terry is a materialistic, black-hearted harridan with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, it’s that we like Will and root for him (well, except when he’s giving one of those annoying lectures about lessons the kids should learn). So what does it mean about him that he’s been with someone like Terry all these years?
What about Emma? She’s adorable, she’s sweet, she apparently gets all her outfits from the Crayola Division of Anthropologie and when she’s not twitching she occasionally dishes out hard little nuggets of actual good counsel. But I’ll be really glad when that therapy that Will lined up for her banishes her supposedly cute OCD for good. The Tupperware lunches can stay, but the 30-year-old virgin bit?? And the fact that the OCD all arose from a childhood accident with cow runoff? A classic Glee example of a lame joke attempt that fails the character. Can none of the women be confident, admirable, sexual, even powerful?
Oh wait, I just described Sue Sylvester, didn’t I? Candace Bergen’s Murphy Brown was the last female character I can remember of this age who was allowed to say whatever the hell she wanted, be successful, strong, sexy and still be lovable. We love to hate Sue and we love that we know more of her heart than Will does. Sue (and Jane Lynch’s genius portrayal) almost singlehandedly compensates for the mess that is the other female characters. Almost.
Quinn was so much fun when she was mean and a bitch. Sullen and sad and pregnant, she was a drag. Sorry, it’s true. The friendship between her and Mercedes, however, could be promising. I’m hoping for that to go somewhere.
Tina… ugh. More on her in point #2. I did like her turn on “True Colors.”
Like everyone else I find Brittany hilarious, and am looking forward to her expanded role next season. Also, I was impressed by Santana’s singing in the finale.
And finally: Rachel. For god’s sake she is a lead character in this show! So why were the major plot lines about her finding her birth mother and her relationship with Jesse completely dropped? I am apoplectic about this, but not as much as I will be if we don’t see her dads soon. Are they just put in as a joke? Will they never materialize? Because that’s a problem for me. At the least they should have been front and center in the audience for Regionals, with signs and bouquets for their darling. The big vacuum that is Rachel’s family life, especially in light of her search for her mother, is really weird and possibly worse than that. Don’t ask, don’t tell, indeed.
2.) Minority Report – Dude, I went to high school a looong time ago, and even then minorities weren’t as disenfranchised as much as they are on this show. The crazy thing is that I’ve even seen praise for Glee’s multicultural casting, and it’s true that on TV there are plenty of shows apparently set in that lily white studio that Woody Allen uses for his movies. So yeah, there are people of color on Glee. That’s a start. But the black girl is fat and the Asian girl stuttered and is Goth and that Other Black and Other Asian guy barely talk.
I’m not talking just the number of lines, I’m asking why do the kids of color all have to be other? Why couldn’t the black girl have been the head cheerleader and the Asian girl be the one who gets Finn (um yeah)? Better yet, why couldn’t Other Asian or Other Black have been a lead against Rachel or Quinn? Because you know what? In plenty of schools across our wonderful country, that’s how it is. But the TV land of white male middle-aged producers and writers unwittingly reverts back to the racial marginalization of the 1980s, back to the identity landscape they remember.
When Tina fake-cried at Mr. Schu’s house in the finale and confessed that before Glee Club she’d had only two Facebook friends—her parents—I wanted to hit someone. Asians being unpopular dweebs by simple virtue of their race is sooo 1980. Get over it.
And yes, I know that Mike Chang is a great dancer and Santana is the exception to all the above and at least Goth Girl and Crunker aren’t Math Whiz or Lab Nerd and Mercedes’ dad is a dentist. I’m not asking for tokenism or political correctness. I’m just saying don’t reinforce outdated stereotypes. Look around at the way kids of all races mingle these days. There are also a ton more mixed race kids than there were. It’s a rainbow world out there. Shake it up a little and reflect that in your show.
3.) Character Building. Lots of people have complained about uneven tone all season long but I think any tone problem is primarily a problem of characterization. When Kurt comes out to his dad, in the middle of one of the most affecting scenes of the season, his father replies that he already knew, that he’d known Kurt was gay “since you were 3 years old and all you wanted for Christmas was a pair of sensible heels.” That line, though it’s a hilarious, is played straight and doesn’t for a moment break our emotional involvement. The two tones work brilliantly together. Why? Because by that point we knew and loved them both and were invested in their relationship.
By contrast, many of the things Terry rides Will about are so over the top they would be nearly funny, if it weren’t for the fact that we hate Terry and that everything she says hurts Will so clearly.
For me, Finn is the moral center of Glee, and not just because I’m harboring a mad crush on Cory Monteith. Finn loves his mother, is a loyal and true friend, struggles with the costs of popularity, is looking for a father figure, worries about his future, and lights up with joy any time he gets to sing. He is a fully realized, wonderful character. Puck, also, is developing as a character. Mark Salling has excelled at conveying the real pathos of the bad boy.
Meanwhile, we’re to believe that Rachel is rejected by the birth mother she’s yearned for and by the end of the episode is completely okay with that rejection. Rachel isn’t okay when someone leaves a mean comment on her MySpace page. How could she possibly be okay when her own mother essentially tells her she doesn’t want her in her life? And then adopts Quinn and Puck’s baby girl? WTF.
4.) Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Much has been written about the wildly varying tones and approaches (themes, after-school special, melodrama) being attributable to multiple writers, and my question is: where is the story editor? Plots are being dropped, characters neglected, and there is a distinct lack of the kind of through lines that knit a show together (For instance, in the season finale, would it have been so very hard to give us a split second shot of Finn’s mom and Kurt’s dad watching in the audience? That would have rounded off those story lines so nicely.)
Instead of continuity and larger emotional arcs the writers seem obsessed with the theme of the week, which is also sometimes the lesson of the week. For instance, did you know that bullying is bad? Also, it sucks to be in a wheelchair.
Okay, I’ve cranked enough. I only say all this because I love Glee so much. Remember the beginning of the pilot episode? Will stops at the case that holds the trophy from the year his Glee Club won Nationals. The plaque next to it commemorates the woman who coached GC for four decades, and below the hilarious photo of her 1950s bouffant, the quote: By its very definition, glee is about opening yourself up to joy.
Glee has given us so much joy, and it has opened us up. There was nothing on TV like Glee, and how absolutely thrilling that we will have it for at least two more seasons.
As Will continues down the hall in that opening scene, Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” plays in his head: “You’re a shining star, no matter who you are.” Glee had me from that moment on.
Shine on, Glee. See you in the fall.
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Yeah. I know this wasn’t brief.