A second look at FOX’s ‘Glee’

09.09.09 8 years ago


It’s going to be hard to maintain, but I like the idea of having a 2:1 ratio of reviews of “Glee” to actual episodes of “Glee” aired on FOX. 

I’ve already read several articles from legitimate papers raving at FOX’s atypical “Glee” roll-out, gushing about how the network’s strategy of one month of relentless hype, followed by a one-off pilot airing post-“American Idol,” followed by three more months of relentless hype, followed by two pilot encores in three nights, followed by an actual series launch had paid dividends. Those plaudits may be justified, but any celebration before Thursday morning is putting the cart before the horse. So far, FOX’s strategy has yielded one airing that lost well over half of its “American Idol” lead-in and two additional pilot airings that have cumulatively drawn another 6.7 million. 

That’s not bad, by the way. It’s pretty great, in fact, to be able to draw 4.1 million for a pilot that’s already aired once and been available for viewing on the Internet for months and then to draw another 2.58 million for the same pilot two days later? Well, I don’t need to tell “Dollhouse” fans how much trouble FOX has had drawing viewers to the Friday 9 p.m. hour. 

Those numbers reflect a dedicated (perhaps even fanatical) core, but the true expression of mainstream, crossover success won’t be measurable until after “Glee” returns on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Or maybe it won’t be measurable until September 23, when “Glee” has to go head-to-head with ABC’s excellent “Modern Family,” CBS’ significantly-less-excellent “Criminal Minds” and NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” 

Currently unmeasured is a different condition that I’m already dubbing “Glee” Fatigue Syndrome, which comes from watching the same advertisements and the same clip packages and hearing the same one-liners for an entire summer.

The best cure for “Glee” Fatigue Syndrome may be new episodes of “Glee,” though if the pilot already caused Irritable “Glee” Syndrome, perhaps they’re best avoided.

[Some extended thoughts on the new “Glee” — I’ve seen Two and Four — episodes after the break…]

As regular readers will recall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the “Glee” pilot.

I wrote, “At times, “Glee” feels like the ‘Hang In There’ Cat poster of TV shows, it’s so full of happy energy. As [Lea Michele’s] Rachel says, ‘There’s nothing ironic about show choir!'”

And I didn’t mean that as a compliment. The “Glee” pilot struck me as aggressively, cloyingly, unrelentingly peppy.

I also wrote, “I’ve already be accused of being heartless on multiple occasions for not falling instantly under its sway. I respect its aspirations and its ideology and have no objections to breaking out in song periodically myself. It was, for me at least, too much of a good thing. It didn’t leave me wishing for another episode, but yearning for a nap, for a cold shower, for a sedative. It exhausted me with its glee.”

So it’s here that I step back and say that I’ve also seen the season’s second and fourth episodes and…

Well, I’m still not sold, but I’m getting closer. 

Because I’ve already written a formal review, I’m just gonna go through some bullet-point thoughts on the additional early episodes I’ve seen:

*** There are still tonal problems where co-creator Ryan Murphy’s desire to be subversive runs up against what was, at one point, presented as a show the whole family could watch together. Half of the things Jane Lynch’s Sue says would probably outrage Conservative America, if folks paused and actually paid attention to what she just uttered. It’s something amazing about Lynch’s comic delivery that she can detonate little dialogue bombs and clear up the rubble before the next person can speak. Parents are less likely to be able to miss the running joke about premature ejaculation in the second episode. Murphy combined this sort of coarseness and sweetness on The WB’s “Popular,” but if “Glee” restricts itself to the “Popular” audience, it’ll be gone after January. I’m not positively or negatively evaluating on this point, merely observing. The show wants to be Universal and For Everybody, but I’m feeling a darker vein that would probably amuse me more flowing underneath.

*** Lea Michele cannot straddle the line between appealing and annoying forever. It just isn’t possible. Through three episodes, she’s right there, sometimes weebling to one side, other times wobbling to the other. Obviously when she sings, all is forgiven, but there’s only so much chirping I’m going to be able to tolerate.

*** I found Jessalyn Gilsig’s Terri to be a brittle harpy in the premiere, but after watching two more episodes, I was much more appreciative of the little comic grace notes she gives the performance. In addition, Terri is, like Sue, a character who can get away with saying anything, which is always entertaining. I’m not implying that I’m ever going to start rooting for for Terri, not with Jayma Mays’ wide-eyed Emma as the alternative, but Gilsig is building something compelling. [Read my interview with Gilsig, who goes into depth on Terri’s motivations and thought process.]

*** Speaking of compelling, Chris Colfer absolutely owns Episode Four, titled “Preggers.” But it isn’t only Colfer’s Kurt who makes the episode. As Kurt’s dad, Mike O’Malley actually moved me a little. Yes, I said it. “Yes, Dear” star Mike O’Malley moved me. That’s a pretty remarkable sentence, one I never guessed I’d write.

*** And speaking of “Preggers,” two words of comic gold: Sue’s Corner. “Glee” continues to make better use of Jane Lynch than “Party Down” ever did (I know I’m in the minority opinion there), so while I’ll miss her on that show (and while Megan Mullally’s addition to the cast does nothing for me), this feels like a better home.

*** I saved this for last, even though it’s my biggest qualm, because for some readers, it’s going to sound like the stupidest statement ever uttered: I don’t *get* the musical numbers.

Yikes. I’ll just pause and let you throw things. I’ll try to explain myself and you can just ignore the explanation and yell at me. 

Problem 1: The “Rehab” number performed by the championship team in the premiere was a group performance and a full ensemble presentation. They sang together, danced together and complimented each other. Nearly everything our heros have done thus far seems to just be a glorified solo. An acknowledgement of that fact has been built into the plot, with Will attempting to give meatier parts to people other than Rachel, but it doesn’t change the fact that my perception of glee club and chorus is based on a good deal more collaboration, rather than just a bunch of showcase songs. That could be a “me” problem.

Problem 2: Everything is over-produced. The actors are all doing their own singing. I know that, because it’s part of the gimmick of the show. But the vocals and music have all been so sweetened in post-production that there’s an unnecessary disconnect between the stars and the melodies. Something dirtier and rougher might allow me to better appreciate just how good these kids are. Then you can pretty it up for the soundtrack and the iTunes downloads.

Problem 3: Perhaps because of Problem 2, the quality of the different performances seems to be uniform. But sometimes aren’t the kids supposed to be, um, less good? For example, I kind of hated the version of “Push It” that they do at the school assembly in the third episode and not because I found it disturbing or depraved. I just thought it was poorly arranged and silly, a big reach that they didn’t really pull off. But the show never allows for the possibility that, despite only a day or two’s rehearsal, the kids are anything less than awesome. Also, “Push It” is yet another performance that Will had nothing to do with. So far, he’s the hero of the show, but he’s dead weight as a glee club coach.

Problem 4: In the three episodes I’ve seen, every performance but one has been explained within the structure of the show (i.e. they’re a glee club and they’re trying out possible performances, or somebody is practicing a routine and filming themselves), but then at the end of the second episode, you have Rachel doing the traditional musical “I have something I can’t say, so I’m singing it” moments, where she’s singing to a mirror or a hallway and nobody sees her singing. I have *no* problems with that being a direction the show wants to go. It just shouldn’t be something that happens once, arbitrarily. Make rules and live by them.

*** This is an unrelated note, but the fate of “Glee” may be in the hands of FOX’s attempt to rush “So You Think You Can Dance” back to air only a month after the most recent finale. While FOX has had success with rushing “Hell’s Kitchen” episodes onto the air one-after-another, NBC’s attempts to do something similar with “Last Comic Standing” essentially killed that show as a viable ratings performer. Personally, I’ll be perfectly happy to have Cat Deeley and company back on Wednesday night, but I’m not really hungry for their return. How will “Dance” do against regular season competition? And will it boost or detract from “Glee”? We’ll have our first inkling on Thursday morning when the ratings come in.

“Glee” returns to FOX on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. 

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