“Glee” returns to FOX on Tuesday (April 13) night.
I’m guessing that if you’re a “Glee” fan, you already knew that.
It’s information that’s been hard to miss. FOX has found a way to insert a “Glee” ad into nearly every commercial break for a month. The “American Idol” judges have just coincidentally referenced “Glee” on four or five occasions this season. FOX has made sure that reporters have had an upcoming tour and an ongoing MySpace talent search to document. The cast of “Glee” sang at the White House and they performed for Oprah. They’re currently on the cover of half of the magazines on my local newsstand, though only FOX’s marketing team knows what strings they had to pull to score that Cat Fancy cover and HBO has to be ticked off that World War II Enthusiast went with Lea Michelle over any of the guys from “The Pacific.”
If your Twitter feed is like my Twitter feed, the only things being Tweeted about more frequently than “Glee” over the past couple weeks are sexual desire for an iPad and frustration at Justin Bieber’s eternal trending status.
So “Glee” returns to FOX on Tuesday night and I’ve seen the first three episodes back, but I’m not sure that I can do a review. Or at least I fear I probably ought to recuse myself from a formal review. The problem is a forest-for-the-trees kinda thing where I’m having difficulties seeing the “Glee” for the Gleeks. Or not the Gleeks. I don’t want to blame the Gleeks.
There’s just too much “Glee” out there. And I did nothing to ameliorate the circumstances by watching “Hell-O,” “The Power of Madonna” and “Home” in a three-hour block on Saturday afternoon.
[Additional thoughts, but not exactly a review, surrounding the return of “Glee” after the break, only with minor spoilers…]
More than anything, my problem with “Glee” may just be the enormous crevasse between what I seem to be watching and what other people are seeing. Because it’s not like I hate “Glee,” at least not as a television series. I may hate the show’s ubiquity, but as for the series as a whole? I often enjoy it, albeit never with consistency. Lea Michele is an amazing talent (though I think she’s found a perfect vehicle for her theatricality and wouldn’t necessarily rush to cast her in any non-musical production). Jane Lynch is a stitch. Dianna Agron is easy on the eyes and she’s almost single-handedly given a one-dimensional character depth. Jayma Mays has always been a scene-stealing favorite and I’m pleased to see her as a romantic lead. Chris Colfer is a tremendous discovery and I can always count on enjoying any scenes he shares with Mike O’Malley. [I’m gonna repeat that last clause because it still hurts my head a little: This is an instance where I’m darned happy whenever I see Mike O’Malley’s name in the credits.]
It’s the gulf between my occasional respect and enjoyment and “OMG, IF GLEE DOESN’T COME BACK SOON, I’M GONNA KILL MYSELF!!!!” (especially tweeted by respected critics at major newspapers or magazines) that leaves me cold. It’s the inevitability that when the Television Critics Association gives its awards in July, “Glee” is gonna take home piles of our fancy plaques.
It happens. I have colleagues who don’t get what I see in “Chuck.” And I’ve had episodes of “Chuck” — well, “Chuck vs. the Beard,” mostly — where I somehow found myself in the chilly corner of a fan group I normally identify with.
But “Glee” is becoming increasingly extreme as FOX has made it clear that resistance is futile and all will be assimilated. And, again, it’s not like I’m the Omega Man here, trying to argue that “Glee” is awful. Because how foolish would that be?
Watching “Glee” each week is like taking an hour-long luxury cruise. You’re being pampered and provided with your every entertainment need. Nobody has ever left an episode of “Glee” and complained “They didn’t try hard enough.” Those darned “Glee” kids can smell encroaching apathy and if ever the show runs the risk of getting bland or repetitive, they emote harder, smile bigger, pander more agressively. Watching “Glee” is like eating at the Buffet at Sizzler: Even if the food isn’t good, there’s so darned much of it and it’s such a good value that you almost feel guilty if you don’t eat til you pop.
Like a cruise, “Glee” makes going to exotic lands seem safe and unthreatening. [Yes, I’m hopping from metaphor to metaphor, because “Glee” is too much show for just one glad-handing metaphor.] People who love musicals love “Glee.” And even five or six people who hate musicals love “Glee.” But “Glee” has taken a form that has been the stuff of epic TV failures — “Cop Rock” and “Viva Laughlin” still cause nightmares for all involved — and made it palatable for the mainstream, or at least a significant enough portion of the mainstream for FOX to hail it the Biggest Hit in the History of the Explored Universe. Just as cruises leave travelers with the sense of having explored the Caribbean, “Glee” leaves viewers with the illusion that watching a karaoke cover of a Beyonce song is like attending the theater and is, therefore, high culture.
When you arrive on a cruise ship, a porter takes your bags and when you get to your cabin 44 minutes later, everything has been unpacked and set neatly in its compartments. An episode of “Glee” is like that as well. There has never been a second of “Glee” that has required any after-the-fact contemplation and analysis. Ryan Murphy and his gang of writing pranksters decided very early on that “Glee” was going to be Important and Empowering and Inspirational TV and they’ve never missed the opportunity to have characters explain exactly what the takeaway message of every episode is supposed to be.
“Glee” is a 21st Century Up With People and it has somehow convinced people that it’s more subversive and less cult-y. It’s a 21st Century Afterschool Special, just with a hipper medium and message for its moralizing. And whenever the show breaks a boundary or pushes into new ground, you can be sure it’ll pat itself on the back for 44 minutes in the process. That “Aren’t we Smiley and Enlightened” attitude crushes what ought to be among the best episodes. The spring’s third episode back, “Home,” is one of those episodes where I was too busy noting the red marks from excessive back-patting to care about the drama or the comedy.
Sometimes “Glee” just forgets that amidst the boundary-pushing and prosthelytizing a story needs to be told. The show falls into extended ruts in which every episode is Mr. Schuester walking in and saying, “This week, I want you all to prepare four full-scale musical numbers this week” and letting that be a structure.
“The Power of Madonna” is (for me) “Glee” at its very worst, which is why many people are going to think it’s “Glee” at its very best. It’s one line of earnestly written declarative dialogue after another crowing about Madonna’s status as Queen of the World, interspersed with one or two great musical numbers and three or four poorly motivated, poorly chosen, over-produced covers of third-rate recent Madge hits. People are going to love it, especially the “Vogue” video, which is the Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” of supposedly awesome TV moments.
I’d feel guilty about spoiling the existence of the “Vogue” video except that FOX is going to premiere it after tonight’s “Glee,” as a tacit acknowledgment that musical numbers in “Glee” require no context and gain or lose nothing from their placement within a poorly told story.
It’s clear that there’s no such thing as too much promotion for “Glee,” as far as FOX is concerned, and it’s also clear that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Case in point, the current Rolling Stone cover article on “Glee,” which simultaneously painted the show’s major cast members as bland, personality-free automatons and also got seemingly the entire world to pity those bland, personality-free automatons.
The fact is that Rolling Stone is an embarrassment and we all know it. It’s not the magazine it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago or when it was founded. But why can’t two or three of the people at Rolling Stone still believe that they work for the real Rolling Stone? Why can’t two or three people still believe that they’re writing for an audience that [were it an audience that existed 30 years ago] would be incredulous at the idea of giving a cover story to a group of pretty kids best known for doing mediocre karaoke covers of hit songs?
I don’t think Erik Hedegaard did a great job with the piece, but I think he did a great job of refusing to write a “Boy, everybody on ‘Glee’ is just so darned perky and happy” story, which several legitimate magazines have done under the guise of journalism.
Look. The show CELEBRATES its subversiveness. It revels in being cooler-than-thou and cleverer-than-thou. It takes SUCH pride in its coy double-entendres and winking, nudging sexual jokes. So a writer comes and displays actual immaturity, throws out unvarnished lewdness and shows what’s under the “Glee” surface and nobody knows how to respond.
Fans of the show are getting embarrassed that these kids have to hear these questions, that they have to face this injustice. But were any of the kids actually offended in the interview? No. Because that would have been a sign of demonstrable personality. If just one of them had slapped the reporter, that would have been remarkable and every reader would have cheered and even cynics like me wouldn’t have thought poorly of that kid. Or maybe one of them could have come up with a funny response? Or maybe one of them could have symbolically smacked the reporter by giving a thoughtful answer to a stupid question. Instead, every one of them stayed on message or sputtered uselessly, with the exception of Chris Colfer who, not coincidentally, is the “Glee” castmember who comes off best in the piece.
There also seems to be concern at Hedegaard asking the “Glee” kids to entertain him, as if he were putting them on the spot. For 12 months, FOX has turned the “Glee” kids into monkeys, attractive promotional monkeys, parading them around the country to malls and auditoriums, basically pushing them into the spotlight, pointing at the audience and saying, “Entertain them!!!” I’d like to think Hedegaard was responding to that. But maybe I’m giving him too much credit.
Regardless, FOX isn’t worried about the Rolling Stone article, because any exposure is good exposure. If FOX could get the right deal to slap the “Glee” cast’s face on a package of adult diapers — “When you’ve gotta take a Gleak!” — they would.
It doesn’t appear that audiences are getting tired of the “Glee” promotion. Heck, my own parents have started watching “Glee” regularly simply because they know how exasperated the show makes me.
Meanwhile, I’m still going to keep watching “Glee.” I know a phenomenon when I see one and part of my job is keeping up with phenomena. Plus, as I’ve gotta keep mentioning, there’s a lot I like about the TV show, when I can find a way to watch and evaluate “Glee” in a vacuum.
This post has just become a really long way of explaining why that sort of vacuumed viewing is so difficult and why I’m not reviewing tonight’s “Glee.”