Musical Mainstream:A Look At Glee – Part One

The scene everyone knows, and the Journey cover that everyone is ripping off now.  The end of the pilot episode with the club singing Don’t Stop Believing which inspires their mentor to stay with them.

Wow.  Where am I going to begin this.  The best way I can think of is to warn you all right now.  If you are checking out this review and still on the fence if you are going to check out this show, I must warn you that there is going to be season one spoilers here.  I’m going to try to not give away too much but it would be very difficult for me to express the opinion I have of this show without giving some specifics to illustrate my point.

This is a review of the first season of Glee.  It has taken me a lot longer than I expected to get through the entire series so I did not look at the second season yet, but I will get around to it and compare and contrast when it is done.  So without any further adieu here is my review of season one of Glee.

Glee is a phenomenon without question.  The show has been making a lot of waves since it debuted in May of 2009.  The people who I interact with on a day-to-day basis in my life could not stop buzzing about this show when it aired.  Social plans have actually been postponed and rescheduled because of “Glee” night.  I managed to stay away from it until now.  For the purposes of this review I watched the entire first season.

For those of you really just want the jist of what I think of this show.  Well here is this series summed up in a few lines.
Great musical numbers, unbelievable character development, and lazy story telling. Now if you want my reasonings and explanation then please keep on reading.  If I had to decide whether or not I was going to continue watching a show by the first four episodes, Glee is definitely something that I would not have given a second thought.

Glee begins with William Schuster, a Spanish teacher who has a passion for musical performance, taking over the Glee club and trying to make something great out of it.  You holds tryout and gets five volunteers for Glee, they are pretty terrible but they basically make up the bulk of the main characters of the show for the first season.  In this episode the writers make the endgame pretty clear, the club needs to win at Regionals for Glee to continue.  Everything else in this show is just about the interactions between the characters leading up to this goal.

The characters are not the normal cast of characters you would find in a show like this, but then again they are also pretty run of the mill. We have our overambitious, glee-over-social life, drama queen in Rachel Barry, the quarterback turned Glee enthusiast that will struggle between his desire to be in the club and the loss of his popularity, the over-the-top homosexual character.  They put their geek in a wheelchair, and they turned their “expressive” character into an Asian.

The issue I have with the characters are not just because of who they are at first glance, but the laziness in their development.  Sometimes they don’t seem to really understand what they are doing themselves, also I found that the writers are expecting us to feel emotions for these characters because they tell us to, not because we actually feel them ourselves.  An example of this would be the very first episode.

Episode 1, we end up with a little bit of a crisis that in my opinion would have been so much better placed later in the series. Shu finds out in the episode that his wife is pregnant, so he decides that he is going to quit. He is resigning to find a better paying job to support his family.  The club has already been put together but there was not any real bonding between any of the characters that we see.   There is a flimsy explanation as to why Finn, the quarterback, has an underlying love of music.

In this episode we have Shu playing Rocket Man by Elton John by himself and was supposed to be a heartfelt moment but all I’m thinking while I’m watching is… I really do not know this character very well so why are they expecting me to be really touched by this scene.  Sure the song is good, but the storytelling falls short.  The group eventually comes together in the end and gives an inspirational rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing”  which inspires Shu to stay and keep Glee alive.

It’s an okay idea, but the emotion they were expecting to reach is not something that can be achieved in the first half hour of the pilot episode.  Had this story arc been placed later in the series I think it would have made for a much more effective piece.

There are a number of different story arcs that really do not translate well in the acting and script.  Shu and how he interacts with his wife is supposed to show a guy that isn’t really happy in his relationship but he is happy about the pregnancy, the interactions between them seem forced and unbelievable.

The romance between Finn and Rachel is without question the weakest romantic storyline I have ever seen in film or video between two protagonists.  I understand what the writers were trying to achieve here.  The equivalent of the Clark and Lana plot in the early seasons of Smallville. Finn is popular and has a girlfriend, but has a strange connection to Rachel.  Rachel is unpopular and strange but clearly has a crush on Finn.

The difference is, in Smallville Clark is clearly interested in Lana, but Lana can be questionable it’s always in doubt of she sees Clark as a very good friend or if there is romance there.  They kept coming very close and being torn apart, but all the while the viewers were on the edge of their seats wondering if and when it’ll happen.

In Glee… Finn kisses Rachel on the very second episode, but then stops and panics.  Clearly he is confused but there is no build up, no suspense at all.  We don’t have time to let the idea blossom about the two of them, the desire to see them together is not really there.  Once again a case of a good idea, but told way to soon without any development.

Another example of the lazy storytelling is when Puck, who is supposed to be a non-moral character and usually he’s the villain due to the plot surrounding him and the Finn/Quinn couple, decides he needs to be popular by dating a cheerleader, so he woo’s the overweight black girl Mercedes.  This prompts one of the weaker songs in the show when Mercedes and Santana(another cheerleader).  This begs the question if there are two cheerleaders fighting over him, and he is dating a cheerleader simply for popularity, why would he choose the overweight one, instead of the attractive one?

Episode Eight is really the one that lost me.  Rachel and Puck are together at a time when Puck was clearly billed as a villain-type character.  He got with her because his mom told him to be with a Jew, and he dreamt about Rachel.  Not only that but this is all told to us AFTER he is practicing with Rachel and asks her to make out.

Also in the same episode Coach Ken is sick of Shu and Emma (Ken’s fiancée) so he decides to make every choose football or glee… and Puck chooses Glee.  This made to sense to his character from what we saw on-screen because he wasn’t really serious about Rachel… and he never did give any indication about enjoying Glee before this.  It was lazy.  One could argue it is because of his strong feels for Rachel (even if they were poorly introduced) but we never get time to contemplate that because she breaks up with him because she likes Finn, and Puck reverts back to his old self. The writers do NOT like building up to a plot point or twist.  They just throw them at you and want you to accept it.

I also am not a fan of everyone having an inner monologue to show what they are thinking.  I’m thinking the acting should be able to tell these stories without the need of the inner voice.  Unfortunately the writing really is not up to par with other mainstream shows.

There is an underlying question.  I haven’t looked at what the intent of the writers were because I have not seen any interview with cast or crew.  However watching this show, it is possible to give it merit if you take the writing to be a mockery of high school life.  An over the top portrayal of what everyone feels like when they go through high school.  If that was the case the storyline can be modestly excused for the lack of storytelling elements.  The problem with this analysis though is they do try to take themselves seriously at times.  Without the proper build up and rapport with your audience you cannot expect us to feel the emotions that you are telling us to feel.  As of episode four I started enjoying the plot because it because clear it was a parody, but as the season progressed they tried too hard to be too serious without giving any real progression through the story they were trying to tell.

I can keep going on the laziness of the storyline forever, but I won’t any further.  Watch the series yourself and pay attention to characters and I’m confident you will draw the same conclusion that the plot twists are not smooth, are not really shocking more than they are just simply is confusing.

This is my main criticism.  I watched this show as a writer and as a television viewer it is difficult for me to ignore needed plot points to progress a story…. BUT.  It is not all bad.  There are parts that I did find myself actually laughing.  The episode where Kurt pretends to be straight and the bimbo cheerleader asks to make out with him because he was the only guy in school that she didn’t hook up with yet was pretty funny, as was when he asked her “how does boys lips taste”.  It was a serious issue but done in a humorous fashion.  (actually not to go off on a tangent but I think the interaction between Kurt and his Dad IS the reason I think the plot can be saved.  I enjoy the acting and the story and I actually feel for both characters as they run into various problems.)

Glee does something else very well… something that I believe cements the viewers in front of their television for the whole hour.  The music.  This is a big thing to have in its favor since the show is about a glee club and their struggle for acceptance and success.  Looking into it I have been informed that all the glee members sing their own parts.  Trolling though YouTube I found some live performances too so that actually goes a long way with me for respect.  It makes me think that the production team of this show spent so much time into the music and casting on the basis of vocal ability more so than acting.

This gives it a little more of an authentic feel then getting great actors that will lip sync to a different persons voice.  The mash-up of Don’t stand so close to me and Young Girl was one of my favorite performances, but Gold Digger by Kanye West, Beautiful by Christina Aguilera, and Loser by Beck all rank pretty high.  When I look at this series on a whole I actually am NOT going to give it a terrible overall score because of this.  As a television show it falls short on very key elements required for longevity.  Hopefully the plot problems will be fixed by second season, but for now I do actually believe that the songs themselves make it tolerable to watch.

One episode Rachel randomly takes a week off from her infatuation with Finn to have crush on Shu.  Once again it is forced, and unbelievable that she would just randomly fall in love after singing a song with him since they both have been singing all season long, and as soon as she comes to her senses she apologizes and returns to her “intense love” of Finn… but here is Shu desperately trying to give her a message.

The novelty and gimmick of Glee is the musical numbers, and they nail them.  It should do well for the second season and maybe even garner a third.  But without a strong story, I doubt we’ll see the 10th season of Glee anytime soon.  So, simply basing the review on the first season, and taking into consideration that they are putting the music as the priority and letting the story just fall in between the songs I’ll say that Glee is worth a look.