Oh, Glee. Glee, Glee, Glee.
Do you remember May of 2009? All we had was the pilot, and it was glorious. I, for one, had never before seen anything like it on television, never seen anything with such enthusiasm, inventiveness, daring, talent, heart. For a musical theater geek like me, it was a taste of heaven, and for the record, heaven tasted delicious. Between May and September, I must have watched Don’t Stop Believing alone at least a thousand times.
The first half of the first season was exhilarating. I organized my week around Wednesday nights and spent the greater part of Thursday and Friday discussing that week’s episode. The few weeks between “Mash Up” and “Wheels” (again for the imaginary record, I did not even have to look that order up) were torturous. During the break between the two halves of the season, I actually bought the entire season on iTunes just to tide me over and watched each episode more times than I would like to admit.
And then, when Glee came back, a funny thing happened. It was still good, and I still looked forward to it, but something was missing. It started getting more uneven, more willing to overindulge itself and less likely to hit the sweet spots of its first half. Don’t get me wrong – the high points (“Dream On” comes to mind) were very, very high. They were just fewer and farther in between, and the low points started to get much, much lower.
And then we came to the second season. I put the first 11 minutes of the season premiere as the high point of this season, mostly because it’s all I remember. To be fair, I thought “Grilled Cheezus” was entertaining, although I’ve heard it get mixed reviews elsewhere, and “Duets” was a decent episode, but the Satanic trifecta of “Brittney/Brittany,” “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” and “A Very Glee Christmas” more than cancel those out.
I have been patient with Glee. I have given it chance after chance after chance. I defended it from people who said it was unrealistic, because, in a sense, that was the whole point – that was what allowed it to be as giddy and eccentric as it was at its best. I kept track of its love dodecahedrons, bought its cheap sentimentality, and never once complained that there is no way that a club ostensibly constantly on the verge of economic collapse could afford those sets and costumes. I did all this, because there was still something there, something exciting and compelling and ineffably good.
But now…now, I just don’t know. As I watched tonight’s episode, all I was thinking about was that there was absolutely no good reason for me to be doing so. The thing made no freaking sense. Glee has always asked an indulgent level of suspension of disbelief, but now, it seems to have given up altogether on a coherent progression of events. Things happen seemingly at random, as though someone at some point said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if ___?” and that became the script. It has almost become a parody of itself, emphasizing all of its most extreme qualities – the extravagance, the unreality – and forgetting the weird sort of restraint that made it good in the first place.
To make things worse, no one seems to remember how to write these characters. Remember when Mr. Schu was a kind of goofy, sweet, idealistic teacher vicariously trying to reclaim his youth, or Rachel was an ambitious star who could be slightly though not unbearably grating in her race to the top but was secretly terrified she would not be able to do so? Because I liked those people better than the cloying Mary Sue Will Schuester has become or the mindlessly cruel, stalkerish, feminist nightmare that is now Rachel Berry. They clearly have no idea what to do with Sue, and are attempting to juggle the increasingly large ensemble with all the skill of a blindfolded chimpanzee given bowling balls. Characters just do things, seemingly with no motivations or, worse, the exact same motivations (and almost the exact same words) they’ve had for a year and a half. What’s that, Quinn wants to be popular? Schu wants everyone to get along through song? Call the character development police, this is getting out of hand!
All right, to be fair, tonight’s episode was not awful. It was better than the last episode, although considering that the last episode attempted to shoehorn 5 completely disparate plot strands into 44 minutes and apparently forgot that they had characters and not plot devices, that was not exactly a difficult feat. But a few lines made me chuckle (Sue evidently has 2 PM ninja poops) and overall, it did not suck. I liked that we were actually able to see them rehearse for once, which should shut up, at least for a little bit, the people who complain that the glee club’s elaborate musical numbers apparently spring, fully formed, into existence, like Athena from Zeus’s skull.
I also thought that this episode did a decent job with the characters of Finn, Puck, Quinn, and Karofsky. It has always bothered me that the Finn, Puck, and Quinn storyline was never resolved, that they apparently just kind of forgot about everything that happened and went on seeing each other everyday. I was beginning to wonder whether they even remembered that Puck knocked up his best friend’s girlfriend and then went out with her and was then beat up pretty brutally by said best friend, particularly since now he and Quinn have apparently broken up and I don’t believe any of them have spoken to each other this season except for when Quinn was acting as Rachel’s spy. But now, it kind of makes sense that they would have gone on quietly coexisting, working together only when they had to and being not exactly friends. I like that this episode addressed the relationship between the three of them and Sam, even if it did involve Crazy Rachel (really, guys? does Rachel absolutely have to strong-arm Puck into doing a duet with her just to make Finn jealous? can she have any other motivations?)
On that note, I liked that we got to see some of the characters just hanging out, the way you would expect them too, if they were anywhere near as close as the show keeps insisting. Amber Riley and Lea Michele have great chemistry, and it was nice to see their little nonverbal interactions. It almost seemed like they were friends. And most of all, I like what they are doing with Karofsky. While making the most overtly homophobic character secretly gay does unleash a whole cascade of unfortunate implications, I like that he is not allowed to be redeemed too easily, that we are, in fact, seeing a development of the character.
I still firmly believe that Glee irrevocably jumped the shark with the Christmas episode, and I have a strong sense of admiration for the friend of mine who managed to withstand watching it tonight. I do not want to watch this television show, and yet I am compelled to by some strange mix of masochism, horror, curiosity, and ill-fated hope. Or, perhaps, it is as my roommate said, and I have invested too much in this show to stop now. Glee remains transcendent television, and hopefully its success will translate into more ambitious programming in the future. But there is a fine line between ambition and overindulgence, and Glee has absolutely no clue where that line is.