Sunday, April 6, 2014

Glee: Singing, Dancing, Shark-Jumping

When it comes to Glee, my now teen daughter and I were early adopters.

Actually, one of the art directors I work with was even more ahead of the curve (in Glee's case, once it hit, it wasn't so much a curve as a wave or really a tsunami). He saw the pilot months before the series premiered. He predicted that we'd love it.

He was right.

The old Glee was so fresh, so different, so wrong in all the right ways. It was irreverent and offensive. One of the things I always appreciated was that none of the kids was all good — or all bad, for that matter. Whether it was the queen bee cheerleader or the dumb jock or the awkward overachiever, the juvenile delinquent, the gay kid just coming out or the disabled guy — what was really cool was that they were so obviously stereotypes that then broke their own stereotypes. They were lovable but not very nice. They could be downright cruel to each other. They were utterly self-absorbed.

Basically, they were teenagers.

And then, of course, like millions of other former drama majors, how could I resist the sheer talent served up on my television every week? Glee made it cool to sing and dance.  Back in 2010, CNN reported that a Harris poll had determined  31% more students were interested in school music activities because of the show. Whether you're a gleek or not, you have to admit that the series had a positive effect on kids' interest in the arts.

Of course, there were sour notes over the years and more this year than any other. The Becky character, a McKinley High student with Down syndrome, has become particularly uncomfortable to watch. For some reason, she now says whatever's on her mind, full voice, and what's always on her mind is SEX. It's as though she's developed some cinematic version of Tourette's. I don't know if the producers are trying to breakdown a myth that mentally handicapped people are childlike. But, the adult content coming out of her mouth just makes her unattractive — whether she's living with a disability or not.

After investing in a rash of new kids when half the show choir graduated, Glee has suddenly abandoned them. When Kurt moved to New York, the show didn't just replace him with another gay kid; they went all out with a teen transvestite. The "Unique" (née Wade) story was interesting for an episode or maybe two. The writers don't seem to know what to do with her (him) now. 

Breaking Glee's tradition of multifaceted characters, Riley or Miley or Marley (it's telling that I can't  even remember her name) is one-dimensionally nice. She flirted with an eating disorder and broke up with a boyfriend. Compare this to the over-the-top adventures of the original kids and you're in for a letdown. The last few episodes, all she's done is sway in the background. And, you know, we don't really miss her.

The New York storyline is more fun (maybe because it features the strongest characters from the original seasons). But even in the Big Apple, certain plot twists have taken utterly unbelievable to a whole new level. Rachel has beaten the odds (trust me, the odds were astronomically against her) and landed the lead in a revival of Funny Girl. Her aspiring actress/waitress/rival roommate walks in off the street and wins the role of Fanny Brice's understudy.

I come from a theatrical family. Trust me. This would not, could not ever happen. Never. Never. Never. Santana would not have been permitted in the building, much less be allowed to march down that aisle singing "Don't Rain on My Parade." Never. Never. Never.

Clue phone, it's for you. Broadway shows do not cast walk-in nobodies from Lima, Ohio. Sorry.

And, even if you suspend all belief and buy the whole high school frenemies become cut-throat theatre rivals plot, it brought a really ugly edge to the show. Even when the glee club kids were at their nastiest, they always stood up for each other when it mattered. In the few episodes before Santana resigned (yeah, like that's believable too), the feud between Rachel and Santana felt inappropriately vicious.

Glee has changed certainly. Several elements of the show wrapped up last week: there was a rushed graduation, the school finally (really) cut the New Directions program, Will and Emma are having a baby and I think he's leaving McKinley. We've officially transitioned from Ohio to the Empire State. Now, with a tight group of original cast members making their way in New York City, Glee is beginning to feel like Friends — potential criticism that the creators headed off at the pass by giving Tina a recent dream sequence about it.

So with all of this bitchin' and moanin', why do we still watch?

I can't speak for the teenager. But, for me, this is one of our few old mother-daughter traditions that hasn't fallen by the wayside quite yet. Those wacky gleeks can sing and dance (and jump sharks) as long as they like. As long as my daughter is willing to sit through it all with me, I'll be there.

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