October 31, 2010

Suggested New Taglines for the Television Show "Glee"

I'm not sure if "Glee" has an official tagline, slogan, motto, whatever you want to call it.  I am sure that it used to be a show I enjoyed greatly; a show that promised much.  A show with interesting characters tripping along in situations and wrapped in contexts germane to average Americans - high school, cliques, taunting, being taunted, sports, boyfriends, girlfriends, nice teachers, mean teachers, ineffectual administrators, hormones, finding your own way, impromptu $500,000 production numbers in high school auditoriums.

Also, for  a while there, it had these things called writers.  Writers who created compelling stories that, while not always perfectly believable, were believable enough for the purposes of compelling television.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, though I never expected the show to be as realistic as "Freaks and Geeks," or as amazingly contrived and elaborately plotted as "Arrested Development."  Was it too much to ask, however, to have some of the Freaks and some of the Geeks walking the same halls with some of the plucky triple-threats from "Fame," and to have Gob Bluth as their principal?  (I mean, come on!  What school kid in their right mind wouldn't want "The Final Countdown" as their institution's fight song?)

Also, Lucille and Buster have to be in there somewhere.  That's not optional.

Without getting into particulars, I will only say that, after Glee apparently fired all of its writers, the show has dropped precipitously.

Yes, yes, yes... those kids can sing and dance!  No shit.  Everyone knows that.  I'm going to go out of my way and make the wild assertion that their stellar singing and dancing abilities were two of the three reasons that they were cast in the first place.

The third reason, I suspect, was acting ability.  Acting ability is usually displayed by people called actors who read words in a script and then speak them in such a way as to make you care about their characters - not like or love or hate or worry or wonder or feel ambivalent about - but all of those things and so much more.

It's the reason why, when you watch the actor Martin Starr playing the character Bill Haverchuck in "Freaks and Geeks," you both laugh with him and feel great empathy for him when he comes home alone to his very small house, makes himself a grilled cheese sandwich and bursts out laughing while watching television - mouth wide open, partially-chewed sandwich bits visible in his mouth and all.  You care.  A scene with no lines at all, but, because Bill is so established by the brilliant writing in the series up until that scene, you care deeply.  If you don't, you're probably a fucking sociopath.

Compare that scene to the horrific treatment which beset Rachel Berry and her birth mother, Shelby Corcoran, when they were coming to terms with their deservedly complex feelings for each other given their situation.  The writers actually put very real thought into the situation and treated it with the ambiguity it deserves, and then?  To say "good-bye?"  They sang Lady Gaga's "Pokerface" to each other.

Signifying what?

Who the hell knows, but it was the Lady Gaga episode, so that was the shit that was dumped on the viewers.  Lyrically and musically, it was a song which was completely irrelevant to character or context, intent or import and pulled the empathy of the viewer away from the characters and made us just feel sorry for the actors.  It was almost shocking to witness.

I'm not going to slight any particular actor on the Glee cast, and here's why: it is extremely, extremely difficult to make those increasingly moribund, illogical, disjointed, almost apathetic lines come to life.  Characters say lines that make you think they're speaking another character's words and not in the transformative sense of truly growing to understand the other character, but more like the "oh, shit, that was your line, wasn't it" sense.  Characters have stopped developing and started playing a psychosocial game of hopscotch from episode to episode or even scene to scene.

Again, this hopscotch stems not from the playground game, which progresses rationally and has distinct roles for the participants, but rather from the type of hopscotch one might play after dousing ones sneakers in gasoline, lighting them and trying to stomp out a field of prairie dogs with the flaming treads.

In other words, not a real game of hopscotch at all.  Prairie Dog Self-Immolation Stomp Scotch?

There's a very real sense in the show that the characters start a table read before a new episode is filmed by reaching into a large bucket where the lines have been cut into small scraps and speaking whatever they pull out.  One step above magnetic poetry perhaps, but not a big step.  At this point, I'm half-expecting Finn to start worrying aloud about his menstrual cycle.

The show, at least in its first half-season or so, seemed to exist to tell a story about its characters, which I (stupidly, I guess) assumed was the point of most fictional television shows.  (I know, how horribly Western canon and linear of me.)  The songs came into the show at key points to underline feeling, heighten tension, resolve conflict, make us realize that we actually did like Journey, etc..., but they served the story, for the most part.

Since then, we have been deluged with "theme" episodes, which have flipped the characters and story into the role of supporting songs.  Consider the aforementioned "Pokerface" trashing and the debacle that was the entire Britney Spears episode as two very salient bits of evidence.

Maybe this is laziness on the part of the writers, maybe greed on the part of Fox, a combination of greed facilitating an innate desire to phone it in.  Who cares.   For whatever reason, it happened, and curmudgeons like myself are already waxing nostalgic for the "glory" of a show that is not yet even out of diapers.

So, in honor of the disappointment which it has become, I offer some new taglines that more closely fit my current view of Glee.

1) Getting Less Every Episode.

2) Like old-school MTV without the plot!

3) Have you downloaded the songs on iTunes yet?  Have you?  C'mon!  Do it!  Now!

4) EL - E - G

5) Sectionals, eventually.

6) There's a story in here.  Somewhere.

7) We've jumped dozens of sharks.

8) Glee without mirth.

9) All these songs are on iTunes!  They are!

10) A television show you can watch on the radio!

11) We're popular now; so we don't have to care about you.  Ironic, isn't it?


Joy Riggs said...

I'm looking forward to the Prairie Dog Self-Immolation Stomp Scotch episode. That's going to be awesome.

I agree with your critique of the show. The writing isn't there this season. I missed last week's episode, and I don't feel compelled to watch it now because it's likely that nothing in it will make any difference in the storyline of the next episode. It's disappointing because it has - or had- so much potential.

Brendon Etter said...

Exactly, Joy, that's why I use the word "compelling" several times. The show is no longer pulling people in because of the story. It gets great ratings on buzz and its gimmick episodes. However, there's no real need to watch it to figure out where it's going, both for purposes of following the plot / subplots or for characters who compel viewership by the consistent charisma of their characterization. All lost. Even Sue Sylvester is becoming inconsistent. They toss her the requisite rambling outrageous zingers every episode, but there's not much in her character that really makes you need to watch her. Not Jane Lynch's fault at all. Sad. Very sad.

Myrna CG Mibus said...

I like #4, EL-E-G, the best.

Yeah, I agree with you (and Joy). I used to really care about the characters and couldn't wait for the next show. I didn't like certain characters (like Sue Sylvester) then the writers would introduce us to another side of her and I would have a greater understanding of her as a person. Yes, a person. Not a TV character. Good episodes would make me believe that that the actors were real people. People I cared about even if they were greatly flawed.

But, though there have been some good moments this season, the moments haven't been enough. I, like Joy, still haven't watched the Rocky episode. I probably will but I'm not expecting much.

I think you should write the next Glee episode (or season) and send it to Fox.