Friday, November 27, 2009

Reassessing Glee

Since Glee’s hiatus (because of the World Series) and return, I’ve been reflecting on the show and my initial thoughts on it. I loved the premiere episode, but I’ve found the following shows to be somewhat uneven. Some are really good (“Preggers” and “Showmance”) and some seem like filler at best (even guest stars Victor Garber, Josh Groban, and Debra Monk couldn’t save “Acafellas”). So where does all of this leave us and the show? Here is my rundown of the show’s best and worst features, in no particular order.

The Best:
  • The kids really are the best part of the show, and I really like how the characters are starting to develop. This is particularly true in the case of Quinn and Puck. Initially, it seemed like they were going to be the resident villains, but they have become more three-dimensional characters. Quinn’s struggle to deal with her baby drama has helped her move beyond the cheerleader queen persona found in the first episode, and Puck’s decision to join the glee club (and remain with it after the football coach gives a harsh but mercifully short ultimatum to the singing jocks) shows that he is more than a cougar-chasing teen. Now if only the rest of the characters (besides Rachel and Finn) could get more air time…
  • In the same vein, the show doesn’t shy away from making the characters very flawed. Even though many of the characters seem like they are pretty good people, they all say and do some horrible things.
  • The songs and performances are usually pretty good (if incredibly overproduced). My favorites so far include: “Sweet Caroline,” which Puck used to try and impress Rachel, Rachel’s version of “Take a Bow,” the mashup songs, both “It’s My Life/ Confessions” and “Halo/ Walking on Sunshine”
  • The guest stars have been great (so far). The list of cameos is impressive, but I doubt that Glee will become like Will & Grace or Friends in throwing on random guest stars at will. The stars that have appeared have been interesting characters, and Ryan Murphy seems to love taking actors known for their singing chops (see Josh Groban, Debra Monk, and Victor Garber) and not have them sing, which is actually kind of refreshing.
  • The show’s sly sense of humor and wit help elevate even the weaker episodes into something that is entertaining if not great. While Sue Sylvester probably gets the best lines out of anyone, Kurt and Artie also have some good moments.
  • Heather Morris, who plays functionally illiterate cheerleader Brittney, also deserves special mention for excellent comic timing. She does a lot with the minimal screen time that she gets. Plus she is an awesome dancer, which shouldn’t be surprising since she used to be a backup dancer for Beyonce.
Needs Improvement:
  • The show seems to try and divide the focus between the students and the adults. It would be much better if the adults were on the sidelines more, especially since the adults are pretty unsympathetic. While the students can do horrible things, at the very least we can partially excuse their behavior because they are supposed to be teenagers. The adults, on the other hand, have no real excuse beyond being crazy and stupid. Terry and her sister Kendra are complete shrews, Will is clueless and self-centered, and the other adults tend to be variations of stupid or utterly inappropriate.
  • Since the show has returned from hiatus, we are finally getting a chance to see students (besides Finn and Rachel) get more airtime, but the show still feels more focused on Finn and Rachel than anyone else (besides Will). It isn’t that I dislike either character; Finn is goofy and dim, but he has a good heart, and Rachel (and her portrayer, Lea Michele) is very talented. However, I would love to see the other characters fleshed out more. Even the show that was supposed to revolve around Artie (“Wheels”) didn’t really let us get a better sense of that character.
  • Enough with the baby/ pregnancy storylines. Quinn’s pregnancy is at least somewhat tolerable, but Terry’s fake pregnancy is excruciating, mostly because Terry seems like like a total bitch. The fake baby storyline also emphasizes Will’s utter idiocy and makes it very hard to sympathize with the character.
While I do have my quibbles with the show, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Now if only those damn pregnancy storylines would go away (and maybe take Terry and Kendra with them).

'Tis the Season: What I'm Thankful for This Year

So this is a day late, but in light of the holidays (yesterday was Thanksgiving Day for us in the States), I think that a day late is forgivable. So what am I grateful for this year? I have a lot to be thankful for and I'm sure that my brain will forget some very important things, but let me give it a shot:
  • My jobs and bosses. While I know that a lot of people were having problems finding work this year, a few weeks ago I had the conundrum of trying to decide which jobs I wanted to do next semester, which is a nice (if somewhat guilt-inducing) dilemma to have.
  • My family. Even though they can be crazy, they are very supportive (even if my mom sometimes tells me that I could have been a real doctor for all of the time I've spent in school).
  • My proposal/ dissertation is slowly but surely starting to take shape (finally!).
  • Not working retail anymore. I have worked more Black Fridays and holidays than I care to remember. While the people I worked with were usually great, the customers were enough to make even the most optimistic people into complete Grinches.
One small side note regarding retail and Black Friday: although Black Friday can be a trying and crazy day in retail, it has been my experience that it is nothing compared to the day after Christmas. The day after Christmas will make you doubt mankind's innate goodness.

I've got to run and do some Christmas baking. Coming soon on the blog: another rundown on more of my favorite Christmas specials and songs plus my usual rant on the more annoying aspects of the holidays.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More "Ragtime"

To get the full effect of the spine-tingling opening number, watch the original cast's performance from the 1998 Tony Awards. Even though the number is abridged (in the musical, it runs a full 10 minutes and introduces the main characters), it will give you a better sense of what on earth is going on. As an added bonus, you can play "Hey, isn't that...?" Besides Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell, the original cast featured Marin Mazzie and an incredibly young Lea Michele (long before she played Wendla in Spring Awakening or Rachel on Glee)

"Ragtime" Returns to Broadway

Ragtime, the musical based on E. L. Doctorow's novel, has returned to Broadway and has gotten rave reviews. The show revolves around the evolution of American society in the early 1900s, specifically the growing presence of African Americans and the influx of Eastern European immigrants. Like Doctorow's novel, this enormous set of changes is told by focusing on three families: a well-off WASP family in New Rochelle, an immigrant and his daughter, and an African American family.

While I am not 100% certain that the actors playing Coalhouse and Sarah will be able to erase the incredible performances of Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald, who played the couple in the original show, overall this revival looks like it is definitely worth seeing. The show's core question of "What does it mean to live in America and to be an American?" remains timely. Like all good theatre (or books or other works of art), this musical helps us to take a step back and examine society and our role in it.

In addition to this, the score is actually quite good (even if most of the songs end the same way - with [in the words of Forbidden Broadway] "a really long note). Stephen Flaherty manages to capture the flavor of the period's music while also interweaving the different influences from African Americans and immigrants, thus creating a musical tapestry that mirrors the changes that were occurring in society. Need more convincing? Just check out this montage from the revival set to the final section of the opening number.

Instant Snow

When I lived in Tennessee, snow was a novelty, and even experiencing several winters in Boston hasn't completely killed my love of snow. However, despite a random flurry at the beginning of October, the weather has seemed unusually warm for Boston in November.

To get an instant snow fix and to get mentally in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I strongly recommend the SnowDays site, where you can create your own snowflakes and comment on other people's creations. It is an addictive way to kill some time, but be warned: you can lose hours making snowflakes (especially if you decide to get really intricate and try the hints and tricks found on Mister X's site).

Need a Snow Day?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Sesame Street Love

One of my favorite characters from Sesame Street was Ernie. In honor of Sesame Street's 40th anniversary, here are two of my favorite Ernie songs:

"I Don't Want to Live on the Moon"

"Imagine That"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!

In case you were wondering why Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and other Sesame Street characters have been gracing Google's main page, November 10 is the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. The internet is filled with articles, stories, and other tributes to this milestone. Among my favorites:
Growing up, Sesame Street was a favorite for my brother and me. Since there were only 4 channels available at the time, PBS was a popular station in our house, and we had a steady diet of Big Bird, Gordon, Maria, and the others. Although there are numerous Sesame Street memories and moments that I could single out, here are a few great ones (courtesy of YouTube):

Kermit Sings about Being Green

Mr. Hooper's Death

Ernie Sings about his Rubber Duckie

The Muppet Medley from Jim Henson's Memorial Service

I know that these aren't Sesame Street clips, but I think that the moment captures the true essence of what Sesame Street is about. It doesn't shy away from the sadder moments in life (such as the passing of Mr. Hooper), but it also provides comfort during these darker times.