Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Glee: Some Thoughts on the First Season

Oh Glee, how far you've come. Since the show debuted a year ago, the cast has become very popular (and almost annoyingly ubiquitous), and the series has become something of a cultural phenomenon. That said, the first season has had a lot of highs and lows, and ultimately, I have found it entertaining if rather uneven.

The pilot was very promising, and I have must admit that the first half of the season, which ended with "Sectionals" was strong. Even with some strange missteps, such as "Acafellas" and two crazy pregnancy plots, the first set of episodes had a nice mix of snark, snap, heart, and music. Not only was the show's tone fairly consistent, but the musical numbers were well selected and entertaining (if somewhat over produced). "Sectionals" was an extraordinarily satisfying close to the first half of the season, and I couldn't wait for the second half to start in April.

And then, when the show returned, something was very off (at least to me). Watching the back nine episodes has been a somewhat schizophrenic experience. Mixed in with some fun moments, such as "Like a Virgin" and "Gives You Hell," there have been way too many after-school special/one to grow on episodes. As much as I loved the Mercedes-Quinn bonding in this second half of the season, episodes like "Laryngitis" and even (sigh) "The Power of Madonna" left me cold. In fact, besides "Journey," which had me weeping like a baby, the only episode I thoroughly enjoyed from the second half of the season was "Dream On," which managed to combine Neil Patrick Harris, Joss Whedon, and "Safety Dance."

Besides the sometimes overly didactic tone, there were some other notable problems with the back nine. Perhaps the two most glaring problems have to do with the show's admittedly well-deserved popularity. In some cases, it really felt like the show was buying into its own hype. Rather than having songs that wove into the plot seamlessly, we were treated to theme episodes. "The Power of Madonna," which I really wanted to like, and "Theatricality" seemed to have the songs pre-selected without regard to the plots or storylines.

The other issue is that many of the plot devices seemed thrown in to appeal to the show's clamoring fan base. Why not have Jonathan Groff play Rachel's love interest? The fans want Idina Menzel to play Rachel's mother - let's get on that! This, along with the bizarre themes for each episode (funk, home, dreams, hello), made the show seem like it was making things up as it went along, rather than having a well-developed idea of where it was going. Sometimes, watching a given episode seemed more like Glee crossed with an insane version of Mad Libs. While taking the fans' suggestions and ideas to heart is admirable, it is also important to not just cater to the fans' whims but to also have a strong story.

This is not to say that I am giving up on Glee just yet. "Journey" did a lot to redeem the show, at least from my perspective. Although the plot still went at breakneck speed, there was a lot to like about this season ender. The songs, particularly the Journey medley, did a nice job of calling back to the pilot, and even though "To Sir, with Love" had me rolling my eyes a little, it still got me choked up. Also, I thought the redemption of Sue made some sense. Besides her quick defense of the kids in New Directions when confronted with outsiders trying to tear them down, I could honestly buy that she wants to have Will and his club around to antagonize next year. Plus, since I believe Will when he said that Sue really loves her students, I like to think that she didn't want to hurt them by having the club disbanded, particularly after hearing them sing to Will in the auditorium.

I might write a little more on Glee this summer; since Fox is showing all of the episodes again, it will be interesting to see how they hold up to another viewing...