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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Glee: "Funk"
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Failure is too harsh a word, but these last nine episodes of Glee have been a huge disappointment on some levels. I've really enjoyed almost every one of them, and I thought "Dream On" was a legitimately fantastic episode of television. But the overarching plot, which was already fairly messy in the first 13 episodes, has mostly been completely shunted aside in favor of chasing the high of the moment. I don't think every show on TV needs to be heavily serialized. I don't even think that Glee should be highly serialized. To some degree, the over-the-top after-school special satire works for the show, and having major issues come up and be dropped within the same episode can be sort of fun, if you can get on the show's wavelength. But in the first 13 episodes, the show had enough emotional continuity to get by. Now, don't get me wrong. Not every episode in those first 13 worked, and not every episode flowed logically into the one that followed. But there was a definite sense of the show building toward something, even if it was doing so in stutter step fashion.

The back nine have wholly embraced what got the show to its position in the cultural eye: its ability to deliver unquestionably entertaining moments. And, again, I don't mind that. Glee delivers sensational moments. Even its worst episodes feature some fantastic stuff around the edges, like the way you can find an emotionally devastating Kurt scene in the midst of the mess that was "Home." In some ways, TV fans overrate consistency, believing (falsely, I would argue) that the only model for a TV show is something like a well-written novel. A show that simply tries to pull off entertaining episodes or entertaining scenes and mostly succeeds is something the current TV landscape should have more of.

But, look. You can't just write out a fairly major character in the "previously on" segment and expect us to keep up. Well, I mean, you can, and if you were some sort of enjoyable post-modern festival, I might go along with it. But Glee is, at its base, basically a teen soap with a few extra levels of musical comedy, so to get rid of Jesse in so blase a fashion ignores one of the show's fundamental central conceits. Rachel is one of the two main characters on the show, and no matter how much you think the show is all about fun musical numbers or Sue Sylvester being funny (as she was again, early and often, tonight), it only works if the emotional undercurrents are humming along. Ditching Jesse like this was a mistake, I think, and it got the episode off on the wrong foot.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: The story of Kurt and his dad has been infrequently in episodes but is handled consistently when it pops up. There's an emotional continuity to it, so when it turns up, you more or less know what's going to be going on and you more or less are able to predict how the characters will behave within the storyline. I think that people think "predictability" is a bad thing in fiction, but it's actually a good thing in serialized storytelling. If you don't have something firm to stand on, when other things change, it can ultimately just feel like crazy shit happening for no reason. Having a firm foundation for the Kurt storyline allowed the show to do an emotionally complex scene like the one last week where you could legitimately sympathize with Kurt, Finn, Kurt's dad, or all three characters.

There are no such scenes in "Funk," which feels like a frantic attempt to raise a bunch of potential storylines for season two and an attempt to put things in place for the season finale. I complained a bit about this in the first 13 episodes, but every time Glee tries to do something that feels a little more like a continuing storyline, it does really bad at setting that storyline up and executing it. Every time the kids have gone to a competition, we haven't had a real sense of what preparations they're doing for that competition, beyond Will's weekly assignments, which are often nonsensical (though, paradoxically, the scenes where the kids are all in the choir room cracking jokes with Will are often among the most involving the show does). So regionals are coming up, and the kids are worried about Vocal Adrenaline, which is, yes, good, but apparently unable to compete with funk. Thus, an attempt to find a funk number (including over 60 mentions of the word "funk," if Jace Lacob is to be believed) is launched, and the kids stun Vocal Adrenaline into silence at the end with their funky, funky beats. (And I thought the kiss-off line at the end was very funny.)

Here's the thing: Will's assignments every week are something the show thinks is necessary that aren't actually necessary. Remember when the show launched and the producers promised that the musical numbers wouldn't be fantasy sequences? This is the last existing tie to that idea (notice, for example, how "Loser" is explicitly spelled out as a fantasy sequence), and the show seems unwilling to cut it loose. But if it did, if it ran with the idea that the glee club meetings were explicitly about preparing for competitions and auditioning possible numbers and gradually pulling together a program, while just trusting us to accept that the musical numbers are all things happening in the characters' heads (unless specifically shown to be as performances), the show would be so much better. It would allow for more flexibility with things like the polished, AutoTuned nature of the performances, and it would get more at the differences between dreams and reality that the show is dancing around when it's at its best.


The thing Glee is famous for is its musical numbers. The thing it does best is exploring the emotions of high school outcasts who really like to perform and live in the moment of those performances. When it blends those two things together, it's a borderline sublime show. But when it messes that up, it feels like a horrible teen soap where we're forced to watch a number of karaoke performances for no good reason. For example, Mercedes, Puck, and Finn singing together on "Good Vibrations" might have worked if it had anything to do with anything, but it was clearly just there to be a musical number. What's worse, it felt like it. Marginally, the number where Quinn sings about how hard it is to be a pregnant girl (which lets her sympathize with Mercedes, or something) makes sense, but the execution - complete with dancing pregnant teenagers - was not very good. It either needed to be camp or an emotional moment, not straddle the line between the two.

And yet, as I say all of this, I think there's a way the show can salvage these last nine episodes, but it's a way I'll be seriously surprised to see the show ever try. I think it's time to have New Directions lose, ideally to Vocal Adrenaline (though I'd be amused by the two groups losing to some group neither has ever heard of). It automatically gives you a cliffhanger the show seems to be heading toward already (with Sue taking over the choir room). It ties together a lot of the disconnected story points in these back nine. And it gives an excuse for why the kids' practices so often seem to be disjointed - they were disjointed, and they lost because of it! I don't know that this will fix the show entirely, but it will show it to be one that is actually paying some sort of attention to its continuing storyline, a show capable of being a little gutsy, instead of feeling as calculated as it often does.


Stray observations:

  • Weird story choices: Having Will try to seduce Sue to get his revenge. I think the show thinks it's funny when Will is just as bad as his students, and that's certainly a valid character choice, but then you can't have him veer wildly back toward being the show's moral center.
  • Other weird story choices: Terri seeming to develop a crush on Finn after he starts working at Linens and Things for some reason (yeah, I know the show explained it, but I've already forgotten it, which shows how good of a plot point it was). I thought, perhaps, this was going to be an attempt to humanize a problematic character, but, nope, the show has seemingly just decided to completely hate her at this point. Her sadness over her divorce with Will could be a powerful storyline, and every time the show feints in this direction (as it did in "Funk"), it feels like the show is going to be better than it actually is at playing off this plot point. That said, I really liked the number "Loser" was building into before the show abruptly cut it off. Maybe my favorite moment of the episode, and in a show built on moments, that's not nothing.
  • Hey, the voiceovers are back. For no reason! The three authors theory is obviously something I'd like to run into the ground, but Murphy, Brennan, and Falchuk need to sit down over the offseason and agree on what the show is and what it isn't. That would take care of 90 percent of the show's problems right there.
  • I talked with Chris Colfer last Friday. That interview will hopefully appear in advance of the season finale.
  • "You know what it needs to look like? Elvis' gold record room at Graceland. Except I'll be wanting far fewer morbidly obese white women wandering around and crying."
  • "Besides creeping us out, why are you telling us this?"
  • "Their school statue is a bronze of a great white shark eating a seal pup. It weighs three tons."
  • "Hot Cheetos have been proved to raise endorphins, which makes for happy kids, and I can't have that."
  • "I didn't notice. I was bored."
  • "Did everyone in the whole world die, so they had to give the jobs to you morons?"
  • "We'll type funks into the iTunes, and we'll see what comes up!"
  • "We're so clinically depressed we're doing the wrong songs?"
  • "Though I completely loathe you, you'd make a great trophy husband."
  • "Rachel is one of us. We're the ones who get to humiliate her."
  • "Well, that's because we're soulless automatons."