Saturday, September 15, 2012

Glee starts a new season

Glee is a show that invites the viewer to celebrate the here and now of the show without thinking too hard about how that specific episode ties coherently into any other episode. The list of "headscratchers" (or plot holes) listed under Glee on is immense. One would figure that the majority of Glee viewers have decided that the best way to enjoy the show is not to take it at face value.

But to become invested enough into the show that you're at the "never want to miss an episode" level, you have to understand that the show does have an internal logic that simply doesn't exist in normal space or time.

The show's about the rush of school from the perspective of a student caught up in the whirlwind of it. When you're in high school, popularity often feels like the be-all-end-all goal of your experience.
You might go through high school without ever getting slushied, but the (admittedly, often exxagerated) fear that you'll get picked on for not being in the in-crowd is often very real and almost universal.

It's true that there might be a lot of colleges out there and viewers thought it was silly that Kurt and Rachel thought their life was over if they didn't get into NYADA and Finn didn't think he'd be able to go to college as if FAFSA didn't exist. But to a high school kid who doesn't know any better, getting into your first choice college choice seems like the most important thing in the world.

Glee's decision to continue the characters past high school could be seen as a cheap and easy way out. In fact, a quick glance at this past summer's entertainment news confirms that keeping Kurt and Rachel on the show was the cheap and easy way out. At the same time, the decision to keep Kurt and Rachel makes complete sense from the aforementioned point of view.  I'd even argue that there'd be less truth to a high school show that graduated its seniors and released them from the cast.

Again, high school experiences are highly varied but anyone who had a relatively good high school experience knows that high school doesn't end when you graduate. A part of you stays there for quite a while and there's often an internal struggle between how much to keep in touch with old friends verse making new ones. In that vein, everyone who goes back to homecoming freshman weekend feels like Kurt did when Sue Sylvester commented on how pathetic he was for sticking around.

So while there wasn't anything notably outside my expectations with this week's Rachel subplot -- which can be condensed to Rachel finds New York is tougher than she thought -- the general sentiment of her arc felt true to the show. Not to mention, the show hit these themes very nicely with Kurt.

As for Kate Hudson, it's kind of nice that the part of resident bitch/foil has shifted away from Sue Sylvester but because she doesn't have that tongue-in-cheek delivery or funny dialogue, its kind of a waste.

As for things back at McKinley, the Glee club lost Finn, Kurt, Quinn, Puck, Rachel, Sanatana, Chang, and Rory. Of the remainder, Artie and Tina have never been particularly interesting, Sam's "I'm secretly poor" angle has run its course; and Brittany and Blaine become less interesting with the loss of Santana and Kurt. In this sense, the episode's theme about who to replace Rachel is apt because it doesn't seem like a lot of star power is left.

Fortunately, the newcomers look promising on the whole. I'm disappointed to see the poor angle played again with Marlee but the lunch lady plot was fairly effective and the actress plays the part in a very eager and genuine way which works for me.

Several aspects of Wade's plot were troublesome to me. First off, his desire to be a drag queen seems incompatible with transferring to a public high school: Wasn't Dalton the paragon of tolerance and McKinley its antithesis? It's also worth pointing out that cross-dressing is not allowed in most school dress codes. More to the point, the transformation of Wade to Unique was more ideal to a multi-episode arc. His desire to dress as a woman was insignificant and just plain weird because the why of it wasn't explained and (admittedly, I did likely miss the episode(s) where Wade debuted) and its hard to get invested in the struggle if it is surmounted within the first episode. It also does a great disservice to the LGBT movement because it's a missed opportunity to explain why someone his age would cross-dress.

The character of Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist) is a little different than his half-brother Noah: Although they both had difficulty with authority, one's an underachiever, the other's an overachiever, and I appreciate that distinction. I also should note that I read no preview of any kind for the episode and did not see that plot twist coming.

Elsewhere, there's a new bitchier version of Quinn that will pick up the venom as Sue softens up. Although Kitty seems like a flat character and will probably remain so, her addition could be the show's saving grace.

Personally, I stopped watching Glee somewhere in the back 9 of last season. I started cringing as Quinn and Rachel became besties, Sue resolved to help the Glee Club, and Karofsky revealed his crush on Kurt. It was essentially the equivalent of the group high five at the end of a Saved by the Bell episode where the kids all learned a lesson and everyone's friends again. To give the closing episodes of a three year arc a joyous tone wasn't necessarily a bad idea, but this tone was stretched out over several episodes which took away from the drama.

In short, throwing in a new foil and having the Glee club fall from grace is what the show needed. Sue was getting too soft and even this show should have a limit over how many times they can revert Sue to her original grouchy form before believability is strained. I'm not sure if this new cast of characters can provide the necessary character drama to make Glee work this season, but it's a welcome change and a good start.

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