Glee closed out its first season last night, and it must be pointed out that, while the series remains one of the most original concepts in prime-time, Glee has also become, I’m sorry to say, a bit strained, a tad self-congratulatory. Worse, it has a woman problem. Here are three things Glee has to do to get back on track for an excellent second season.
1. Stop the theme episodes. Last week’s edition was the weakest to date: “Funk” was an atomic dog. That hour typified the problems that have bogged down much of the last half of the season: Repetitive messages that Glee hammered home as though your head was an anvil, and a single joke rephrased over and over until it becomes irritating. (The phrase “in a funk” repeated so many times, I began to think that the producers did not believe the show’s younger viewers knew what it meant and therefore had to SPELL IT OUT FOR THEM.) That, and the fact that the version of the song that left Vocal Adrenaline speechless — “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off the Sucker)” — was the least funky performance Glee has ever staged.
But the flaws within “Funk” had been in evidence for a while now. I really enjoyed the Madonna episode; I thought it was inventive and varied in the way it incorporated nearly as many styles of pop imagery as the Phases of Madge herself. The Lady Gaga episode, “Theatricality,” was an enjoyable mess, but a mess nonetheless. The Gaga covers almost seemed arbitrarily assigned to various characters. The show is straining too hard to make the music in these theme-episodes further the story lines, and showing strain in musicals, which are supposed to seem effortless, is deadly.
2. Dial back on the Lessons We All Must Learn. While it’s always nice to remind impressionable viewers that hating or humiliating groups of people is bad, Glee has made this notion one of its crushingly obvious, season-long themes. By cycling variations on the same dialogue. the show does a disservice to a variety of characters who each deserve more distinctive delineations. From Kurt to Mercedes, the singers’ “very special” scripted moments have managed to make the plea, “Can’t we all just get along” not inspiring, but insipid.
3. Glee and its woman problem. Glee knows where it wants to go with its male characters. As much as I could do with fewer “soulful” grimaces from Matthew Morrison’s Will Schuester when he sings, he remains a strong narrative through-line for the series, the connective element common in most of the show’s wildly disparate story lines. Kurt is one of the most vividly portrayed young men on TV. But many of the women have been turned into unlikable caricatures. Most obviously there’s Will’s wife Terri, whose season arc has been to go from enthusiastic eccentric to fierce harridan; if any actress in prime time deserves to feel bitter about how her character has been developed, it’s Jessalyn Gilsig. Will’s putative love interest, Emma, has become even more freakishly neurotic than she started out, and that character pretty much started out over-the-top. Rachel is currently the neediest, most grasping student in the school, and far less the confident-in-herself young woman she once was. And it’s only Jane Lynch’s carefully calibrated timing and perfectly-pitched line-readings that have prevented Sue Sylvester from becoming a garish cartoon.
I also hope the makers of Glee have taken a deep breath, stepped back, re-watched their superb, finely detailed pilot episode, and are now crafting second-season episodes that will match the glow that burned brightly during much of the first half of the first season.
What did you think of Glee’s season overall?