It’s been nearly four months since the debut of Glee back in May, and in that time, I’ve started to doubt myself, convinced that I didn’t like the show as much as I thought I did, no matter how many times I watched the pilot and found myself swept away by it. The series had so many well-reasoned detractors and did so many things I say I hate in a series that I thought, perhaps, I had overstated things, had been too swayed by just how fun the musical numbers were without noting the problematic elements involved as well. So when I got the screener of Glee’s second and fourth episodes, I put it in with some trepidation, convinced that I’d realize how wrong I’d been.
The good news is I wasn’t wrong. This is a good show and one in the process of getting better. It’s fun and joyful and winning at its best, and I can handle the overabundance of perkiness that seems to have turned some people off the show (in fact, I think that it masks a sadness at the show’s core that a lot of other critics don’t seem to be tapping into). The same problems I had with the pilot are still present and seem to be growing slightly worse in the second episode, but the fourth episode gave me a glimmer of hope that the show was working to patch these sorts of things up. In the meantime, though, what’s up with our favorite kids at McKinley High?
“Showmance” works a little too hard to get us reinvested in the world of Glee. Obviously, that’s something you want to do in a second episode. Ideally, the first six or seven episodes restate the major conflicts expressed in the pilot, the better for new viewers to keep piling on the bandwagon, but when you’ve already aired your pilot three times (to say nothing of free Internet streams all summer long), it seems a bit odd to be doing it all over again. I’m not sure we needed to see Kurt getting tossed in the dumpster again or Rachel getting slammed with two drinks in her face again. It’s obvious who everyone is on a show like this to anyone who’s paid any attention to other high school-set TV shows or movies, even as the show works overtime to find the emotional resonance beneath the stereotypes, so there’s less need to restate everything that’s happening for the benefit of new viewers even without all of the pilot screenings. (Another thing I didn’t need to see repeated: Mercedes yelling, “Oh, hell to the no!” which sets my stereotype alarm on high alert every time I see it.)
But the core of “Showmance” – the idea that you always love the person who doesn’t quite love you back, even if you’re married to them – is the sort of funny-sad conflict that this show already does well. By bouncing all of these would-be relationships off of each other, the series is focusing in on its central idea, which is that you can never get what it is you want, that the world is built up to keep people from their dreams, no matter how modest those dreams may be. That a series about high-schoolers who perform “Push It” for a school assembly that also features a character who suggests that two teenagers should be “hobbled” is pushing into this territory is what makes me most hopeful for it. Juggling tones is the hardest thing to do on television, but if it’s achieved well, there’s nothing else quite like it.
On the other hand, I do worry about Jessalyn Gilsig’s character, Terri. In the pilot, I was hopeful that the fact that she was pregnant would deepen her character and complicate her relationship with Will, who clearly wants to leave to be with Emma. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a storyline about two people who got together in high school and then just stayed together out of inertia and attraction to each other, and complicating that with a new potential lover who’s actually a better match for one of the two partners is also a pretty good idea. But in its relentless quest to let us know exactly how to feel about all of these couplings without introducing ambiguity to the proceedings, Glee has been too quick to make Terri conniving and borderline evil. It attempts to excuse this by introducing us to her even worse sister in this episode, as if to suggest that she doesn’t know any better because of how she was raised, I guess, but there’s just something too false about the character, to the point where it makes no sense why Will and Terri are even still together (and all of the scenes between the scenes we actually see – like whatever transpired to leave Will and Terri in the bath together – suggest that the two must have some degree of a healthy relationship). To be fair, the fourth episode does some good legwork toward clearing some of this up, and Gilsig’s performance is far better than what she’s given to play, so I have hope. But I’m worried that this is going to ultimately destroy the show. (What’s intriguing is that the triangle between Finn, Rachel and Quinn hits these exact same notes, but Quinn is a much better-realized character. Maybe the creators just really hate consumerist wives?)
But even as that’s bugging me so much, I can realize it’s a relatively small portion of the show. Glee, for the most part, is a big, warm, loving show, dedicated to the idea that dreams are worth pursuing, no matter how unrealistic they are. There’s some absolutely terrific stuff in “Showmance,” just as there was in the pilot, from Will singing “Gold Digger” with his students to a celibacy club meeting that turns into a quietly impassioned (and family friendly!) plea for reasonable teen sexuality to even more singing, like Quinn’s surprisingly sexy performance of “Say a Little Prayer for You” (though something in the production here swallowed up Dianna Agron’s very fine voice too much). And there are so many funny lines (like Emma’s response to Rachel saying she doesn’t have a gag reflex) and sight gags (like all of the terrific pamphlet titles in the guidance counselor’s office) that I’m quickly moving on to the next thing every time I start to foment a criticism against the show. This is to say nothing of Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, another stereotypical character but a screamingly funny one, who manages to make any scene she’s in something of a livewire.
“Showmance” isn’t quite as good as the pilot, and it has the inevitable second episode problems (wherein a show tries too hard to remind you of what it is), but it gives me more of a feeling that my initial impulse about this show – that it was a highly promising show that just needed to work out one or two – was the right one. Glee’s never going to be for everyone, but for those of us whom it’s for, it promises to be a terrifically fun time. Here’s hoping that it can work out those kinks post haste.
- As much fun as I had with the “Gold Digger” number (and is Matthew Morrison a TV star or what?), it was still hilarious to hear how it was cleaned up for TV.
- Some of the musical numbers feel just a bit overproduced. I get that it sounds more impressive that way, but I’d love to have the feeling that these are kids who are still struggling to get their performance skills wholly together.
- Some critics are complaining that Rachel is too unrelentingly chipper and they find her kind of annoying. Guys, that’s kind of the point?
- Don't worry, Glee fans. We'll be doing weekly coverage of this show. I just forgot to ask for our own category. So blame me.