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Lou and Gwen discuss the difference between “stage left” and “house left.”
Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC
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Over and over throughout this episode, characters tell Lou he can’t fix his problems with another passionate speech or a deep heart-to-heart conversation. Gordy, Gwen, and Tracy all are frustrated with Lou. Gordy is frustrated with his father trying to mold him into an when all Gordy wants is to play football and be an alcoholic. Gwen is frustrated that her years of work is being put aside for newcomers who need more than a little hand-holding. And we all know why Tracy is pissed and she’s continues to be proven right. Lou won’t fight for funding for the theater program and comes into rehearsals late and pisses off the cast. But the problem is from where the audience is sitting, their frustrations are justified.


Everyone should be frustrated with Lou. For being more concerned about losing his son’s than his son hiding alcohol in his locker. For indulging Gwen’s demand to know why she wasn’t cast as the lead and not concerning himself with the difference between stage left and house left! For silencing Tracy, his only ally, before going to meet with the district board and then calling her a liability when the majority of the other teachers appeared to be on her side when it came to funding.

We’re not seeing people be won over by his earnestness and we’re not seeing him fail spectacularly enough. Any successes seem to happen in spite of him. Gwen is already on the verge of giving up when she confronts Lou so her emotional performance at the end of the episode didn’t feel like the result of his direction. Tracy disobeyed his “orders” to remain silent and her unscripted condemnation of the district board won over more hearts than his carefully worded diatribe.

When it comes to Gordy, he doesn’t seem concerned about the problem and it doesn’t make Lou sympathetic. If Gordy’s alcohol problem and behavioral issues are severe enough that he’s crashing his car late at night and hiding alcohol in his locker, any parent would be willing to pull out all the stops to fix the problem. Lou seems more content to take a laid-back approach. Lou shows more intensity in his stand-off with Coach Sam over Robby’s rehearsal schedule than his own son’s recovery. Lou is also content to ignore the simmering tension between the two fathers and let Sam step in as Gordy’s mentor. (Hard to believe considering Gordy was hiding his whiskey in his football locker). Part of this is done to feed Gordy’s frustration but it comes off like a father unconcerned with his son’s issues.

And this show is in desperate need of some real levity. Allowing us to laugh at Lou or with the other characters would provide a much needed release when it comes to the escalating melodrama of the other character’s lives.


Speaking of the other characters, rest of the plots are moving forward along their assumed clichés and doing so very quickly. Lilette finally does something about her crush on Robby and her mother pushes her to dress sexy because she “dated her first football player when she was a sophomore too.” It reduces Lilette’s mother to a shallow town harlot who believes nabbing a football player is a woman’s greatest achievement. It’s hard to think of any woman’s story-line that isn’t based on reacting to a man’s actions, whether it’s her father, a teacher, or a romantic interest. A newbie getting a role out from under the seasoned veteran is ripe for drama without the added psycho-sexual tension between Gwen and Lilette about their parents.

Lilette and Robby attempting to learn their lines
Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Ultimately, Lilette and Robby do connect a moment of sexual tension onstage and a study session in the diner but it’s all over too quickly when Lilette sees Robby get kissed by another girl after school. Who wants to put money down that Robby will be confused about what Lilette saw and say “It’s all a big misunderstanding. She kissed me” and their romance will be back on track in a couple episodes.

Simon’s storyline is moving along steadily and predictably. We’re hitting all the religious but closeted teen story beats: feeling a little too much chemistry with another teenager, asking out a more acceptable partner to distract themselves, and discomfort at same-sex hang-outs. I know it’s a cliché but musical theater has long been a haven for gay teens and I would have appreciated a fresh take on this storyline or not seen it telegraphed from the very beginning. Especially since Michael, the trans student, feels comfortable enough to ask to change with the other boys and everyone seems to accept him. More focus on Michael’s home life or life outside the musical would feel like a more unique storyline.


I also would appreciate it if Lou didn’t react to everything Michel does or says with “Beautiful” or some other line where you can tell Lou is patting himself on the back for being tolerant.

The most disappointing thing is that the musical numbers and actual business of putting on a high school musical isn’t being leaned on enough. So again, I ask – why even show the musical numbers? NBC can’t say “fucked” so why show the musical numbers with obscene language at all? The tension and pressure of putting on a good show, along with some show-stopping musical numbers that are produced could distract from the cliché storylines. Gwen alone in a dark room shot with a hazy steady-cam isn’t going to be enough.


Stray Observations:

  • If they’re changed “fucked” to “effed,” wouldn’t that affect the entire rhyme scheme of the song? I’m more interested in how they get around that hurdle than Gwen’s home life.
  • This show is in love with bright shots of this economically anxious town. Power lines! Factories in the distance! Fences! We’ve got it all!
  • The dialogue between Robby and his teammate was painful. If my teammate told me that their parents depended on me, I would run in the opposite direction because that would have been too much for my little high school brain to handle.
  • Lou’s shrug about learning stage left and stage right is INFURIATING because it’s not that hard. How does he expect to direct? How does he expect the students to take him seriously if he won’t learn the language of theater?
  • Lou saying his son plays an amazing “arrangement of ‘Blackbird’” reached Ted Mosby levels of cringeworthy-ness.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Ali Barthwell is a wearer of fine lipstick and fine hosiery.

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