The question I want to answer today is: what went wrong? Sure, there are some of you reading this who probably never watched Glee and were never interested. But I suspect that there are some of you, like me, who did enjoy it at the start, but rapidly lost interest at some point. Maybe there’s still some of you who watch it avidly, but I suspect your numbers are dwindling. So today’s investigation is going to be about Glee: what was good, what was bad, and where did it just turn into the most atrocious show I’ve ever followed?
You see, there’s not many shows that I give up on. There are shows I stayed watching even when I knew it was getting terrible (see: Lost, and possibly The Walking Dead). I don’t like abandoning ship. I feel like I invest my time, my thoughts and my emotions into shows to such an extent that to stop watching is really soul destroying. I’ve done it a few times, but usually begrudgingly. The Office (US) is one of those (once Michael left 😦 ) as is Scrubs (when J.D. left). The Walking Dead might be one of those (we’ll see if I tune in next season). But Glee isn’t like these other shows, shows which I abandoned with a heavy heart. Glee is one of those shows which I literally turned off half way through the first episode of Season 4, stormed off and said, “I am done.” In some ways it’s because the show changed at Season 4, with most of the cast leaving the school; but I suspect that isn’t the reason why I hated it. It’s what I’m going to be exploring today, but as I’ve been told over and over again in my essays, I should introduce my conclusion first. So my conclusion is going to be: something about Glee was infecting it throughout the seasons, Season 4 was merely the last straw and not the actual catalyst.
We’ll start with what was good about Glee. When I started watching it, I knew this wasn’t usually the type of show I liked. It’s a high school drama with singing. I didn’t watch High School Musical but when it first aired, that kind of thing was all the rage and I didn’t participate. So I’m not sure why I decided to tune in but I did. And I loved it. I loved how the characters were so stereotypical and so shameless about it too. The cheerleaders were huge bitches, the nerds wore glasses and the jocks were bolshy douchebags, and the show was centered around a bunch of misfits embodying all the other stereotypes from the A-type gold star loving Rachel to the emo arm-warmer wearing bright streaks in her hair Tina. The characters may as well have been pulled out of a hat labelled HIGHSCHOOL STEREOTYPES because that’s all they were. Then, at the end of the last episode, the signature love interest of the jock with the A-type girl was pulled, and I thought, “Finally, a show with no surprises and is totally unashamed of that.”
It was a surprising reaction to an unsurprising show. Why would I enjoy a show that really had nothing creative about it? Was it the singing? Well, I don’t know if you guys remember that first hit ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, but the main singer Finn can barely hit a note. His vocals are absolutely drowned by Rachel’s, which are actually decent, but at the end of the day, it’s a duet where half of it is incomprehensible. Hardly the musical masterpiece, but I suppose what hits no. 1 in the charts rarely is. In fact, the best singers were hardly ever featured with the exception of Rachel. Santana was always my favourite, yet she probably only featured in less than 10% of the songs on that show. So the music was hardly the selling point for me, although I know many loved the teen pop revivals of old classics and many more loved the new spins on songs they already loved.
Was it the dialogues? I guess there were funny in that very American way, that very obvious gaffawing tone that American sitcoms usually have. There was nothing very clever about it, besides it going really over the top to fulfil the stereotypes it had established. Furthermore, it suffered from having multiple writers who apparently didn’t consult each other. With inconsistent writers, the characters were also fairly inconsistent, and the character Sue was probably the most grievous example of this. One episode she is a tyrant, an insult slinging bull who marches the high school corridors smacking heads and blowing a whistle. The next, she is shown to be an emotional, heartfelt young woman who is only abusive because she suffered in her life. Whilst this might have been an interesting (if clichéd) development had they trended towards her revealing her ‘softer’ side, it seemed as though the next episode she would be back to her bullying ways and completely forget the revelations and friendships she had forged in a previous episode. Like I said, inconsistent writing.
Was it the acting? The acting seemed passable, but the characters these actors were playing are hardly Oscar-stretching material. They did a good job of making me love the characters I’m supposed to love and hate the ones I’m supposed to hate.
Really, there was nothing about Glee that made it special in any way. It just did what it could, and it did to a level that was relatively polished and shiny. There were a few moments of real parody genius, I thought, some truly black humour scenes which made the whole thing seemed cleverer than it was. For the first half of season 1, I was convinced this was actually an elaborate con, a show which purported to be a happy feel good teenage show but actually went right down in to the deep end with some shocking, horrifying scenes warning us of the dangers of teen pregnancy and being an asshole. I was not vindicated in this conviction, but it was a fun theory to have for a while.
So if every aspect of the show is lacking, why did I enjoy it so much? Why did I like watching it week after week, hour after hour of terrible singing, dancing and cheesy plot lines? Honestly, I don’t know. I think it just tapped into the part of my brain that makes me happy. It’s the same part of my brain that squeals when I see a cute cat picture on the internet. It was just easy going, relaxed comedy viewing which I looked forward to as my weekly injection of rainbow sprinkles and unicorns. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and managed to switch off the part of my head that actually has taste and critical judgements. That’s a pretty hard feat to do. Anyone who knows me knows that I critique the shit out of everything I watch and do. I am a walking judgement machine who can’t possibly give out a perfect 10 to anything, who must deeply analyse every moment and assess it. Now then, here’s Glee, my apparent Achille’s heel, the show I watch even though my waking brain knows it’s terrible and there are no redeeming qualities and maybe if I really thought about it, I would be downright offended. Yet I watched it. And I loved it.
How then did it go so wrong? How did my warm fuzzy feelings at the start turn into this complete singularity of hatred I now have for the show? Like I said, I switched off at the start of season 4, but it wasn’t anything inherent about that episode that made me turn off. I watched it, and I was just suddenly struck with the awfulness of it all. Suddenly, things which would have made me laugh, just made me angry. I watched that episode and I was just gobsmacked. Every song was grating on my nerves until I could not handle it any more. It was as if I misplaced my rose tinted glasses that I usually watched the show with and replaced it with super stereoscopic high detail lenses which made me hone in on every aspect of this awful show.
Really though, I think the show just got too big for its boots. The plot lines in the early seasons were easy and resolvable. Pregnant teenager gives up baby for adoption and cheated on her boyfriend? Pretty standard fare in teen movies these days, right? Who hasn’t seen Juno? But towards the end, these characters were just too far entangled in drama. The end of season 3 focused around two characters getting married. Married? They’re just kids! But of course they don’t end up getting married, they just break up in the most horrendous way possible. Rachel literally gets put on a train to no-plotsville and Finn disappears to some abstract army camp. That is not a resolved conflict. That is an emotionally scarring event which fundamentally changes the character. I mean, I’m not saying that teen pregnancy isn’t emotionally scarring in real life. But what I’m saying is in the show, it isn’t portrayed like that, it’s shown as a problem which the character overcomes and gets stronger and moves on from. The huge life changing events in season 1 and 2 are neither huge nor life-changing, they are simply a plot device for drama and the show knew that. The marriage break-up though? Rachel is not the type of character who should be able to rebound from that. Her precious fragile A-type mentality couldn’t possibly accept a loss of that magnitude. Yet, there she is, next episode just happily singing and dancing in New York. The show forgot what it was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about making me feel warm and fuzzy, not just throwing characters under a bus because the writers didn’t know what to do anymore. The events that occur are supposed to be resolved, preferably in under 3 episodes or so, and then they move on and take care of the next piece of drama in their lives. Sometimes old events get drenched up but then handily tucked back down below the bellows by the end of the episode. However, somewhere in season 3, they forgot that they’re supposed to actually resolve things by, you know, actual resolutions, and not just writing off characters in the most horrific ways possible. I had to go find ten pictures of cute cats just to feel better after those episodes.
Now, I know I said I turned off at the start of season 4. But I had the misfortune of tuning in to some episode midway through the season when I was at my parent’s house and bored. I hadn’t watched TV on a proper TV in months, so it was quite an experience to watch Glee on a 47” TV in a large sitting room. I think it only added to my bewilderment for I was completely lost. The show had introduced half a dozen new characters to replace the ones who had left, but the ones who had ‘left’ were still on the show? Oh dear, haven’t we learnt our lesson from Scrubs? I didn’t know who these characters were. I didn’t care. They were obnoxious knock offs of the characters I loved in season 1. Sigh. I knew I couldn’t return to the show, even if I wanted to.
The undercurrent of the show throughout the early seasons was this sense that ‘this show is terrible; and we love it’. They had fun with it. They played with the nonsensical highschool antics theme. It reminds me of Community, where most of the plot points get lampshaded by the characters themselves, and they know that the world they’re in is contrived, drama-filled and silly. Glee was like that at the beginning. You got the sense that even as the misfits got slushied, they knew this was for comedy, that this was light hearted humour. But as the show went on, it somehow lost that sense. It suddenly took itself very seriously. Things that were previously shaken off in a rousing chorus of song and dance were suddenly all very serious, all very dark. The slushies changed into slushies filled with stones and rocks, such that a character gets temporarily blinded. One kid is driven close to suicide over his closeted gay tendencies. One episode focused on religion and the conflict between atheism and Christianity, whilst a character’s father is in a coma. The show always had some darkness which was overshadowed by the light, but it later became clear that this darkness was just waiting to slowly infect the rest of the show. These were darknesses that weren’t easily resolved. They were ones which, as a teenager myself, hit very close to home.
And at first, I thought, yes! Maybe this show is deeper than I originally thought! Maybe it grapples with some dark themes, the kind of teenage angst that people usually shake off but can in fact, be very serious. I thought maybe this show would treat this subject matter properly, in a sophisticated manner.
Then it became clear that the show was just not up for this kind of seriousness. It stumbled through its moral messages more cringingly than the fake stutter that Tina had in season 1. It introduced huge moral dilemmas, only to write off characters when it became inconvenient. The school bully who was closeted gay? He just changes school so we don’t have to deal with him anymore. The potential for so much more was there, but the writers just weren’t having it.
See, Glee, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be the light hearted teen comedy show and the moral police at the same time. Scrubs handled the balance between comedy and darkness really well, its darker episodes were masterfully and artistically produced to maintain the fact that the show was fundamentally a comedy about very dark things. Glee, however, failed in this regard. It could not be too controversial lest it alienate its core audience, and yet it tried to go right up the boundary of what was acceptable. Too bad what is acceptable for an American comedy is really too shallow for any kind of good quality moral messages.
That was the problem that reared its huge head at the start of season 4. It was trying too hard to put in too much, and its colourful drama costume closet just could not hold it all in whilst still singing and dancing. The characters were too bloated. They were no longer stereotypes, but amalgamations of several stereotypes, and it was too much. It just got too big.
The singing and dancing got desperate. Have you guys seen the video of the fat woman dancing naked on butter? Yeah, google that, I’m not linking it because I’m not sure I want to be associated with that video. But it reminded me of that. In the video, the woman falls over and over again, only to get up and carry on dancing, each time more feebly than the last. Glee was like that. Every song they did just got more and more feeble. The show became more about the drama between the songs than the songs themselves, and the songs became vehicles for more drama.
Of course, there are some people who saw this straight from the beginning. I know Glee had its fair share of haters. People who saw it the way I see it now; a stupid, mindless teen pop affair which ruins good songs and has terrible plots. But I didn’t always. Did I just wake up and suddenly realise what I should have realised from the start? Or did the show actually get worse? I don’t know. All I know is that it felt like something changed, something went wrong somewhere down the line. And it wasn’t a sudden change, like in The Office or Scrubs. Yes, Glee did the same thing and replaced its cast, but that isn’t what caused me to hate it. I think it’s like eating a really nice pie. At the start, you love it and every bite is delicious, because you only have a simple amount in your belly. After eating ¾ of a massive pie though, you’re just sick of it. And by the time you reach the end, you just want to puke. So that’s what Glee is to me. A pie which I just got fed up of eating.