I first heard about Glee on Fresh Air, Terry Gross’s interview program on NPR. She was interviewing Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator and producer in the days leading up to the show premiere, and I was intrigued by what seemed to be a quirky premise. So my family has watched since the first episode, back when the dialogue and character development carried as much weight as the music. The show was filled with odd plot twists, eccentric characters, and snappy double entendre wordplay that kept one on one’s toes. And while there was certainly music, there was a certain earnestness and innocence to the performances that for some reason made the hairs stand up on my arms.
I knew things were heading down hill when the first “theme episode” appeared, featuring Sue Sylvester as Madonna. And yet, there was enough of a connection to the ongoing plot (and a drawing out of Sue’s character) that I was willing to put up with the theme in the service of the story line.
But after watching the Britney Spears episode a few minutes ago on my TIVO, it’s clear that Murphy and the gang have sold out, pushing for the big money of concert tours and I-Tunes sales to the expense of the story and character development. It’s bad enough that they created a forced and artificial story to justify the Britney performances, but those performances (with the exception of Toxic) really didn’t break any new ground. They were slavish imitations of the original music videos, albeit with Glee cast members in place of the pneumatic one. I could have had the same experience watching the old videos on You Tube, for the connective tissue of the remaining story was simply setup for the next video. All I needed was Martha Quinn or Adam Curry and I would have thought I was watching MTV from back in the day when they actually played videos.
Part of the reason for the bad script was the inclusion of even more songs in the episode. In the early days, the musical performances were limited to 2 or 3 songs at best. While I can’t fully remember the count, there were at least 6 songs in this 43 minute show, leaving very little time for plot and character development. It seems clear to me that the I-Tunes money machine by which Gleeks immediately spend their week’s allowance on the songs from the latest show has led for the push for more and more music, which ultimately imperils the show, for it ceases to be what originally made the show so compelling — flawed characters doing the best they could to navigate a difficult world.
It was these stories that in fact, often made me cringe during the first half of the first season, for the circumstances faced by the Glee Club direction Will Shuster, a nice guy surrounded by pressures that conspired against him, resonated at a deep level. It isn’t that I have any connection to the Shuster character in any way, it’s that the show pushed hard against the myth that nice guys always finish first, recognizing that social relationships more often succumb to the survival of the fittest rather than love of neighbor. The underlying drama that was hidden behind the sharp comedy and music performed with wide eyed innocence kept me engaged, wanting to see what would happen next.
The Britney show didn’t at all, in fact I found myself speeding through the videos to see if anything juicy would arise. It didn’t, and I walked away feeling very unsatisfied.
It bums me out that a show with so much potential seems to be selling out to the pressures of the marketplace so quickly. I had hoped that Murphy, the man behind Nip/Tuck, would hold out for something much more inventive and daring on commercial television. I wonder how much the Fox machine, led by Rupert Murdoch, is dragging this show into oblivion.