Friday, November 26, 2010

'Glee' Sucks

Today is Black Friday, the day we usually reserve for empty condemnation of consumer culture, usually delivered via something like an iPhone, while watching a college football game brought to us by a beer, designed to make administrations and coaches money and in no way meant to determine which institution has the superior academic program. Then we do half of our Christmas shopping on deep discount on, or we sneak off to the Levi's outlet, getting half-off on the jeans that accentuate our butts and/or packages.

I was searching for a metaphor for protestations of social value ladled over vacantly hedonistic self-indulgence, of prepackaged moral fiber disguising spun-sugar emptiness, and immediately any point I had about Black Friday was derailed by my realizing, "Oh, I'm actually thinking about Glee."

I've written before about Glee, but not in any detail. There's plenty to object to, about the show, but I was primarily stunned that it was nominated for an Outstanding Comedy Emmy despite not actually being funny. I wrote:
Then there's Glee. Really the only thing funny about it has been watching women and gay men explain that they really like it for reasons other than the fact that women and gay men like showtunes. I appreciate that there was a segment of the population that was sitting out there, helpless, saying, "I really love American Idol and the shitloads of melisma it brings to my life, but I also want clumsy acting and vicarious triumphs related to high school," but that doesn't have anything to do with being funny. Which makes sense, since Glee isn't.

At best, you can claim that Glee has a heartening unfunny message of self-actualization, but that comes via a stunningly insipid medium. These people find out who they really are by singing hits from Top 40 Radio. They find identity and strength in the lowest-common denominator. It's like looking deep within yourself and saying, "I know who I am, world, and I am proudly beige." Speaking of which, I think a strong case can be made for not awarding a best writing honor to a show that eats up huge chunks of time with people performing covers of songs the staff didn't write.
Again, though, the comments primarily focused on the show as a "comedy," which was a miscategorization, and on the show as one with significant original content, which it isn't. I didn't substantially address it as a whole, for what it intends to be. It's still just abysmal by those standards.

Following that article, one commenter attempted to rehabilitate Glee by noting that it drew national attention to extra-curricular activities in public schools, but that's really secondary to its purpose and, I think, describes a poor set of priorities. (A reality show where high school glee clubs competed against each other would not only be cheaper to produce, but part of the fees from the call-in votes could be apportioned to the schools' county budgets.) What it is meant to do — i.e. be a well-written and -acted TV show with any meaning — is something it categorically fails to do. Helping schools is great, but we should do that without relying on bad outcomes, just as we should increase teen awareness of the risks of drunk driving without eight loaded seniors murdering each other on Homecoming night in hurtling SUV death missiles.

The social value of promoting awareness of public-school extra-curriculars stuck with me, though, so I asked a few friends who are high school teachers to go bug the glee-club directors on their faculties for any comment on the show's impact. To a cynic, the results were fairly unsurprising. Glee had an appreciable impact, in that it vastly increased:
the number of people not showing up on week two of glee club meetings after showing up on week one and finding that glee club would involve time-consuming work and would not involve everyone merely staring in rapt silence at the stunning performance of the next big star;
the number of people who mistook glee club for dance team;
the number of people who were turned on by a TV show and thought singing was something they could do just by showing up, the way some kids see a Led Zeppelin concert video and think that buying a guitar and tight pants are the only things standing between them and a killer solo.
But, you know, at least people are more aware of glee clubs now. Awareness is always good.

I had originally intended to fold these observations into a larger review of the show, including a close look at a random episode, but then I stumbled onto something pretty great, a website called Glee Sucks. I was immediately sold on it when I saw its subtitle: "Dear God, America. We used to go to the moon." Then I noticed that the writers posted mercilessly detailed recaps of episodes, and was just delighted.

Glee Sucks immediately obviated any desire on my part to write anything of my own. They did exactly what I most enjoy reading whenever someone goes against the grain of a popular trend: rather than exulting in their non-enjoyment of something terrible (running to insubstantial whatevers or know-it-all-ism), they meticulously enumerated it. As if painfully aware of the ease with which they would be dismissed as contrarian or simply "haters," the people in charge seemed to delight in deconstructing each episode with infinitely more care than that with which it had been constructed in the first place. Good characterization and good plot arcs have memories: they are internally consistent and respectful of what came before. Glee is neither, and the people most faithful to both principles are those come to impeach it.

That said, I also especially enjoyed the site because I don't have the fortitude to watch multiple episodes and detect long-term inaccuracies like, say, this one from the Britney episode:
Will [Schuester] also gets a dentist appointment with Carl. We are not sure why. All the other Glee people got appointments because they were shown to have bad teeth in the demonstration. Will has perfect teeth, but [show writer] Ryan Murphy needed Carl and Will to have a one on one. Also, we suspect that he has a chemical dependence on deus ex machina. In this conversation, Carl gives Mr. Schue candy and tells him how he needs to relax more. He also tells Will about how awesome his life has been ever since he bought a Corvette from Chevy. We have seen shameless Chevy ads in the middle of Glee episodes before (Episode 17), but this is just ridiculous. Actual conversation:
…I drive the hybrid to work every day, then one day I’m driving past the Chevy dealership–the new Corvettes had just come in, so I stop right on the spot, I make a U Turn, and I buy one.
...Will goes ahead and buys a Chevy Corvette so that he can impress Emma. Remember last season when Will couldn’t afford a decent sized house to start a family in? How many episodes opened with him driving his old beater car to demonstrate how poor he is? Well, now he is able to buy a new Corvette without any problems. Emma is not impressed and Terri is angry about the car purchase. Terri warns him that he shouldn’t spend all of their savings. The Corvette didn’t even use up all the savings? Mr. Schuester must have some type of secret source of money on the side. We suspect that Glee is waiting to explain the source of this money until a sponsor buys up some lines of dialogue. We expect something like, “Thank God I have such great financing with PNC Bank!” By the way, we were driving past a PNC bank the other day, and stopped right on the spot, made a U Turn, and when the cop was done writing us a ticket, we went straight in and opened up a couple of brand new checking accounts!
Banking is awesome.

Easily the best thing the site has going for it is that it's funny enough that you don't even need to know anything about the episodes it's mocking. I caught one Glee episode while sick and too woozy and exhausted to try to find a remote control, and I watched another for the purpose of trying to settle an argument. Beyond that, I have no idea what happens in most of them — aside from five minutes spent on several episodes whenever DVR playback of another program ended — but I've read most of Glee Sucks' recaps just for such bewilderingly comedic passages as this one, about an episode in which the writers patted themselves on the back for soberly looking at religion through the hackneyed and insulting device of a Jesus-like shape burned onto a fucking grilled-cheese sandwich:
We return to Finn who asks his sandwich if he can be quarterback. You’ll recall that Finn 2: 2 Fast 2 Furious is now the quarterback because Finn got kicked off the football team for asking if Artie could be on it….but now Artie and Finn are both on the team, so we don’t know why Finn isn’t back at QB. It must be a rare case where the sequel is just better than the original.

At the game, Finn changes a play in the huddle. He is able to do this without being the quarterback when he states that he is the only quarterback to win a game on that field. Remember when they won that game earlier in this episode when Finn 2: Havana Nights was the quarterback? The one where Artie scored the touchdown? Neither do the writers. Anyways, Finn changes the play to one where Finn 2: Cruise Control will get tackled. This a very mean thing to do because any other play-call would not have led to him being tackled, but likely to a relaxing massage. Because of the tackle, Finn 2: The Bourne Supremacy’s shoulder becomes separated. Coach Ken Tanaka appropriately blames Finn for changing the play-call and punishes him by making him the quarterback, thus fulfilling his final request to the sandwich. This seems like a harsh way of answering his prayer, but apparently the sandwich is a dark and vengeful god.
Or take this recap about Glee's bold and challenging look at homosexuality in America:
For the second consecutive episode, Glee has received praise for making a resonant statement about an important issue. This week: homosexuality. Critics came to this conclusion because Glee had the courage to show two women in cheerleader outfits making out on a bed while talking about how they had been scissoring. We were going to call two cheerleaders performing sex acts on a bed a breakthrough in entertainment diversity, but we realized that the porn industry made this breakthrough several decades ago. They just plopped this scene, which could not be targeted more toward straight men, in out of nowhere and then left it just as quickly with no explanation. The scene is supposed to be a triumph for the gay community, but it involved two straight girls (later we learn that Kurt is the only gay kid in the whole town) and was put in the episode merely for sex appeal and shock value.
Or take this review of "Acafellas." I can't even pick a part of this episode that's singularly retarded. It would be like attempting to give individual honors to lemmings in the field of "suddenly falling off the edge of a precipice." The only difference is that the lemming thing is a myth, while the Glee phenomenon is very, very real and frequently posted about, on your Facebook page, by people who've gotten enough diplomas in life to no longer have an excuse for behaving like you'd need to put child-locks on the kitchen-cleanser cupboard before you invite them over for a meal.

If you're as tired of that phenomenon as you should be, Glee Sucks provides a lovely dose of schadenfreude and a delicious resource for malicious links you can post at people for whom you used to have something like esteem. Best of all, it prevents me from having to review the show with enough detail that would require watching more of it. Now go—go read it. It's by far the most nutritious thing you'll consume on Black Friday.