Sometimes shows return after the summer hiatus with heavy anticipation due to audience withdrawal. “Glee,” on the other hand, only increased in the public’s overall consciousness. It barreled down the pop culture landscape like The Prince in the videogame “Katamari Damacy,” growing larger and larger as it absorbed an ever-increasing amount of attention in the aftermath of its inaugural season. I wrote last spring that I felt the show was about as critic-proof as they come: well, the introductory meta-commentary that opened Season 2 pretty much validated that. Kurt, playing the part of show creator Ryan Murphy, essentially told me I should make like Lady Gaga and just dance instead of write about the episode. I might not be Boobs McGee (that would be Santana), but I am for the time being Blogger McGee, and writing about this show is all I can do for the time being.
[Full recap of Tuesday's (Sept. 21) "Glee" premiere after the break...]
The summer’s onslaught of all things “Glee” primed the show for an even bigger second season, but also painted a huge target on its slushied back: people that couldn’t get enough of the show last season couldn’t wait for it to return, and those that loathed its current omnipresence couldn’t wait for it to come out of the blocks and instantly fail. “Audition” took the challenge of finding a middle ground while avoiding a mere repeat of last season’s underdog arc. In a way, this week’s drama mirrored that of the show itself: how can a creative entity maintain everything that it worked so hard to achieve while allowing room for growth? At what point does the fear of change lead to either stagnation or self-destruction?
By the time of Regionals in last spring’s finale, New Directions were an unusually constructed but tightly bound unit. At some point, I stopped wondering why Mike and Artie could only bond during a Kiss production number and rolled with the fact that in this world, the power of song pretty much elevates this group to a type of psychic hive-mind mentality led by Will’s hair and the piano’s player’s beard. Some, such as Rachel, fight tooth and nail to maintain this fragile balance, but the summer led to subtle yet seismic changes within the interpersonal dynamics of the group. New Directions, like “Glee,” looks the same at the outset, but is already a different beast altogether.
Artie and Tina? No longer a couple. (Who can blame her? I’d leave me for Mike’s abs, too.) Quinn? Back on the Cheerios as lead cheerleader, which causes tension with Santana. Matt? Transferred…to a school that maybe will let him speak more than one line. By the time they try the Pied Piper’s call of “Empire State of Mind,” they are already sending out the wrong vibe: not only are they not nearly as cool as they think they are in this new school year, but they are in many ways already showing signs of flop sweat. (Then again, maybe it’s not so much flop sweat as Cory Monteith actively wishing he didn’t have to try and emulate Jay-Z’s flow.)
Their impromptu lunch time performance yields only two would-be candidates. Now, I know you’re not going to believe this, but these two? These two can actually sing! I know. Color me stunned as well. But rather than simply augment the group and move on, “Glee” diverts both assets into other directions: new high school quarterback Sam Evans chooses sports over social stigma, and Sunshine Corazon gets swept up by Vocal Adrenaline after Rachel’s hazing process sends her to a crack house instead of initial auditions. Of the two, Sunshine clearly made the biggest initial impression, both in going toe-to-toe with Rachel on Lady Gaga/Beyonce’s “Telephone” and going solo onstage with “Listen” from “Dreamgirls.”
“Listen” contains the following lyrics: “Listen, I am alone at a crossroads/I’m not at home in my own home.” Both Will and Sue find their respective homes in the school threatened by the third new character tonight, Head Football Coach Shannon Beiste. Having a female head coach is neither here nor there in my books; if the show wants to posit that the state has an Asian Camp that seems to be the only summertime option for under-18 citizens of that particular demographic, then a female head coach seems downright mundane. As for the character itself: I’ll need a few episodes to render actual judgment. With “Glee,” you can never tell what’s eventually going to turn out to be poignant or turn out to be a failed experiment at experimentation. It’s as likely that there’s a long term plan for Beiste as the writers just thought it would be HILARIOUS to throw her into a room with Sue and see what would happen.
And therein lies the problem with “Glee” as a whole: since it’s difficult to know what you’re laughing at as opposed to celebrating with, it’s difficult to know how to “read” certain aspects of the show. The liberties taken during production numbers highlights the show’s desire to have its cake and eat it too: certain numbers exist simply as New Directions production numbers, some exist as flights of fancy in characters’ heads, and some exist in an in-between state that serves whatever particular need the story has at that moment to get from Point A to Point B. Individually, the majority of production numbers of “Glee” work fine as a finite piece of entertainment. But they rarely add up to a cohesive whole. Which, quite frankly, means that most episodes themselves don’t end up as a cohesive whole.
It’s not a crime for a show to strike different tones within an episode: plenty of programs shift from the dramatic to the comedic and back again, to varying levels of success. But what makes “Glee” stand out from the crowd, its music, is most certainly not what contributes to its schizophrenic nature. The entire genre of musicals is predicated on the audience understanding that people in these worlds break out into song at times that normal society might consider odd. While the numbers themselves fail to generate from a cohesive source, they are not the overall tonal problem here. Rather, it’s the world that happens in between the times that people sing that needs work in figuring out a singular source. A lot of work.
If most of Season 2 continues as it started tonight (less music, more dialogue), then the show will need to figure out a world to integrate all its individual components into something approximating a consistent world. It’s extremely jarring to watch a show in which Kurt’s dad coexists with Asian Camp. It’s extremely jarring to watch Will’s horror at budget cuts when the high school auditorium always looks like it’s lit by a Tony Award-winning designer. I don’t care if Kurt doesn’t care that Blogger McGee can’t circle those squares: I’d rather see a drab auditorium that illuminated in the mind’s eyes of its performers, only to return to the run-down facility that it probably should be on an every day basis. THAT would be a step towards marrying the magical and the mundane.
But I’m not the Ryan running this show. I’m just the Ryan recapping the show. So for now, things will change and morph this season on “Glee,” but probably not as much as it should to keep the show’s pop-culture mojo working for much longer.
Did “Glee” pass its second season audition, or do you give it a failing grade? Did any new characters pique your interest, or did they detract from beloved favorite? Leave your thoughts about the Season 2 premiere below!
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