Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Defense of Glee *****SPOILER ALERT******

I know I'm behind, but today I finally saw the season finale of Glee on Hulu (as well as the last two episodes of Justified's first season, but that's a story for another time). Leading up to my viewing, I had heard grumbling about the way the season ended, and I was a little concerned when I started watching that Glee was starting to decline and would end a fantastic first season on a weak note.
Well, fear not. I thoroughly enjoyed the season finale, and I am ready to defend the creative decisions that the show-runners made.
Let's start with the music, since that seems to be the thing that everyone loves the most about this show. The Journey medley was fantastic (Glee is always at its best musically when its working with the '80s: "Don't Stop Believing," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," the whole Madonna episode but especially "Like A Prayer"), even if it felt like a less-realistic set for a performance than the set they did at Sectionals (and as a former chorus kid, I know this sort of stuff well). But "Bohemian Rhapsody" was not only an episode highlight, but the best integration of music and visual the show has ever done. That integration is something the show has struggled to figure out throughout the season, since it promised that the songs would not be fantasy sequences - a rule that it has broken several times - but could not be realistic either, since (most) people don't just randomly break out into song with a full band on hand (which I'm so glad the show will reference with a wink every now and then). But "Bohemian Rhapsody" accomplished a lot of things at once, allowing us to see both Vocal Adrenaline perform and the birth of Quinn's baby in one sublime sequence. TV doesn't get much better than those five minutes.
But here's the thing that I've seen get the most complaints is that New Directions, the scrappy underdogs we've grown to love all season, lost. That's right, they placed dead last at Regionals, despite Sue's vote (by the way, best line of the night: "Kiss my ass, Josh Groban!"). And I'm actually glad they lost too. Yes, I was cheering for them, and I do have an emotional attatchment to these characters. But their loss highlights the thing I love the most about this show, something that is rarely talked about but is nonetheless present in every episode: the sadness around the edges. For a dramedy/musical that's been heralded as wildly funny, nobody seems to notice how sad the characters are, even when it becomes the main focus of the episode, such as in "Dream On." Take a look at any one of them: Will Schuster (Matthew Morrison) was a choral superstar in high school, but now he's a divorced teacher in charge of a tentatively active glee club at an Ohio high school. Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is a national-championship-winning cheerleading coach, but she's still stuck in Ohio, her nominal fame doing nothing to take her on to better things (a point that's made in this episode). As for the kids, it seems unlikely that Finn will ever make it out of the state of Ohio, and Rachel's Broadway dreams will probably never come true. As Will says in his speech in the chorus room, five years down the road will any of them even remember each other? Will any of this even matter in the end? I greatly applaud Glee for recognizing that the glee club will not be involved in these kids lives forever, and that most of them will move on to do things that have nothing to do with singing and dancing. It's only here for the moment. And with New Directions losing at Regionals, that sadness comes to the forefront. But luckily, the club gets a one-year reprieve, setting the stage for them to do it all over again next year.
Will New Directions find that same level of success next year? Maybe, we'll have to wait and see. But Glee has established a great new direction for itself going into season two: how will the failure of Regionals change the club? Will there be an awakening of any of the characters (i.e. Rachel) from their delusions to see that just because they dream doesn't mean it'll become a reality? These are the kinds of things that I hope Glee will address next year.
What do you think? Was the Glee finale everything you wanted it to be? Or were you disappointed? Do you agree with the theme of sadness, or am I overthinking it?
PS Things I wasn't thrilled with: Rachel's mom convieniently swooping in to adopt Quinn's baby, Jonathan Groff's Jesse St. James not getting a proper send-off after his relationship with Rachel, and the lack of great Brittany one-liners in the last few episodes. But whatever.
PPS The Wit 'n' Wisdom of Sue Sylvester: "I keep expecting racist animated Disney characters to start popping up and sing songs about living on the bayou."
PPPS To the Emmy voters who are claiming that Glee is not a comedy because it's an hour long and doesn't have a laugh track like a traditional sitcom: television comedy is evolving. It's okay for a comedy to have some dramatic moments and comment on the realities of life. I suggest you catch up to the present.

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