Jul 8, 2010

[TV] Glee: Season 1

Glee: Season 1In the constant din that is the overused cliche bag that Hollywood writers dig into in order to keep the TV-viewing public satiated, it's not often that a more or less original (or at least novel) idea for a show comes along. Not that this is a major issue - may viewers tend to turn to TV expecting the reliable and the familiar and hence such shows get to survive far longer than they should. I'm appreciate a reliable concept as much as the next guy, but repetitiveness can turn into monotony and thus eventually boredom. Ugh.

As much as we want truly original shows and movies to watch, Hollywood remains scared to death of the untested and the unconventional. Why gamble on something you're not sure a specific subset of the world will enjoy when you can bank on something that is a total rehash of another show with a very slight twist. It's kind of sad when the patterns and archetypes become increasingly obvious until the point when TV practically becomes predictable. Things haven't totally gone there, but there have been far too many near misses in recent years.

So when something fairly new and refreshing comes along, you can imagine how happy that makes viewers like me feel. What more a show that is dedicated to musicals, show choirs and all sorts of theatrical tomfoolery, right? How gay am I right now?

So yeah, this show was such a perfect match for me. And thankfully enough, it managed to find resonance in the hearts and minds of many other people out there, thus the show's modest success thus far.

Glee is a musical show that's somewhere between a comedy and a soap opera style drama. Some like to call such shows "dramedies" but the name just doesn't quite work for me on certain levels. I can't quite explain it, but that's just how I feel about it. More importantly, the show was put together by the trio of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan whose various works include the old TV show Popular (Murphy) and Nip/Tuck, if all this. Whether or not those shows are in any way indicative of how this one came to be is open to speculation.

The show centers around the ragtag group of misfits known as the New Directions, the new glee club of McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio -the school is fictional of course. Under the leadership of a new director, Spanish Teacher William Schuester (Matthew Morrison), he leads the teenagers on a road of musical self-discovery while they try to prevent the head coach of the cheerleaders, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) from undermining and ultimately destroying the club.

Actors Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Dianna A...Image via Wikipedia
The core group is a strangely diverse one. Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) is the strongest singer in the group and one who is obsessed with popularity and fame. She quickly forms an interest in high school quarterback Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), who was blackmailed into joining the club by Mr. Shuester. Finn is initially dating head cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron), who turns out to be pregnant with Noah Puckerman (Mark Salling) as the father. On the side there's the flamboyantly gay Kurt Hummel (Chris Cofler), the overweight powerhouse Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), the paraplegic Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale) and the introverted Asian Tina Cohen-Chang. There are a few more characters in the background who pretty much just round out the numbers of the club and only help ensure (1) racial diversity and (2) potential plot devices for future episodes. Let's face it - we got through most of the season not knowing the name of the "other Asian" guy, Mike Chang (Harry Shum, Jr.) after all.

About a third of every episode is devoted to musical performances ranging from the mundane to the fabulous. For the most part the songs are selected based on a central theme for the episode (which the writers will sneak into the dialog repeatedly) and can either be actual performances or strange otherworldly fantasy sequences. Many times the songs do sort of help the episode's narrative side move along, which is always a good thing. Other times the songs just appear out of no where and don't really do much except entertain, which depending on your tastes may not be a bad thing either. Given the performances are later released on iTunes as songs up for purchase, it's become a great way for fans to further connect with the show.

The storylines of this season were very...complex, and not in a natural manner. In the first half it's understandable that the writers were uncertain of the show's future and thus we had plot twist after plot twist week after week. It all felt like some weird Mexican soap opera with characters turning out to be pregnant and others trying to fake it. The somewhat extreme sense of urgency in the first half of the show led to a lot of character railroading and many sub-plots quickly abandoned and forgotten. The second half of the season still suffered the same lack of character development and ended up putting more focus on limited-time guest stars and their hastily put together storylines. I mean seriously, as much as I love Idina Menzel, her plotline as Rachel's biological mother was just way too warped and shallow for it to really mean anything in the long run.

The show still has a long way to go in order to truly mature and get to somewhere significant. The season had a lot of ups and downs, good moments and times that just totally wasted our time - all to be expected from a first run, I suppose. I just really wish they put more thought and planning into the long-term storyline for the show. This season had weird moments when they put a lot of focus on potential strategies to win - like the decision to use funk as a song genre that rival group Vocal Adrenaline wouldn't be able to perform. But when it came to the season finale - no funk! They also had a whole episode about "theatricality" as inspired by Lady GaGa, but again there were no flamboyant displays during their regionals run. And so on and so on and so on. Writers, let the story dictate the songs and the role of the guest stars and not the other way around!

Overall, I enjoyed the show and I guess for the most part you can consider me a "gleek", as fans of the show are called. The first half of this season leading up to Sectionals was pretty awesome but they really faltered in the second half as it led up to Regionals. One can only hope that they'll think about devoting more time and energy to giving the existing characters a heck of a lot more personality and drive rather than just bringing in new characters or featuring guest stars that won't last for more than an episode or two.

Glee remains to be one of the more interesting shows on TV with a concept that is particularly refreshing given a world filled to the brim with reality TV spin-offs. It gets 4 ridiculous plot twists out of a possible 5.
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