I want to like “Glee” – I really do. It’s a show that celebrates music and the powerful bonds that can be built between musicians – plus it preaches one of my core beliefs, which is that making music is a joy that anyone and everyone should be able to embrace without fear of recrimination. And the show is populated by some attractive and talented performers, including Matthew Morrison – a superb tenor we saw on Broadway in “Light in the Piazza.” The show has all this and more in the “plus” column.
So I want to like “Glee” – I really do – but as you have perhaps already guessed, I don’t like it. In fact, I will go further and say that this show offends me. Let me count the ways:
- It shares with “High School Musical” (with which it has been both favorably and unfavorably compared) a tendency to depict teachers and coaches as bumble-headed idiots or self-serving creeps – or both. . . with the notable exception of Matthew Morrison’s character, who is so good-hearted we might suspect that his birthplace was a manger in Bethlehem. Shows like this create an unequal playing field which does a terrible disservice to teachers. Glee almost always places the student main characters (the heroes and heroines, as it were) on a decidedly higher moral plane than most of the teachers/ coaches/ administrators. I’m not sure what things are like on your planet or the planet where the Glee writers live, but here on earth the teachers and coaches I know are pretty decent people and also pretty smart. How nice it would be if we saw a bit more of that on “Glee.”
- I get the feeling that the writers of this show have never been in a choir before – because I have yet to see a single moment in which I saw anything remotely resembling an authentic rehearsal experience. It’s as though there’s no time to show any of the gritty work that is involved in putting together these elaborate routines- choreographing them- learning them- and polishing them. Or maybe the show’s creators can’t imagine that any such thing would be interesting. So by and large whenever we see a routine it is fully formed and polished to perfection. How they got to be that way we can only guess.
- “Glee” is hardly unique in telling its stories cartoonishly, but it does so without any restraint whatsoever. Why must television so often paint its characters in such garish, inauthentic colors? I suppose they do so because they think that’s the best way to create something interesting. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s the lazy way out. Tonight’s episode, for instance, included a major story line in which the quarterback of the football team is being hazed and harassed by his own teammates who want so badly for him to quit the glee club that they’re perfectly willing to hurl insults at him, douse him with beverages, and otherwise do whatever they can to shame and embarrass him so he’ll go back to just being their quarterback. (And there seems to be not the slightest difference of opinion among this young man’s teammates. Don’t any of them feel otherwise?) That is the most preposterous story line since the “Bobby just dreamt last season” debacle on “Dallas.” I cannot in a million years imagine such a thing happening- if for no other reason than that those players would be running a terrible risk that the guy would angrily quit the team altogether.
- But what bugs me even more is that this storyline is based entirely on a divide – between high school male athletes and high school male musicians – that exists more in the imagination of writers than in the real world. It’s true that in most schools there aren’t tons of guys who are both musicians and athletes. But I do not believe for a moment that the reason for that has to do with hoards of athletes believing that music is for sissies and pressuring their brethren to believe the same – nor do I believe that the typical athlete who also wants to do music is likely to be targeted by his fellow athletes. Again, such things happen on Writer’s World but not very often here on earth. I have asked literally dozens of Carthage musicians who were/are also athletes whether or not they ever experienced the slightest pressure of any of their fellow athletes to quit music. Not a single guy I’ve talked to has ever reported experiencing that. But thanks to this show, that preposterous notion is given life that it simply doesn’t deserve. And what bothers me about that is that it might possibly lead a middle school boy into believing that if he continues with music in high school, he might face hazing from his own teammates.
4) This band of ragtag musicians certainly got to be very good very quickly. So nobody ever sings flat? Nobody ever cracks on a high note? Nobody forgets their words? Or their dance moves? Maybe once in a very great while. But by and large, these ordinary students perform like anything but ordinary students. I think a bit more believability in the music-making would greatly enhance this show.
- I suppose I should file this next matter under Pet Peeves: I really dislike lip syncing – but especially on this show because in so many cases I’m left wondering if we’re to believe that the characters on screen are singing or if their characters are merely moving their mouths to a CD being played. For clarity’s sake, I would much rather have real live music being performed on this show, even if it meant some concession of technical quality. (And just for the record, lip syncing bugs me as much in old fashioned movie musicals as it does in “Glee.”)
- I’m sure this will not come as much of a shock to anyone, but I should still say it: when it comes to the music that is performed on this show, I am most emphatically NOT a fan. Not that I wish it were dealing in Puccini arias. . . but how about delving into the Great American Songbook?
There are some charms to this show- and I am probably most taken by the inter-personal relationships such as between Matthew Morrison, his wife, and the woman who has a crush on him. That is one intriguing triangle. But it has basically nothing to do with the glee club. (The show might as well be about the Chess Club or the Future Farmers of America chapter, as long as that triangle remains in place.)
So there you have it . . . my little two cents worth on “Glee.” I realize that I am one relatively lonely voice in a veritable sea of boisterous, enthusiastic fans of the show – and perhaps I am allowing my initial irritation to the show to cloud my ongoing impressions of it. (That wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been guilty of that.) But honestly, what “Glee” does more than anything for me is to long for the day when we finally have a prime time series about music that seems to spring from people who know the difference between half notes and whole notes and – much more importantly -who know something about how musicians work, and who realize that music teachers are good for more than just yelling “Way to go, guys! That was awesome!” Teachers help create that awesomeness and it’s about time the TV public got a good look at that.
Sadly, they almost certainly won’t ever get that on “Glee.”
* * * p.s. – I should publicly acknowledge that my wife – who is also a music teacher – enjoys the show. Welcome to America, the land of the free.