Monday, March 9, 2015

A Farewell to Glee

It only occurs to me, as I type this, that Glee has developed an odd kind of symmetry.


The first part of the first season – a season in itself, really – was about a man trying to put his life back together by bringing back the group he loved in high school.


And now, it’s about some broken people… trying to put together their lives by bringing back a group they were in, back in high school.


It also occurs to me, for the first time, just how woefully pathetic that concept is.


Look, I enjoyed parts of high school.  But I realized, years later, that the parts I enjoyed were firmly outnumbered by the parts I didn’t enjoy. 


More to the point, exactly NO ONE ever, ever, ever wants to go back to high school.   I get teaching, as I’ve been one and I loved it.  But to actually try to return, after a fashion?


No.  If high school was the best part of your life, I suspect you should talk to someone about that, and figure out what it’s going to take to make your future better than that one time you won that game that almost no one even remembers today.




So now Glee is in its final season, and it feels, alternately, like they’re trying to do two things.


First, they need to run out the clock.  And that hasn’t gone well.  At all.  It’s led to things like Sue building a fake elevator and trapping people in it, which sounds stupid even if you pretend we’re talking about a terrible, mostly-forgotten 80s sitcom.


There’s the fact that the show has now, several times, flat-out admitted that it was a TV show, and that its time is limited.


It has tossed semi-interesting plotlines at us, and then resolved them immediately because there’s no time to actually address them.  Which has always kind of been Glee’s thing, but it’s even worse now.


And on the other side of things, they’re trying to resolve whatever plot points they don’t want dangling.


So characters are getting married, and pairing off, and mostly just trying to cram unearned happy endings in wherever they can, so they can go out on a high note.  (Pun not really intended.)


Ultimately, Glee has frequently been able to get MOMENTS of the show to matter, and so I suspect the final episode will have a certain functional power.  It will be the last time we see these characters, because the show’s popularity is in the toilet now, and there will be no reunion movie.


Heck, so why even talk about the show at this point?  The last day of shooting has already been and gone.  There’s no way to fix what’s coming in the next couple of weeks.


I dunno.


Well, okay, I do.


I want to take a minute to talk about the things that Glee did RIGHT, even though it didn’t do them very often these last couple of years.


So here we go.


Glee introduced me to a lot of music I might have missed otherwise.

I’ve mused on this before, but I live in a radio-free world now.  I’m old enough and have a large enough collection of music that I can simply buy new stuff by artists I already know, and listen to records I already have.


I can become like so many other people my age, who haven’t listened to a new song in five years, haven’t discovered a new artist in ten. 


The people who think that Ben Folds is a new and exciting artist, even though his first record came out 20 years ago.


(Don’t get me wrong.  I love Ben Folds.  But if you make it 20 years in this business, you’re an elder statesman, not a young up-and-comer.)


Glee kept me from getting too complacent.  Or at the very least, kept me somewhat on the pulse of what was going on in music today.


And there were other good things, musically.  They put out three solid Christmas records that have become family favorites.  They produced some truly excellent arrangements and mashups.


And while they didn’t do it often, a few times a season they produced a version of a song I liked more than the original. 


(And man, why did they never release another Warblers record?  The first one is easily my favorite of the Glee releases…)


So that’s the music.


Everything from here?  It comes with an asterisk.


Inclusion was the second thing I thought of, when pondering the things that Glee did right.  It had white and black and Asian and straight and gay and bi and trans and someone with Down’s syndrome and a person in a wheelchair, and… and I’m sure there are more, though I can’t think of them right at this exact second.


Of course, there’s the other side of that coin, that asterisk, where we have to admit the show thought it was hilarious that most of those people were horrible human beings, who said and did outrageous things that would get you arrested in real life.


But on a TV landscape that features only a few of these types, Glee at least made an attempt.


And finally ,there are… those moments that I spoke of.


I remember early in the first season of Glee, a friend of mine noted with surprise that her husband was watching the show with her.  “The musical numbers are really entertaining!” he said, with a smile.


I nodded.


“But some of the storylines…”  He paused.  I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know what to say, or if he was worried about hurting my feelings.


“The show is deeply, deeply, deeply stupid,” I said.  “You have to accept that if you’re going to watch it.  Most of these people don’t react the way actual human beings would.”


And yet, there were moments on the show that really worked.  That, even divorced from logic, could make you feel.  You can argue it’s just a matter of pushing certain buttons, but it takes the right dialogue, the right actors, the right direction, and Glee COULD get there.


Which puts sets me down at maybe the best thing Glee ever really did.  Which was to take Mike O’Malley and make him the absolute heart of the show.


Here’s a man who has spent most of his working life trapped in so-so sitcoms, and pushing cable TV.  But Glee used him for something more. 


I’m not sure how a show that chewed up Jane Lynch and turned her into a ridiculous caricature left Mike’s work alone.  Maybe it’s because he wasn’t on the show that often.  Maybe it’s because Mike is just that good.


But when the dust settles, I can only hope Mike gets a chance to do this kind of thing again, because he’s marvelous.


March will come to a close, and with it, the Glee saga, such as it is.  The show is in syndication, and you can buy it in various formats and… that won’t happen, for me.


I can’t see going through this journey (hah!) a second time.  There’s too little great to offset the too much awful.


The show is over now, and the cast is, I’m sure, scrambling for work.  Coming off a big hit, they might have found fast homes all over the dial.


But I think this is the end of the line for many of them. 


And that’s okay.  For a moment, they were all icons on the biggest show on TV. 


Would that we could all be so lucky once in our lives.


So long, Glee.  Thanks for the good times.


Sorry I was forced to stop believing. 

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