I’ve been in love with Glee since last season. From the first episode, it spoke to me for many reasons – not the least of which being that I was totally a drama/chorus geek in high school. Also a writerly one. Point being, I relate to these students, and I was lucky enough to have teachers like Will Schuster who really cared about me.
However, having watched the Season 2 premiere of Glee tonight, I love this show not just for nostalgia’s sake, and not just because I’m a sucker for a well-placed showtune – but because this show has stepped up its game dramatically. Here are five reasons why this show should be on your To-Watch list:
1) COACH BEISTE (pronounced “beast” – “it’s French!”)
This character is intriguing for so many reasons. First, she’s a female football coach who may or may not be a lesbian (I’m leaning heavily toward MAY). That, in and of itself is reason enough to watch her – sorry, Coach Tanaka! But the fact that in one episode actress, Dot Jones, has shown both the kind of caustic humor that is required to step up to Sue Sylvester and the kind of vulerability that keeps her very real was really impressive. She is a great talent, and I’m looking forward to watching this character change the dynamic in the school faculty for the better, or at least for the interesting. Awesome line: “You’re all coffee and no omelette!”
2) THE ADDITION OF FRESH NEW VOICES
And when I say “new voices” I mean more than just singing voices. I mean that they’re great new character voices to add to the existing dynamic.
Chord Overstreet as football player, Sam, and Charice as exchange student, Sunshine, were both inspired choices. Sam rocked “Billionaire”, while Charice tore the house down with “Listen” from Dreamgirls. Their vocal prowess is undeniable.
But as I said, these characters contribute more than just great vocals. Sam is a transfer student who, while he loves to sing isn’t willing to buck any trends in the name of individuality. So he’s now ditched glee and become the QB, and Finn is left to figure out who he is as a person without football and popularity…and outside of glee club. Meanwhile, Sunshine provides some much-needed competition for Rachel (wait, wasn’t Mercedes already doing that?), who is forced to acknowledge to herself and her gleemates that she actually IS as conceited as all that. This can lead to lots of quality soul searching. (OR, it could ruin an already borderline character…but more on that below) Bottom line, these characters provide lots of opportunity for some great stories. I hope they aren’t squandered.
Also, about halfway through the episode, I realized that I’d seen Cherice on Oprah! I’m thrilled that that same talented girl has found a place on Glee. It’s a perfect fit. Check her out THEN at 16:
3) THE ASIANS ARE DATING!
Because, you know, sometimes people of the same race date EACH OTHER! I was thrilled to see that Tina and Mike have gotten together this season (and also, um, HELLO MIKE’S ABS! I’m such a dirty old lady…), and at Asian Camp, no less! First, because Tina and Artie’s relationship always felt forced to me. But second…television amuses me sometimes. In its effort to be politically correct and multicultural, it tends to undermine its own efforts. Try and think of one minority character on network television who is dating someone of his/her own race. Go ahead, I’ll wait. The only couple that popped into my head was Ryan and Valerie on V – and in the end, Valerie’s not even dating a human black male, but an alien one! Generally, you see minority characters dating white characters unless it’s a “Black show” or a “Hispanic show.” And I can’t even NAME an Asian show! (oh, All American Girl, where have you gone…?) It’s as if the only way for minorities to legitimately be on television is if they date white people. So, once again, Ryan Murphy has chosen to do something on his show that pushes the envelope in a surprising way. Plus, they’re cute together, and they’re both great dancers! And again – ABS!
4) GREAT SONG CHOICES!
When I heard that they were doing “Empire State of Mind”, I was skeptical. But there was NO NEED. Thankfully, Shue wasn’t rapping on this one (!!), and Artie, Finn, and Puck can HANDLE it. The entire cast did an amazing job on it, and best of all, the song was IMPORTANT TO THE STORY. This year’s regionals is going to be in New York, so the inclusion of this song was important to the narrative. So was Rachel’s stunning final performance of the episode when she sings “What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line. While “Telephone” and “Billionaire” weren’t directly related to the narrative of the episode, they were great showcases for the new students, and they were songs that average, non-glee high school students would believeably have in their “back pocket” (as Finn asks Sam) and randomly sing at the drop of a hat. Sometimes their song choices aren’t so great…but I’ll address that below, too.
5) ADDRESSING FANS AND DETRACTORS ALIKE
The opening sequence of the Season 2 opener, in which school gossipmonger, Jacob Ben Israel, makes a video blog about the glee club’s loss and interviews its members is kind of genius. It’s genius, because in that segment they go through everything that fans and detractors might not like about the show. Here, and throughout the episode, things like Schuster’s lack of rapping skills, Rachel’s self-centeredness, and Finn’s blandness (can someone say “Cheerios audition?”), are pilloried. But then there are the moments that fans have been waiting for. Like Quinn strutting down the hallway, back in her Cheerios uniform; and Sue being, well, Sue. Finn was actually the most surprisingly complex character this episode, from being the one to spot the potential in a fellow football player and trying to welcome him, to trying to help Artie (albeit in a misguided way), to calling Rachel on her bullshit, I’m actually looking forward to his journey this season, and hope the writers go deeper with him. He can be more than just a hot guy with a great voice (though he is hot – albeit in a “tapioca pudding, milquetoast” sort of a way – and he does have a great voice).
But as I’ve mentioned above, I have some concerns about character and song. So, here are some words of caution I have for Glee:
KEEP CHARACTERS REAL
This episode made me hate Rachel. Like, really hate her. She’s not just annoying anymore. She’s a horrible human being. I feel like they were trying to make us sympathize with her, but either the writers or the director have pushed her self-centeredness so far that she’s become unlikeable. If Glee is a heightened, more stylized version of high school, Rachel is one of the most stylized characters. She’s all show-biz ambition and no feeling. And her giving puppy-dog eyes to Finn and singing “What I Did For Love” did nothing to make me feel bad for the character. All it did was reinforce the fact that Lea Michele has a great voice. But I already knew that. What I need now is a reason to care about Rachel.
Sue has always been over-the-top. It’s one of the reasons why she’s arguably the most popular character on the show. But Glee had done a great job of humanizing her by the end of last season. She was still Sue, but we also knew that she had feelings and a heart, and that there was good in her somewhere, even if it was buried under sarcasm and a brightly-colored track suit. In this episode, I completely bought that she would go after Beiste for getting her budget cut, I bought that she’d enlist Will’s help (and that he would), and I bought many of her methods. However, I thought that Sue having Britney accuse Beiste of “inappropriate touch” was low, even for Sue. I thought that was a Writer Bad. The Sue that we watched feel bad about Vocal Adrenaline’s win last season would NOT get a teacher ousted as a sex offender, and there’s a big difference between that and joke-ordering pizzas and not letting the new teacher sit at your table.
Both Rachel and Sue run the risk of being charicatures, and I’d hate to see that happen to characters who came so far in Season One.
INCLUDE SONGS FOR STORY, NOT FOR ALBUMS!
A big problem I had with Glee last season was the fact that as the show progressed, the songs chosen were less about what needed to be included for the story’s sake, and more about what would make a good single or a good song to be performed for the live tour. I mean, Rachel and her birth mother singing “Poker Face” to each other?! COME ON! There was no other, appropriate Lady Gaga song?! “Jump” for the mattress commercial made sense. “It’s a Man’s World” to express Quinn’s feelings about being pregnant made sense. But Quinn singing “Papa Don’t Preach” to her babysitting charges? That was just creepy!
The folks at Glee need to remember that their primary responsibility is the television show. The albums and the concert tours are FUCKING GRAVY. If this is a “high school musical”, then the songs chosen need to fit the narrative. They shouldn’t just be chosen because “people would really love to hear so-and-so sing that song!”
From this Season 2 opener, it seems like Glee has made some really positive changes! I’m looking forward to this season. I just hope they don’t backslide. Glee has always been a good show, but it has the potential to be a great show. I’d love to see it get there.