Glee was good, then it went shit

I think Glee is often seen as a Marmite programme. As someone who very much enjoyed it when it was first aired on E4 this time last year, I think I’ve been lumbered with the label as a lover of the show. You could be forgiven for thinking that, since I obsessively watched those first 13 episodes and listened to the soundtrack non-stop. It was so fresh and inviting, amusing, had a clear idea of where it wanted to go, and I never found it predictable. It did a wonderful job of parodying the clichés of after-school specials whilst rarely falling into the same trap. The episodes were all well themed and the storylines taking place all inter-weaved at the right points. I didn’t continue to watch at E4 pace – I was so hooked, I downloaded the remaining episodes.

As you can well imagine, I was excited about the continuation of series 1 (episodes 14-26). The first two episodes were quite promising. Suddenly, a lot of new storylines sprung up out of nowhere, but in my opinion, they were necessary. So many things had been wrapped up in episode 13, on the basis that the series may not have been renewed and so needed a suitable ‘finishing place’ should the worst happen: Will and Emma finally embraced their feelings for one another, Finn found out he wasn’t the father of Quinn’s baby, Rachel and Finn were in the position to pursue a relationship, Sue was suspended for all of her misdeeds, Will found out that his wife was not pregnant after all, and New Directions came first place in Sectionals. Thus, the series needed to unleash some new ideas to continue – the only ongoing one being Quinn’s pregnancy. To me, it didn’t really matter if the storylines were launched quickly… as long as they continued at a smooth pace afterwards. In episode 14, Rachel and Finn were together, then they weren’t, then Rachel started up a romance with that lad from Vocal Adrenaline (and was heavily criticised by fellow Glee Club members for doing so), Will and Emma tried and failed at a relationship, Will canoodled with the coach from Vocal Adrenaline, and Sue was reinstated after blackmailing the principal. It was a lot to take in, but they needed something to work with.

The Madonna episode followed, and I was still hooked. I don’t like Madonna much, but the performances were some of the best of the series, and though the ‘artist-themed’ episodes would quickly become tiresome, it wasn’t a bad idea as a one-off. Everything followed on nicely from the 14th episode, though it wasn’t without its problems. As much as Glee gets away with unexpected twists, I couldn’t help but feel that it was getting to the stage of less trope subversion and more in the way of last minute, half-arsed, convenient changes to the story. Jesse moved schools very suddenly, Artie is a dick to Tina for no reason, Emma quickly decided she should sleep with Will despite being deeply afraid in the last episode, Finn lost his virginity to Santana for no reason, and Rachel’s build-up to losing hers came from out of nowhere and wasn’t picked up since. Primarily, the fact that Sue was obsessed with Madonna made little sense given her usual prudish attitude, and paved the way for the programme’s later habit of changing any given character’s personality to suit whatever ridiculous storyline was being cooked up.

At episode 16, it was near impossible to ignore the cracks that had started to appear in the show’s format. The Kurt/Finn storyline was decent, but it launched from out of nowhere. The Mercedes storyline was one massive cliché that definitely would not have been seen in its initial run of 13 episodes. Her line at the beginning of the episode is a perfect two fingers up to this sort of plotline: when Kurt assures her that she shouldn’t feel embarrassed about her body, she confidently says that she is just afraid of ‘showing too much flesh and causing a sex riot.’ But after saying that, the story slumps to the age-old plot about female body issues. Quinn has her first foreground moment of the second run of episodes so far (despite being featured prominently before), and she patronises the fuck out of Mercedes by highlighting the idea that someone that big needs to be told they’re beautiful. And the episode actually ends with Mercedes singing ‘Beautiful’ in front of the entire school… no comment.

Episode 17, ‘Bad Reputation,’ for me, showed how the programme was using the right tools from the first run of episodes and implementing them badly. Yes, the episode was given a theme under which all its storylines would fall, but it felt very forced. At the end of the episode, they attempt to make it believable that Will’s sudden reputation as a man-whore is somehow on a par with becoming pregnant as a young and frightened schoolgirl. This is supposed to be a heart-warming and touching moment within the pair, but it’s a truly terrible idea. What’s more, their use of Sue as a convenient plot device to get Emma to find out about Will’s flings with Shelby and April is just plain lazy writing. She just happens to know about it, and they don’t need to explain why or how except vaguely suggest that she’s obsessively spying on him. The show tries to pass this off as quirky and humorous rather than dragging out the secrecy of Will’s misdeeds, which is fine, but I can’t help but feel like there was very little planning taking place to sustain a decent plotline across the 13 later episodes. It felt made up as it went along: Rachel is suddenly upset about not having a mother, her mother is revealed (‘Dream On’ is the single worst episode of Glee in my opinion), Rachel and her mother are united and then go her separate ways in two consecutive episodes. Jesse suddenly turns on Rachel and goes back to Vocal Adrenaline for no reason. Quinn’s pregnancy is shoved into the background, despite everything from her financial difficulties to her parents’ reaction playing a massive part in the first run of episodes; we are only offhandedly told where she is even residing.

The season finale was admittedly rather good; I particularly liked the mashed-up Bohemian Rhapsody/birth scene. The fact that Sue voted for New Directions was a nice twist without being completely unbelievable (they’d actually given her a motive to do so), plus the fact that the group actually placed last was very unexpected. It was just the means to which it got there that bothered me. Fine, we needed to include a bit of Shelby’s back story to have it make sense that she would end up adopting Quinn’s baby, but we’ve still not seen enough of her to care that much. Quinn’s background status made the birth feel very unimportant. All in all, I felt like I’d had to invest more in watching the show (cringing, frustration, etc) than I actually got out of it.

I watched two episodes of season 2 and, after seeing no sign of improvement, officially bowed out. The same problems were reinstated in the first episode: far too much was going on and the story and characters leapt about at their own convenience. Then came the God awful Britney episode, and I’d seen enough. From the overexcited, understated yet amusing reaction to the ‘Push it’ assembly performance in series 1, the audience got into an actual sex riot over a simple performance of Toxic. It was absolutely dire, and the majority of the songs were just video re-enactments. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

So what went wrong? I think the show’s popularity was its own downfall. After the first 13 episodes, the things that went down well and the things that didn’t go down well had been vividly highlighted. Sue Sylvester was the star, and upping the character’s screen time did her no favours. The more obsessed she seemed with bringing Glee Club down, the less she was perceived as powerful and vindictive, and by the end of it, just plain pathetic. The songs were a very big part of Glee originally, but they had previously been used sparingly. Naturally, they were popular, and so more were crammed into the episodes when they just weren’t needed. Characters that were previously background material yet provided some great quirks here and there were brought to the foreground: Brittany, I’m looking in your direction.

Given the above (long) rant, I’m never really sure whether to stick up for Glee or not. I do believe that many people who criticise it have never really watched it properly: saying that it’s High School Musical in TV form, for example. But based on the majority of the episodes, I can’t say with any confidence that I think it is a good show. I am, quite simply, disappointed that it had to go downhill so quickly when it could’ve been so easily avoided. I just feel no need to make the effort to watch a programme that is putting in no effort to entertain me.


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