As a fan of Glee, I forgive. I make allowances. I cite artistic license. I credit the fantasy element of what I’ve long called a musical fantasy. And even in my measured criticisms and reservations, I embrace the big picture of my favorite show ever — an unprecedented TV series in the burst-into-song mode of a vintage movie musical.
Has any other scripted show made music — real and imagined — its narrative centerpiece? Has any show — ever — offered over 700 song performances, and often glorious ones? No. It’s never happened till now. So I forgive.
But even I have limits, and they were breached by Glee’s Season 6, Episode 11, We Built This Glee Club.
I know it’s late in the game, with only the two-part series finale remaining, and I want to be all-in. I want to be on board.
But this week? What a mess.
First, Samchel fans, I feel your pain from this episode’s revelations. While I welcomed Rachel having a sweet romance with Sam during her two months in Lima to restore the glee club, they don’t appear to be endgame. That’s life.
The trouble is, her apparent new destiny, Jesse St. James, is not the guy for Rachel.
Jesse is a vain, smug, self-centered clod who once threw eggs at her. He pushed Rachel to skip NYADA when those who loved her most — Kurt and Sam — urged otherwise. He was hated by Finn. And though his portrayer, Jonathan Groff, is Lea Michele’s BFF, that doesn’t mean their characters belong together romantically any more than the actors do.
Not only that, but Rachel’s appalling lack of hesitation when kissing Jesse betrayed Sam, her boyfriend at the time — emphasis on “friend,” but still boyfriend. She and Jesse should have just leaned toward a kiss, and then she should have turned away. A suggestion of things to come would have sufficed, not an immediate betrayal.
Second, having a very young, seemingly prepubescent Myron don a tight-fitting girl’s lame body suit and girl’s wig not only was offensive, but stupid. (And I don’t care that the look aped Sia’s music video. Glee is not required to recreate a song’s video.)
What is he — Unique’s Mini-Me? A cross-desser at that age? And why again did he try buying a kiss from Kitty? Must everyone be a confused jumble of sexual identities? That’s not the new normal. That’s a lie.
Besides, is THIS how New Directions aims to impress the surly, fickle judges at Sectionals? Oh yes — distract them from the group’s fine onstage performance with a small kid in drag prancing and flailing obnoxiously through the audience and getting in irritated judges’ faces. That’s the ticket. Right.
Later we heard how Vocal Adrenaline lost by being over-the-top. So Myron wasn’t? Not to mention having Spencer swing across the stage on a chandelier. Yes, it kept him off cortisone, but such stunts made Vocal Adrenaline look refined by comparison.
Even so, obviously I’m glad ND won Sectionals. They needed that to keep arts education alive at McKinley. And I want Glee to end with triumph. But it felt too much like pat, easy wish-fulfillment — and in some ways ill-deserved. Of course they won. That’s what the script says.
And worst of all, as usual, the judges’ decision had no artistic basis.
To think that I consider the Golden Globes’ new-found relevance — if not reverence — absurd. (Well, it is.) Those trophies are given by a small group of the same hacks I used to see on many movie junkets I took to LA as an entertainment writer for newspapers. Big deal. Yet by contrast, Glee’s judges make them look like a Pulitzer Price committee. At least the HFPA doesn’t let a dog decide.
In this show and others, Glee’s choice of all-important contest judges has sacrificed credibility for the sake of cheap laughs via the tacky irrelevance of letting anyone who will show up join the panel. You base your self-esteem and your pride in hoisting trophies on that, New Directions? Really?
As for Rachel returning to NYADA, that was inevitable, given creator Ryan Murphy’s long avowal that Glee, at its heart, is about advancing arts education. But the reality wasn’t that simple, and I did like how Rachel had a retort for Sam’s list of big stars who finished college by naming some who didn’t, including her idol, Barbra Streisand.
I also believe in education, but education can take different forms. And if Rachel’s already starring on Broadway, she’s achieved a big goal of her classmates while learning there too, just as Lea Michele did when she was 8 and in the cast of Les Miserables. Michele never got a college degree either, and she seems to be doing just fine.
Bottom line: On-the-job training is worth far more than Glee gives it credit. I know from experience, having worked at daily newspapers for three of my four years while attending college for a journalism degree.
So, sorry Ryan, but Glee’s pro-NYADA slant when Broadway beckons feels hollow, PC and almost pious to me. That decision should always depend on the situation and the individual. As for Rachel? Get back on that stage and sing, girl!
Speaking of which, I did like the music in this episode — a lot, in fact.
It was good hearing another sixth-season Roxette song in Listen To Your Heart, a potent power ballad whose staging echoed that of Rolling in the Deep back in Season 2. (Love these final season touchstones to the past.) And the Sectionals stuff was fun, including the losing groups’ nostalgic ’80s bent with Broken Wing by the Falconers and We Built This City and Mickey by VA.
Then ND brought it home starting with two recent if not new songs: Roderick’s soulful vocals with gospel-choir bolstering for Take Me To Church and a lovely (if marred by Myron) Chandelier.
Their rousing show-ender was more traditional: Come Sail Away by Styx, the kind of ancient arena-rock band that fits Will’s fixation for Journey. Yet when “Glee-ified,” its song’s dated bombast surprisingly soared.
You see? I am a fan. I crave silver linings and don’t want to rain hate on Glee’s parade. But I also want to keep it real when needed, or else my usual adoration is just fanboy fluff.
So I’ll admit: Glee — like any series — is an imperfect show.
It’s just the best imperfect show I’ve ever seen.
Now we’re on to the series finale, a two-parter which will give past, present and future views of the glee clubbers and, considering its song list and momentous occasion, should provide some of the best music in a season that’s had plenty of it.
And really, that’s what it’s about for me — the music. Not obsessing over “ships” or learning more lessons in perseverance, tolerance or the value of arts education.
To paraphrase an old campaign slogan, it’s the songs, stupid — the songs which not only richly entertain, but whose emotional impact helps teach those lessons and tell those stories. It’s the songs and their powerful performances by a superb cast of singer-actors that truly set Glee apart.
For me, and for the context of TV’s entire history, it’s Glee’s awesome music that makes it “something special,” the thing Rachel craved desperately in its very first episode.
So with a song in my heart — thanks to Glee — I accept this week’s uneven hour as a brief misstep and look forward to what should be a grand finish.
And why not? After 119 episodes with ups, downs, but mostly greatness, I believe in this show. I believe in its heart. There’s still time to finish strongly, and I expect Glee to make the most of it.
— Bruce Westbrook