Everywhere you turn these days, it seems that someone is singing the praises of “Glee.”
News reports breathlessly herald the rumored casting of guest star Gwyneth Paltrow. Spoiler alerts hint at a Halloween tribute to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Cast members grace the pages of People and Rolling Stone. Meanwhile, merchants, too, are filled with “Glee,” maniacally cranking out video games, T-shirts, greeting cards, young-adult novels and much, much more.
Who can blame them? It’s easy to go ga-ga over “Glee,” which launched its second season on Tuesday and will unleash upon the world a highly hyped Britney Spears-themed episode next week. Everything about Fox’s campy, splashy, snarky spectacle is infectious — from the joyful cover tunes belted out by its misfit choir kids, to the verbal fireworks that spring from the tongue of sinister cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch).
But amid all the commotion, there is also reason for concern: Is the show developing a bloated sense of itself? Will it be able to maintain its energy and continue to hit all the high notes? If not, when does the fervor turn to fatigue? How long before “Glee” becomes glum?
I know what you’re thinking: I’m just another slushie-tossing critic out to kill your buzz — a cranky chaperone at the high school dance who won’t let the kids have their fun.
Not so. The concerns expressed here come not from the heart of a hater, but a certifiable “Gleek.” Like other delirious fans, I’m hopelessly devoted to the show. But I also worry about it.
I worry because, more than any other returning series this fall, “Glee” has a lot to live up to. And more than any other returning series, it has the potential to fall victim to a hellacious backlash.
We consumers of pop culture love nothing more, after all, than to build something up and then tear it down. And excessively touted, hot-out-of-the-gate shows are especially susceptible in their sophomore years. We saw it happen with “Friends, “Desperate Housewives,” “Heroes” and “Lost,” just to name a few.
Long before the new season kicked off, various bloggers, naysayers and critics already had “Glee” in their cross hairs. A writer for New York magazine even went as far as to present an elaborately constructed timeline that predicted exactly how the “inevitable” backlash would play out.
“Glee” seems especially vulnerable, not only because of the media and marketing mania that surrounds it, but because of the shaky creative foundation upon which it is built. All those rapturous reviews and Emmy nominations for Season 1 couldn’t disguise the fact that it was the most flawed critical darling to hit prime time in years.
Let’s start with the outlandish plots. Only on “Glee” could you find a reasonably sane and smart teacher like Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) getting duped for months by his wife’s fake pregnancy.
And then there are the characters. So many of them are one-dimensional to begin with, and it doesn’t help matters that they often behave irrationally just to serve a particular plot point the writers want to try out that week, too wit: One moment, Rachel’s (Lea Michele) new boyfriend, Jesse, is speaking of how close he has grown to her, and the next he’s cracking an egg over her head.
And who could forget that temporary moment of insanity when Sue was attracted to Shue?
Throughout its first season, “Glee” shifted wildly — and often awkwardly — in tone. Random plot developments came out of nowhere and then suddenly vanished. It was the one TV show that could trigger a severe case of whiplash.
More often than not, we were willing to overlook “Glee”‘s imperfections and inconsistencies because the show was so fresh, so bold and so different, and because its musical mash-ups had us dancing away our troubles. But even the songs occasionally could be problematic — especially when they felt like grafted-on contrivances.
Now, as Season 2 unfolds, some of the novelty of “Glee” has worn off, and it’s a good bet that viewers won’t be so forgiving. Thus, it’s imperative that executive producer Ryan Murphy and his collaborators make all the right moves.
They certainly were singing a pleasant tune coming into the season, insisting that the show would scale back on the musical numbers and concentrate more on developing its core characters. “I almost think it’s good that we didn’t win the Emmy” (for best comedy series),” co-creator Ian Brennan told “TV Guide. “This way, we’re still reaching.”
It sounds good, but already there are a few signs of potential trouble. Tuesday’s opener, again, had a few laughable implausibilities (Cory Monteith’s Finn trying out for the Cheerios?). Also, some of the show’s tone felt darker than need be with an icky molestation accusation leveled by a student at McKinley High School’s new female football coach (Dot Marie Jones).
Meanwhile, all the reports of big-name guest stars coming to the show have me wondering if they’ll overshadow the core story and suck “Glee” into the perilous vortex of stunt-casting overload that once swallowed “Will & Grace.”
On the plus-side, “Glee” introduced two intriguing vocalists in Filipino pop idol Charice, who plays a plucky exchange student, and Chord Overstreet as a golden-boy jock with a Justin Bieber-like hairdo. They both ooze fresh-faced appeal. It was also pleasing to see that Rachel’s voice remains in fine form, Sue’s barbs still pack comical punch, and the show retains its flair for shameless theatricality.
Of course, I’ll have to check out a few more episodes before my fears are quelled. But it sure would be fabulous, if months from now, we’re talking about how the Britney hour blew us away, how Paltrow and other guest stars fit so nicely into the mix, and how this crazy, scrappy, offbeat show managed to beat the odds and maintain its gleeful innocence.
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