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by Chris Conaton

1 Dec 2009

I’ve sort of been watching Glee for the last few months. I say “sort of” because I watched the first four or five episodes relatively quickly back in September, but the rest of the season’s episodes had been languishing on my DVR for the past month or so. But it’s Thanksgiving Break this week, and it’s given me the opportunity to start to get caught up on the show.

I enjoyed the first couple of episodes. The pilot was highly entertaining, aside from a few niggling issues which I sincerely hoped the producers would iron out once the show began in earnest. Unfortunately, the show’s problems have only become more prominent as the season has gone on. The idea of a show about the misfits and outcasts of a high school glee club appealed to me. The fact that the show was relatively successful was also a nice change of pace from the days when Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared were put on the air with a death sentence practically already hanging over them.

But I just watched episode six (“Vitamin D”, the one where Terri becomes the school nurse), and I give up. I can’t take it anymore. The show is just not entertaining enough to overcome its faults. Creator Ryan Murphy seems to want the show to be an over-the-top satire of high school life, which I get. The high school student aspect is actually the most enjoyable part of the show. The popular kids feel entitled, the outcasts feel like crap, and everybody is trying to outdo everybody else and move up (or at least over) on the social ladder. The problem is that Murphy isn’t satisfied with the show being a winking satire, he also wants the audience to take the dramatic plotlines seriously. But how can we, when it’s all so cartoonish? How can I care about whether Glee Club director Will Schuester stays with his wife, Terri, or ends up with Emma, the cute school counselor, when his wife has literally no redeeming qualities. She’s mean, spiteful, lazy, and jealous, and we don’t understand why he’s married to her in the first place. To top it off, the show began a storyline with her where she is lying to Will about being pregnant, and he can’t figure it out. Of course we want Will to end up with Emma, because everything about Terri is awful, awful, awful. That’s not a love triangle, it’s viewer torture.

Meanwhile, Emma is dating the aggravating, desperate football coach simply because he’s persistent. She has zero interest in him, but since she can’t have Will, she is settling. Despite the fact that she’s obsessive-compulsive and unwilling to touch anything with her bare hands and finds the football coach physically repulsive. These interpersonal storylines with the adults don’t work as satire, or straight comedy, or drama, and they drag the show down every time they show up.

The actors don’t seem to know how to play this material, either, which doesn’t help. Matthew Morrison plays Will as a naive sad-sack who is also a wildly enthusiastic teacher who nonetheless gets very easily discouraged. Will gets pushed around by everybody, from his wife to the principal to the cheerleading coach (more on her in a minute). It doesn’t make him an underdog you want to root for, it just makes him pathetic. Jessalyn Gilsig has done solid work in the past, but as Terri she vacillates between shrewish and crazy, and none of it is the slightest bit believable, even in the over-the-top universe of the show. The only actor on the show who does seem to get what Ryan Murphy is going for is Jane Lynch as hard-ass cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. Lynch is hilarious every time she’s on screen, playing Sue as an intensely driven, highly opinionated character who nonetheless manages to seem like a real person.

The Glee universe is one where good singers at a rival school are held back until they’re age 24 so they can keep performing. It’s one where spotlights appear out of nowhere so characters can break into song. And it’s one where rehearsals always feature fully-formed versions of the songs the students are supposedly practicing. All of that is acceptable within the heightened setting of the show. But we’ve also seen the Glee Club get into major trouble with school officials and parents over performing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” at a pep rally. And then a couple of episodes later, Schuester’s all-male singing group gets invited to perform at a PTA meeting, and nobody bats an eye when the group (which includes students) sings Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up”. The inconsistency is aggravating, and shows incredible laziness on the part of the producers when it comes to even the most basic details.

And then there’s the Auto-Tune. I know that pop music has been inundated with Auto-Tune over the past five years or so, but the kids of the glee club are supposed to all be good singers! The actors were hired because they could all sing as well as act. And the producers think we won’t notice—or worse, won’t care—when we hear those touches of robot voice every time Finn, the lead male vocalist, sings something? And it’s not just Finn, it shows up at least a little bit with all of the kids in the show. Clearly, the runaway success of the songs on iTunes shows that a lot of people really don’t care about this. But as a music geek, it absolutely takes me out of the show every time I hear the Auto-Tune.

Maybe the show has picked up as it went through October and resumed here in November, but I don’t care enough anymore to find out. The basic story about the underdog glee kids trying to beat out the rival school powerhouse is fine. The storylines about the high school kids are generally solid. And Jane Lynch is awesome. But those good points are not enough to overcome the frustration I feel over the rest of the show. Good riddance, Glee. I leave you to the gleeks out there.

by Sarah Zupko

1 Dec 2009

Don’t let the title or cover graphics fool you, The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is neither a cheesy movie tie-in nor another kiddie game for the Nintendo DS. I popped this into my game machine expecting both of those things and instead found an amazingly addictive and complex RPG with a gorgeous interface and the ability to truly absorb the player. That’s rare for a DS title. The story riffs off the familiar Wizard of Oz tale, but only ever-so-lightly, as you lead the characters on a quest that involves turn-based strategy battle and leveling up. The overall quest is so involved, you can literally play a single game for weeks, assuming you’re actually stopping to, you know, eat, work and sleep. This is the one of the best RPGs for Nintendo DS I’ve played and it has that added fun of the Wizard of Oz characters we remember from our youth.

AMAZON

by Bill Gibron

1 Dec 2009

Many of the stories surrounding the making of this amazing movie are just as compelling as the film itself, and Warner Brothers has seen fit to fill out this astonishing four disc set with as many of them as possible. There is so much added content here - early silent film versions of the Oz stories (including one helmed by Baum himself), TV movies based on the material, documentaries and full length features discussing the film’s creation and lasting impact, as well as numerous critical, scholarly, and specialty (F/X, music) overviews - that we get wrapped up in the history. About the only thing not addressed here are the numerous urban legends and conspiracy theory rumors surrounding the final product.

And what a magnificent movie it is, a true endeavor of the human spirit that seems to resonate through every pore of your being down deep into the very core of your sunny, sated soul.

by Mike Garrett

1 Dec 2009

No one understands the hold music has on us quite like author Nick Hornby. Being an audiophile himself Hornby appreciates how, at least for some, the records we buy and the bands we love can take on a greater significance beyond their immediate aural pleasures. Hornby knows how music can come to dominate our lives, and how we can come to define ourselves by the music we hold dear. Hornby’s most famous protagonist, Rob Fleming from High Fidelity, goes so far to say that you can’t be a serious person if you have less than 500 records. But High Fidelity isn’t just about music. It’s also about love, death and the perils of relationships. And so is Hornby’s latest, a self-described quasi-sequel to High Fidelity, Juliet, Naked.

At first blush, Juliet, Naked seems to be exclusively about music, too. The novel begins in hilarious fashion, as our British protagonists, longtime couple Duncan and Annie, make their way across the US on a musical pilgrimage. The impetus for this magical mystery tour is Tucker Crowe, fictional musician and notorious recluse, who hasn’t been heard from since 1986, when his famous break-up album, Juliet, was released. It’s said that the greatest pop and rock songs are almost always about love—wanting it, getting it, losing it, trying to get it back. And in a sense, that’s what most Nick Hornby books are about, too. But his books are also about the things in our lives that we use as substitutes for love, the things that we cling to in the absence of relationships in an effort to make sense of our world—namely, music, or art. But as Duncan discovers, and Rob Fleming before him, your records can only nourish you so much, or as the Motown song goes, ain’t nothing like the real thing.

by Katharine Wray

1 Dec 2009

Before Dave Chapelle, before Jerry Seinfeld and before Richard Pryor—about 50 years ago, in fact—there was Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. This three CD/one DVD Box set, remastered 50 years after the birth of The 2000 Year Old Man, offers hours of hilarity with all five 2000 Year Old Man comedy albums released by Brooks and Reiner. The DVD is flush with interviews, clips from The Ed Sullivan Show and The New Steve Allen Show, the 1975 animated TV special and loads of rare photographs. This will see some happy recipient well through the long winter.

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