[22 September 2011]
In 2009 a musical juggernaut premiered, giving America a real taste of original television by transporting us from hardships to the light, and sometimes poignant lives of McKinley High School’s universally ignored and tormented glee club. In spite of its unknown cast, the show held steady ratings and even to FOX’s surprise defied its niche genre by gaining viewer ship of demographics from all walks of life.
By the time school ended for the glee kids, the cast was already over exposed as household names with books based on their characters misadventures, mall tours, and more. It was safe to say that America was hooked on the hot topics covered by Glee like teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and identity, and best of all it was peppered with fantastic musical performances by the cast.
While season 1 for the most part balanced the humorous moments with the dramatic and character driven episodes, season 2 failed to do that, leaving the viewers with a comedic episode filled with useless one liners and artificial filler between the nonsensical on again off again love of Finn (Cory Monteith) and Rachel (Lea Michele), followed by an overly dramatic one-two punch of an episode the next week. This dramatically shifted the tone of the show in place of character growth, like in episode 7 “The Substitute” which sees Mercedes (Amber Riley), a highly ignored major character get the most screen time over her problem with the lack of tater tots in the cafeteria in exchange for quick laughs.
Mr. Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), the glee club’s teacher, often preached to the kids about sharing the limelight, and season 2 felt like the characters were unraveling, and it was evident that the writers barely knew how to write for such a booming cast that introduced three new characters Shannon Beiste (the gym teacher), Blaine (Kurt’s love interest and lead singer in the a capella group The Warblers which got a 12 episode line), and Sam Evans (the Bieber-esque transfer). Unfortunately that resulted in a cast that became too bloated with throwaway characters that served no purpose, like Lauren Zizes, an overweight character that was introduced in episode 9 as a potential love interest for Puck (Mark Salling).
Instead of using her as a device to show a softer side to resident bad boy Puck, she was used as someone who stayed very one-note, and didn’t contribute anything at all to the glee club, but received more screen time than some cast regulars, like Mike (Harry Shum Jr) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), the resident “Asian couple”. More importantly, this effected the stalled character development of Emma (Jayma Mays), the school counselor, and Mr. Schuester’s on again off again love interest. We saw her character deal with her quirky neurotic neurosis last season, and in this season while they did delve deeper into her OCD, she was featured on the show so infrequently that it was easy to forget her presence and the impact of her fleeting arc fell at the wayside.
However, the cut in airtime that Rachel its resident lead received did a significant job for the growth this character made throughout the season. She started out just as obnoxious and whiny as she did in season one, but the less we saw of her, the more her character came to terms with her behavior. In episode 17 entitled “A Night of Neglect” after Mercedes, the usual team player, refuses to sing because she feels ignored as a member, Rachel confronts her “You’re just as good as a singer as I am. I would rather be a star than be liked. I’m not saying it’s healthy. If you want that closing spot then go in there and take it from me.“
In the following episode the usual confident, attention hungry Rachel goes through an identity crises when she considers having rhinoplasty done after Finn breaks her nose in rehearsals. This revealed a likeability, and newfound vulnerability to Rachel. The duet of “Unpretty” by Quinn (Dianna Agron), the popular cheerleader, and Rachel, was one of the most relevant song performances in a season that used a lot of filler in their musical selections.
Fox boasted that for season 2 it would have bigger songs and better guest stars, and it certainly delivered, but these special additions whittled away at the simple charm of the show. The introduction of John Stamos, who played Carl, Emma’s love interest, would have felt more genuine if his presence wasn’t so capitalized by the fact that it was Stamos. His character came and went so frequently, that it was hard to get a sense of who he was, other than a dentist that shamelessly loved Emma.
If ratings was something that Fox was after with Stamos, they certainly solidified where their priorities were with Gwyneth Paltrow (introduced in episode 7), who seems to be riding the high of her duel career as a singer/actress. The whacky Holly Holliday was fun, lovable, and just the right amount of crazy that allowed the kids to explore the bigger questions about themselves more freely than Mr. Schuester. Howeve,r what she could have accomplished in one episode was spaced out over three episodes.
One huge problem with season 2 was the significant amount of episodes that were focused on featuring artist’s songs. This season brought up themed episodes like “The Rocky Horror Show”, and while bold in its nature, there was absolutely no movement between any of the storylines. Which brings the next problem with song selection; a lot of the plots were ill conceived in exchange for a specific line to fit into a song, rather than the song compliment a specific storyline. The Britney Spears themed episode, which saw our favorite characters dreaming about performing Spears’ greatest hits under dental anesthesia, while terrific in production value with the built sets and infamous outfits that threw us back into all of Spears’ videos, didn’t pull the characters forward or make a significant impact. In fact, it was the glossiest looking one-hour music video to date.
Season 2 isn’t without its highs. The strongest arcs and profound moments were brought out this past season in the dramatic episodes. Despite watching Jane Lynch’s villainous Sue Sylvester’s character suffer through flip flopping between good intentions versus tired old motivations to take down The New Directions in every other episode, the stand out actress got the chance to excise her acting chops. In particular episode 3 entitled “Grilled Cheesus” dealt with Sue and Kurt’s views on God ceasing to exist. The audience got more of an emotional landscape of what makes Sue such a terrible tyrant.
When confronted by Emma, Jane Lynch gives such a performance in her monologue about losing faith in God during her childhood when she watched her hero, her big sister who suffers from down syndrome get picked on. To watch this moment resonate with the character’s actions almost makes up for the lack of direction this character was given this season. Another highlight for that arc came later down the pipe in episode 21 “The Funeral” when Sue suffers the loss of her big sister and lashes out by kicking out her side kick (also a character with down syndrome) off of the Cheerios squad. This showed depth to Sue’s actions, and the waves of grief the character goes through is something that’s showcased very well.
If there was a consistently good storyline, it was the teens dealing with their sexuality amidst the campy and preachy tone Glee has a habit of taking on. While the character of Kurt (brilliantly played by Chris Colfer) spent the first season claiming himself as the only out gay teenager as McKinley. This year he took the journey in finding out what it means to be gay as a teen growing up in a conservative town. As a viewer, experiencing his first love with Blaine was just as palpable as experiencing this character go through verbal and physical abuse by his bully and conflicted closeted homosexual Dave Karofsky (Max Adler). This arc lasted the entire season, and it was powerful to see how the writers chose to build the bullying to a level of such discomfort that rang true to our current problem with homophobia in high school.
Episode 15 showed just how much Burt (Kurt’s father, played by Mike O’Malley) loves his son as he goes past his limit of comfort to research about the mechanics of sex for Kurt in a way to reach out. Lines delivered with care from Burt like “I want you to use it [sex] as a way to connect to another person. Don’t throw yourself around like you don’t matter because you matter.” Not only is this a significant message for the character, but for the teenagers who are growing up watching and relating to these characters as well.
In a new light on self identity within the realm of sexuality, the audience witnessed one of the most beautiful character arcs for Santana (bravely played by Naya Rivera) sans parents, deny and then painstakingly go through the realization that she’s in love with her best friend Brittany (Heather Morris). With “Landside” as the chosen song to reveal her true feelings, it was probably one of the best acting and storyline highlights of the whole season, and this is for a character that had never shared more than a line of dialogue on a page earlier.
At the end of the season The New Directions lost at Nationals, and it ended on a note that would promise new beginnings for Quinn, Kurt and Rachel. Unfortunately, what would really improve the show is pulling the focus back on the character’s traits that they have yet to establish, and in some aspects mend. If Glee could advocate for all of its characters in the way they do for a few sew select storylines, it might just recapture the charm and hit the high note that its been after since season one.