Glee is, hands down, the hammiest television program I’ve ever seen. Its plot lines are convoluted and grossly improbable. There are more double-crossings, contrived relationships, revenges, and infidelities than there are in even most dubious soap operas. Characters come and go without any sort of acknowledgement, then ride back in on a wave of fanfare. Informational dialogue plagues conversation, leaves story lines feeling like they belong in after-school specials that parents ask their children about at the dinner table.
This only becomes more awkward when Mr. Schuester approves the glee club’s plans to sex things up from time to time. Or worse still, when the washed up boy band aficionado gets in on the action himself. I shudder from some of things the show has put me through. And yet…
I love Glee. I have it saved on my DVR. I own the first season and two of the soundtracks. For all intents and purposes, I would appear to be a “Gleek.” That said, before I make a case for the show’s successes, I must address a few more of its failings.
For starters, the creators of the show really phone it in when it comes to setting. The physical sets look great, sure, but its general portrait of Lima, Ohio is more of a hastily drawn caricature. Until I went to college, I lived in a rural town fifteen minutes down the road from the city of Lima. For me, this only serves to make the show’s inaccuracies more annoying.
For instance, there are Catholic private schools in my hometown area, but the all-male, TV equivalent of Dalton Academy certainly does not exist. Neither does Lima Heights Adjacent, the apparently “rough” side of town where the ever-bitchy Santana calls home. The writers perpetually cite Lima as being part of “Western Ohio” when it is really Northwestern Ohio, and their geographical reference points for other cities in the state are similarly erroneous. (In a recent episode, one of the competing choral groups was said to have traveled “all the way” from Defiance; Defiance is, at most, an hour away.) The writers also came up with “Lima Loser,” an insult that I think any self-respecting bully with a shred of creativity would never use.
I realize that Glee’s executives could get into some uncomfortable legal grey areas if they presented true-to-life representations of Lima without proper consent. But, for this nitpicky viewer, their efforts to come close to the real thing are more aggravating than if they just let the action play out in California where the show is filmed. Seasonal wardrobe changes aren’t fooling anyone. Neither is the fake snow.
Glee’s second obvious shortcoming is in the age of the cast members. There’s a reason the glee clubbers are so talented: it’s because most of them are approximately 5-10 years older than the characters they portray. They’ve lived more, experienced more, and performed more than even the most determined high school drama student. Therefore, when the inevitable squicky plot lines of student/teacher fraternization arise, it makes it difficult to pass judgment. When taking stock of the most recent illicit pairing, I found myself thinking, “Hm… I think they could work” rather than “OMG, WTF, GROSS” like I was clearly supposed to.
Though these criticisms permeate my viewing experience, Glee continues to win me over time and again. Behind the stilted dialogue, the cheesy mash-ups, and the rushed characterization is a truthfulness many teen-oriented shows neglect. The characters are young and naïve, occasionally foolish. Yet, they are also passionate and vulnerable. They are angsty, but not for entirely superficial reasons. They squabble over solos or burn with cheerleader envy. At the same time, they confront pertinent issues of race, religion, body image, bullying, sexual orientation, and disability.
Of course, the fact that each of these issues can be tied to specific individuals is somewhat problematic; these portrayals risk being interpreted as forms of tokenism or stereotyping. However, it seems this potential outcome is not lost on the show’s creators. When Glee enters dicey sociological territory, they cleverly utilize Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester as the diffuser of tensions and the labeler of outcasts. (She irreverently and unabashedly refers to Kurt Hummel as “Porcelain,” his boyfriend Blaine Anderson as “Other Gay,” and Mike Chang as “Other Asian,” just to name a few.) Her disdain for human beings does not discriminate. We cringe at her political incorrectness and laugh at her universal devilishness.
Despite all of its PSA-worthy subject matter, Glee manages to keep its musical framework intact week after week. Not every episode brings it home. I can’t unsee/unhear Will Schuester singing “The Thong Song,” nor can I forget Rachel Berry singing Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” with her estranged biological mother. (Clearly they didn’t know what that song was really about.) Yet, for every miss there’s a hit. I’ve gotten goosebumps on many an occasion; I’ve gotten choked up on a few others. Basically any time Mercedes opens her mouth I am enraptured, and Kurt seriously appeals to my inner Broadway star. (Real talk: Paying off college loans would be a breeze if I had a nickel for every boozy rendition of “Rose’s Turn” I’ve belted out in my roommate’s presence.) With every campy impromptu performance, Glee sharpens its focus on the importance of the arts, self-expression, and acceptance. For me, that is more than enough reason to overlook its shortcomings.