Feb. 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM ET
By Ryan McGee of HitFix.com
It’s been roughly two months since the last episode of “Glee,” during which time I forgot how to actually watch the show. Sure, I’ve watched plenty of television in the interim. Probably too much, according to my family. But “Glee” breaks the rules of how television is supposed to work, and so coming back into it is now is liking coming from a 3 Doors Down concert and then sitting front row at a jazz fusion festival. Not that “Glee” would ever do jazz fusion: I’m not sure its supposed demographic of 7-year olds would appreciate covers of “Bitches Brew.”
That crack about a 7-year-old being the show’s target demo came out of the mouth of “Glee” creator and Kings of Leon superfan Ryan Murphy, who kept the show in the spotlight despite its prolonged absence from the small screen through a series of outlandish quotes. It was one of many things that ran through my mind while watching fiery whips and sparkling bras fill the screen during the show’s routine to “California Gurls.” It was a number designed to maintain the Super Bowl audience in much the same way as “Alias” putting Jennifer Garner in sexy lingerie or “Grey’s Anatomy” putting half of its cast naked in the shower in their respective post-game episodes. But did Murphy and Company think that the audience for the Super Bowl was pre-teens who need to learn about the importance of the arts?
Then again, the tension between football and the arts were at the center of “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle,” an episode that featured the show at its very best, its most pandering, and its downright sloppiest. Not only that, it usually managed to do at least two of those things in every scene. FOX wanted to brainwash its Super Bowl audience into thinking the show is merely a comedy, but anyone who watches an episode of the show knows there’s far more going on than that. Mixing multiple genres within one program is hardly the issue for the show as a whole: it’s that it often puts SO much into an individual hour that it can’t accomplish anything as a coherent whole.
To put it in football terms: “Glee” is like a broken play. I’m not even talking about single episodes so much as atomized elements that constitute an episode. Each bit could end in a miraculous touchdown or a horrific sack. For every Coach Beiste as the seemingly only sane voice in the entire school, there’s a plot that lets Rachel and the rest of the New Directions girls dress up for the championship football game*. For every Sue plot that threatens to completely engulf the show in a spirit of potentially interesting anarchy**, there’s a fairly complex plot about an unlikable, self-hating, closeted football player that’s as close to grounded as the show gets. The fact that it can BE all of these things is the show’s greatest strength. That it doesn’t know how to effectively deploy all the weapons in its arsenal (and, conversely, when to keep certain ones holstered) is its greatest weakness.
* Darren Criss’ character can not only sing, dance, and run in slo-motion, but has intimate knowledge of Ohio high football regulations. It boggles the mind. I expect him to ride into Regionals atop a unicorn that convinces everyone to double their recycling efforts. Nothing could shock me at this point.
** Seriously: she’s buying CANNONS at this point. I don’t know if she’s trying to win a cheerleading competition or trying to kill the Road Runner.