Friday Night Lights: The Musical! or Glee‘s After-School Sing-a-long

May 13, 2010
By | 8 Comments

I’ll just get this out of the way from the get-go.  (1) I’m taken aback by how good Lea Michele looks in denim and perhaps annoyed by how good Rachel looks in her glee costumes, while looking so doofy in her own clothes.  Perhaps we’re simply supposed to accept that just as their voices sound better than they would  in real life, the performance costumes make them all look like bigger, better, and sexier versions of themselves.  (2) “Enjoy it while you can, Weezie” wins for best (yet still offensive) line of the episode if not the season.

Wow.  I’m just really a bit flabbergasted.  I feel like the “powers that Glee” (PTG) are really trying to combat complaints of minimal plot development.  After last week’s most excellent narrative-filled musical numbers, my hopes were high that they could maintain momentum this week.  It looked like they might be able to pull it off, but then it became Glee meets Friday Night Lights. Say it ain’t so!  Anyway, to me it seems as if they’re amid a generic struggle.  The musical—old school, at least—is not known for its riveting narrative development, but instead lets the music do its talking.  Last week worked just that way.  “Run, Joey, Run” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” projected the show’s burgeoning love triangle through what it does best—dazzling video-esque numbers.  So, kudos PTG.

This week they almost scored with the same tactic.  They came ever so close to doing what musicals do well.  It looked as if the episode was really embracing the traditions of the genre.  “Jessie’s Girl” provided a fabulous mix of show-number and personal development soliloquy.  (And, come on, it’s “Jessie’s Girl.”  It made my day at least 5% better by its mere inclusion.)  The episode did an amazing job of using the duet (until they ruined it).  Secondary players took center and deftly blended musical integration and glee club performances.  Mercedes and Santana’s duet of “The Boy is Mine” melded a fierce narrative moment with classroom performance and then allowed the action to ultimately transcend the bounds of the song as the girls continued their catfight.  (It was a little bit Dreamgirls.)  Mercedes spontaneously joining Puck in “The Lady is a Tramp” was a touch of integrated perfection.  Kurt’s bookended solos—“Pink Houses” and “Rose’s (Kurt’s) Turn”—provided painfully poignant moments for a guy who has surely had some narrative high points, but doesn’t generally develop very far within the narrative.  I particularly liked the latter number (no offense, Mr. Mellencamp) and the lurky way his father appeared.  It felt very old school, when someone’s true feelings come through in the solo and a love interest happens upon the scene.  The following moments between father and son were heartbreaking, heartwarming, and all around fabulous.   (Equaling that extremely touching moment was Kurt asking Brittany, “what do boys’ lips taste like?”)

Then it happened.  TPG tried to kill the episode.  While they had been using musical integration beautifully to project inner turmoil and relational conflict to a level perhaps heretofore unaccomplished on the show, they went one step too far. They betrayed the old school version of the genre and went very special episode.  They tried to make the narrative go too far, too heartfelt, and well, just too weird.  Everyone knows what I mean. The plotline with the paralyzed ex-football player was just uncomfortable and exploitative, and by trying to fit him into the Glee format TPG created a giant, awkward, and offensive intrusion on an otherwise touching episode.  I’ll simply leave some questions here.  Why did we need that plotline?  Really, tonsillitis = total paralysis?  Was it supposed to be Rachel’s version of Sue’s sister?  Why did the poor guy have to be naked in the 2nd scene?  Why is he the only guy not to have an overproduced voice (so he’s not only trapped in his damaged body, but he’s also trapped in his ill-sounding and unenhanced voice)? Why does Rachel not sound, act, or move like Rachel in that scene?  Did Lea just know how bad it was?  Why do they leave a nice group number (that almost allows you to forget how uncomfortable you just were) to return to the narrative-killing scene and the worst vocal stylings since early episodes of American Idol?  If they want us to pretend that the over-production is “real,” perhaps they shouldn’t point out that it isn’t.  Use your head, PTG!


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8 Responses to “ Friday Night Lights: The Musical! or Glee‘s After-School Sing-a-long ”

  1. Anne Helen Petersen on May 13, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Great post, Kelly. One small point: to compare Glee’s treatment of paralysis to that of Friday Night Lights is akin to comparing Saved by the Bell’s treatment of ‘uppers’/drug use with that of Requiem for a Dream. Okay, okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but FNL miraculously managed to avoid cliche and ‘very special episode-ness’ with Jason Street (they even gave him FRIENDS! And sports and girlfriends and babies!), whereas Glee’s use, especially in this last episode, seems so awkward, forced, and didactic.

    I feel like The Powers That Glee were basically saying “SEE, HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE CAST SOMEONE WHO’S ACTUALLY DISABLED.” Which is an unfortunate message altogether.

  2. Kelly Kessler on May 13, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    I just want to say that I’m a huge fan of the ever-shafted FNL and fully believe that the show did an admirable job with its treatment of Street. However, Glee’s treatment of paralysis here is indicative of a common downfall of the musical when it attempts to deal with heavy issues. Even the contemporary musical–although surely tackling more serious issues than back in the heyday–suffers from such weaknesses. While The Color Purple is both a fab movie and book, when musicalized it became what my partner and I refer to as “Celie’s Greatest Hits” by reducing an epic story to musical vignettes. I think we see a reflection of that generic shorthand here (and just some bad writing). Go East Dillon Lions!

  3. amanda klein on May 13, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    Yes, Kelly you are spot on here. I have always been critical of GLEE’s use of overproduced numbers but it was a strange choice for them to NOT use the Autotune when the paralyzed football was singing. It seemed to emphasize exactly what that treacly storyline was intended to disprove: that a disability doesn’t preclude you from being fantastic in other ventures. I actually found that entire plotline to be more offensive that Sue’s sister (which I already find to be offensive). Rachel was basically supposed to look at this young man and think–wow, and I thought I had it bad! But your life really sucks! Oh wait, AND my voice is okay after all!

    TPG just seem to be taking shots in the dark at this point.

    The episode was saved though by “The Lady is a Tramp” and “Kurt’s Turn.” What fantastic numbers!

    • amanda klein on May 13, 2010 at 12:20 PM

      Ooops, meant to write “paralyzed football PLAYER.”

  4. Myles McNutt on May 13, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    To be fair, I was pretty okay with Sue’s Sister as well, but I actually found the paralyzed football player to be less problematic. In the case of Sue’s Sister, it was meant to manipulative our emotions as the audience: the sister is meant to soften Sue’s character and give context to her actions, forcing a three-dimensionality that the character doesn’t really otherwise earn (but which I was pleased enough to see that I went along for the ride).

    By comparison, the football player (as sad as it is that I don’t remember his name) actually creates a response from Rachel, manipulating her emotions rather than our own. I think it was certainly over the top and after school-specialy (since that is Ryan Murphy’s calling card on this show, having written “Wheels” as well), but the fact that it confirmed more than changed our expectations (forcing Rachel to see what we could see from the beginning of the episode, that she was being a jerk) means that it feels like the moral is for the character more than for the audience. That doesn’t make the moral any better, but it at least makes it more functional for long term character development – maybe it’s just that I’ve been complaining about its absence for so long, but I was very pleased to see the “live” singing at the end of the episode, and I thought Michele did a nice job with the scene (even if Murphy didn’t really carry over Rachel’s personality into the scenes as he perhaps should have).

  5. Kelli Marshall on May 13, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    Thoughtful post, Kelly! I’m glad I’m not alone regarding the football player storyline. I tweeted this while the show aired and was sorta’ concerned that no one else posted anything similar (or responded to my tweet): Comforting to know I wasn’t misreading (or unduly badmouthing?) the situation…

  6. Carolina Hernandez on May 13, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    This has been my problem with Glee since the beginning, its desperate attempts at being both an edgy show and an after-school special. It only ever works for me in Kurt’s storyline, and even then, not always (I still have issues with them conflating his homosexuality with disabilities in the Wheels episode).

    The ending of this week’s episode was especially troubling. As you said, “Really, tonsillitis=total paralysis?” It felt like something out of an episode of Strangers with Candy, because who else besides Jerri Blank would equate the two? But instead of giving us the “moral” of the story like SwC would (by having Jerri hilariously learn the wrong lesson), Glee just plays it straight by having Rachel learn a very problematic lesson instead.

  7. Mary Beltrán on May 13, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    What a great post, and I really enjoyed reading all of the thoughtful comments as well. It’s ironic, that in an episode that focused on “finding your voice,” that they included a character’s unenhanced singing voice for a change – but it wasn’t even one of the major characters. And that this would be chosen as an episode theme for a series is all about how much better and sexier they are in their overproduced musical numbers (excellent point!). But I personally love these contradictions and fantasy elements, so they work for me.