Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Glee 2.1 'Audition'

“People thought I went on vacation but actually I spent the summer lost in the sewers” – Brittany

In its first season Glee became one of the most popular shows on television across the globe; however from a critical standpoint it was continuously frustratingly disjointed and lacking in any real characterisation.

After a promising start – which saw Glee’s resident Perez Hilton-wannabe Jacob Ben Israel (gee, I wonder what religion he belongs to…) making a film entitled ‘Glee’s Big Gay Summer’, which was a tongue in cheek way of addressing several of the criticisms levelled at the show in the off season: Will’s rapping, Rachel’s obnoxious personality etc. – the irritatingly sloppy writing returned, and then some.

Season one’s best characters all quickly re-established themselves: Puck, Brittany and Sue chiefly, but as with last season too much time was spent on the bland leading characters leaving the supporting players still with little to no character development.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that we still know almost nothing about the likes of Brittany, Santana, Mike and Tina, we were then introduced to several new characters, who will presumably now take precedence over these established characters.

Glee reminds me of a kid with A.D.D. – it starts off in one direction but before it can even get halfway there it quickly gets bored and starts off in another; this was the major problem for me last season and it appears as though we are in for more of the same this time around too.

I like Glee, and I’m not ashamed to admit that, but unlike most of the people who watch this show I need more than covers of popular songs to keep my interest, and too often on this show storylines that might have potential are started and dropped before reaching a resolution or rushed through in one episode when they could have been slowly built over the course of several.

It’s only early days in season two yet though, and judging from that knowing pre-credits sequence, Ryan Murphy et al have obviously paid attention to a great deal of the internet criticism the show has attracted, so maybe they may take a bit more time writing actual storylines rather than the clusterfucks we are used to seeing each week this term.

‘Audition’ saw a new school year begin at William McKinley High and in spite of what they may have thought the glee club were still at the bottom of the food chain. Will was keen to recruit some new blood for the club though and thus sent the gang out to perform 2010’s “song of the year” Empire State of Mind in front of the school to show them how ‘cool’ glee club could be.

This version of Jay-Z’s song was only the second worst version of the song I’ve ever heard (X Factor gypsy Cher Lloyd has that title well and truly sewn up) but I was more annoyed by the poor characterisation I mentioned before during this performance.

In spite of the whole “we’re a family” syrup we were spoon fed earlier in the episode I find it difficult to believe that the people who I always classed as the more reluctant members of the glee club, mainly Brittany, Santana and to a lesser extent Puck, would be comfortable dancing around in 80’s hip-hop attire and rapping in front of the whole school. Yet here they all were, seemingly without a twinge of self-consciousness performing like the glee club was all that matters – I’d expect that type of dedication from Rachel but not the others.

Too often this is Glee’s problem: the songs are almost independent from what’s going on in terms of story. I know the lure of the almighty dollar comes into play in TV-land on an hourly basis, but to cynically hold the songs within the show in higher esteem than the storytelling is poor form for a TV show in my humble opinion. The songs within Glee should mirror, advance and add more emotion to the storylines within the show, not detract from them by not sticking to storylines and/or character.

The performance did what Will had hoped though as we saw glimpses of two new students enjoying the whole Glee club shtick: exchange student Sunshine and new transfer student Sam – who in a nice nod to season one’s opener and how he himself was discovered by Will, Finn then discovered singing in the shower to a classic power ballad – in this case Poison’s Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.

Whilst Finn initially thought of Sam as an ally, Rachel immediately saw Sunshine as a rival when she heard her sing and thus her usual selfish, obnoxious behaviour commenced.

There was also a new rival for Will and Sue as the school took on a new football coach in the rather butch form of Shannon Beiste, who replaced Ken Tanaka (the criminally underused Patrick Gallagher) who had apparently had a nervous breakdown.

Sue then convinced Will to participate in a series of pranks and acts that would make Beiste feel unwelcome and drive her out of the school as she was taking funding away from both the glee club and Sue’s beloved Cheerios. Beiste (Dot Marie Jones) is quite obviously a masculine woman (I ashamedly immediately thought of the Miss Mann character from Scary Movie when I saw her) but I found Will and Sue’s bullying of her a bit distasteful if I’m honest. Glee is a show that likes to think it has big things to say about minorities and outcasts but the glee club members are the most photogenic ‘freaks and geeks’ I’ve ever seen, so when the show finally does cast someone who does fit the profile of looking a little different to then mercilessly draw attention to that fact is kind of in poor taste if you ask me.

Couple the above with some horrible casual racism (although a lot of this was done knowingly and probably says more about the likes of Rachel as people than the show itself) and this wasn’t Glee’s finest hour for empowering the underdog, as I feel the show likes to think it does on a weekly basis.

Will and Sue’s bullying of Beiste then led to the new football coach snapping and taking it out on Finn when he presented the ridiculous idea of Artie joining the football team to her, Beiste duly kicking Finn off the team.

Kurt joining the football team last season was ridiculous enough but if they do pull the trigger on Artie joining it would be utterly nonsensical, I don’t care how PC the world gets there is no way that would happen or anyone would even suggest that in the real world. Artie’s reasons for joining the team didn’t even make sense – he wanted to win Tina back from Mike but Mike isn’t even on the football team!

All this little detour served to prove was that Finn and Artie are two of the dumbest characters on the show; it did however get Finn off the team and allowed his ‘new best bud’ Sam to take his quarterback role and Will got to see the error of his ways once he saw that his unpleasant behaviour had now had an effect on one of his pupils.

So with Finn out of the football team we then got to see the duality of his ex-girlfriend making her triumphant return to her position of power as Quinn managed to oust Santana as head cheerleader by revealing to Sue that Santana had a boob job over the summer. This role reversal led to the two former friends getting into quite a nasty fight which also led to one of the only mentions in the episode of Puck and Quinn’s kid.

Whether the writers realised they made an error making Quinn pregnant last year I don’t know but this episode pretty much hit the reset button and undid any character development Quinn and Santana have had over the course of the last year which is just cowardly and lazy – at least find an interesting way to get yourself out of the corner you’ve painted yourself into.

With Will now out of the campaign against Beiste, Sue resorted to coercing Brittany into accusing Beiste of touching her inappropriately, which I thought was kind of a serious thing to joke about so lightly. Will managed to prove the whole thing was made-up which built the bridge with Beiste but once again drew Sue’s ire.

Sue’s revenge was to put Sunshine, who had just impressed all the Glee-clubbers with her performance of Listen from Dreamgirls, in touch with Vocal Adrenaline’s new coach who then stole her right from under Will’s nose. It always makes me laugh on Glee how the kids and their (mostly unseen) parents are so lax about just transferring to a new school purely for the glee club, never mind about facilities, teaching standards or any unimportant things like that, how good is the show choir!? I know it serves a function in terms of story but it is lazy writing and there must have been a better way of introducing Sunshine as a potential club member before losing her – like she was looking round both schools and couldn’t decide and then Rachel’s actions made her pick the other and that’s literally off the top of my head.

Rachel’s actions that I speak of above was to jealously send her new rival to a crack house instead of the auditorium – which was funny, but begs the question, how far would you have to go before you realised you’d been duped? In Sunshine’s case it was once the crack heads used her sheet music as toilet paper, I’d like to think I’d have cottoned on a little sooner than that, but I digress.

Rachel then becomes the villain again in being the reason that Sunshine defected to Vocal Adrenaline and further strengthened their chances of winning, hurting New Directions’ chances even further. I don’t know if it’s intentional (it probably is, as it allows her to belt out a sombre song) but Rachel has to be one of the most unlikeable characters on television, she literally has no redeeming qualities and that is somewhat of a problem when she’s the show’s main character. Surely for a big money-spinner like Glee they would want a leading lady who young girls can hope to emulate not someone who is jealous, petty, selfish and has a nasty streak. This again probably says more about where Glee’s priorities lie though because as long as Lea Michele continues to have an amazing voice people will buy the songs no matter how awful Rachel behaves as a character. On a positive note, Michele looks miles better with a fringe, I actually found her sexy for about two seconds… until she opened her mouth of course.

The episode ended with more Finn-Rachel drama, but does anybody really care about these two as a couple? The online reaction to Puck and Rachel (Puckleberry) last season was far stronger, it’s about time the writers aborted this misfiring pairing and spent a bit more time developing the more entertaining supporting characters. If they could find that balance and really make the narrative of the show work then I genuinely believe that Glee would be even more successful than it is now.

A Hail of Bullets:

- The actor who plays Sam is called Chord Overstreet – could he have a more appropriate name for a musical TV show!? I suppose he could be called Glee Overstreet, but that would just be silly wouldn’t it, unlike Chord…

- Vocal Adrenaline’s new coach was played by 30 Rock’s Cheyenne Jackson, who didn’t get much to do but managed one of the biggest laughs of the night with the way he slung Sunshine’s Hello Kitty rucksack over his shoulder as the two left together.

- As much I abhor Glee’s lazy writing in terms of story progression and continuity they consistently have some very funny cutaways and one-liners. The Asian Camp bit tonight was very funny, if a little casually racist and Finn’s Cheerios audition was also hard not to like – Cory Monteith has proven himself very good at making a fool of himself.

- What’s with Artie’s rapping!? I don’t remember that being a character trait from last season yet here he was handling rap duties on both Empire State of Mind and Billionaire – also, I loved it how Sam said he had Billionaire in his “back pocket” yet Artie performed most of the vocals for him.

- Santana’s boob job was a bit of a shocker, A. because she’s a high school student – how would she afford it and what sort of parents would allow it? And B. because her boobs didn’t actually look any different. I’m guessing this is purely just storyline and Naya Rivera hasn’t actually had a boob job, because if she has I’d be asking for my money back. All that said, it was good to see Santana get more screen time in ‘Audition’, hopefully it is a sign of things to come.

- Sue Sylvester rapidly became a cartoon character last season but even by her standards the dog shit cookies was a little too unbelievable.

- Brittany (the brilliant Heather Morris) only had three lines in the whole episode but all three were great, even if the first (the opening quote above) was a little too out there even for her – no one believes she actually spent the summer lost in the sewers do they? So it kind of didn’t work in that sense, Brittany’s non-sequitars have always been great because you could believe she actually thought what she was coming out with – it was still funny though.

Her other two lines, the lack-lustre “stop the violence” during Quinn and Santana’s scrap and “I actually wanted to touch her boobs” about Beiste were both great moments of comedy. Here’s to more Brittany and less Rachel as season two progresses.

Glee continues Monday @ 9pm on E4.


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