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“Glee” might have been better as a movie

March 20, 2012

I’m starting to grow weary of Glee. The excessively autotuned vocals grate more as time goes on, but, more importantly, the characters don’t seem to develop or grow in consistent, compelling ways. Quinn Fabray’s pregnancy in Season 1 seems to help her find a new maturity, but by Season 3 she’s talking crazy and acting mean again. OK, she’s just a high schooler, but what about cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester? The Glee Club does her an incredible service by arranging her sister’s funeral at the end of Season 2, and she is grateful, etc. But by the next fall she is back to her old anti-Glee Club ways. Similar observations can be made of other characters.

I don’t think this is simply a matter of poor writing or sloppiness on the part of Ryan Murphy et al. I think the show’s producers are trapped in the TV medium, in which weekly shows rely on having a cast of essentially stable characters who interact in mostly predictable ways, thus allowing new episodes to be generated rather quickly (one per week). If characters change too much, that throws off the default dynamics of the show, and it gets harder to churn out episodes according to the usual formula.

In plays and movies, by contrast, main characters often do change in important ways. They have a big adventure or learn an important lesson or whatever, and by the end they are unmistakably different. The fact that they have changed is not a problem, as it is on TV, because plays and movies are tidy, self-contained entities. We don’t come back to the theater (or the theatre) the next week expecting to see another show that picks up right where the previous one ended.

At this point I am reminded that Ryan Murphy originally conceived of Glee as a movie, not a TV series. I wonder if that might have worked better in some ways. Introduce a bunch of misfit kids and their inspiring teacher, follow them as they learn to work together and express themselves through music, cheer their triumph at a big competition, celebrate the friendships and insights they’ve gained, and be done with it.

This problem of being trapped in a TV template is not unique to Glee, of course. I used to really like House, too….

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