I didn’t recap Glee for WEEKEND Watchers for most of the season aside from posting a few thoughts on the first half’s strong finish just because I liked it so well, but I had a few things I wanted to say about “Laryngitis” after watching it this morning on Hulu. I had a number of issues with the first three episodes back this spring and I wrote about them in a column for WEEKEND a few weeks back. For the most part, everything felt ramped up too much in those first three episodes: more music, more “videos,” more schmaltz, etc. And of course, more of all that meant less intelligent character development, tonal consistency and at least believable rationale for why certain performances were happening.
However, in the last two episodes, Glee has settled down and settled in to a nice, balanced rhythm, at least in terms of the use of music and its connection to the story being told.
But the one thing I have noticed about the back order of episodes is that the writers, Ryan Murphy particularly, have decided that they want the series to be more afterschool special than a high-energy, pop culture-powered, fun hour of television. Yes, those things are still there in some degree, but I feel as if Glee is turning more towards the faux emotional stories that sometimes work and sometimes fail miserably like Mercedes’ story in “Home.”
I understand a lot of the reasoning behind the decision. The most powerful episodes of the fall pod were “Wheels,” “Mattress” and “Sectionals,” all of which were emotionally charged in a real and effective way. Those were the episodes that convinced me that Glee could tell real stories even without the crutch of the music to signal to the audience exactly how we are supposed to feel about the events unfolding in front of us. Plus, I can imagine that somebody at FOX figured that young audience = opportunity to “teach” lessons.
However, where the writers are going wrong is the execution. Yes, those above-mentioned episodes were emotionally effective and powerful, but done so with finesse and subtly. But here in the second half, the writing has gone wrong in two ways. First, the powers that be recognized the success of an episode like “Wheels” and decided they can just plug any any “issue” an hope that we will feel the same way about it the way we did Artie. You were charmed by his and Tina’s handicaps? Then you’ll love Mercedes “battle” with her weight! Second, aside from the story with Kurt and his father — the highlight of episodes 14-18 — all of these “issue” stories have been heavy-handed and barely explored within the frame of the episode. Mercedes’ weight issues were played out in two or three scenes and then an uplifting song at the end. Rachel’s loss of identity without her voice was handled better, but still felt like it needed one more scene to flesh it out some more.
It’s not like I don’t think Glee can tell emotionally resonant stories, I just wish they’d mix it up with more fun events. Or just handle those heavier stories in a subtler way. But this is Glee and subtle is hard to come by — and probably will continue to be harder to come by as the series goes along.