Make A Joyless Noise

glee0609.png"Glee" recently wrapped its first season, but the 22 episodes were split up into the original 13, which aired last fall, and this spring's "back nine," a group of episodes that a network will often order to give a full year to a show about which it initially held reservations. And that division in the show's first season is the root of its problem, and the source of everything that's wrong with it. Musicals are inherently going to push the boundaries of reality more than any other genre. Some numbers have framing devices that keep them rooted somewhat in a believable story line, like a glee clubber performing on stage, but most of the numbers exist in that blurry fantasy-land unique to the genre in which people just start singing their feelings. These moments do as much to move the plot and help characters develop and express emotion as any other, but the problem with "Glee" isn't its willingness to smudge the line between reality and fantasy. It's that it no longer pretends to care about the reality. The show's success led to a back-nine set of episodes that felt progressively gaudier, as if the show had to keep topping itself if it wanted to stay hot. As a result, all the creative energy was focused on the songs and none of it — not one blessed ounce — on the stories of the people doing the singing. The opening scene of the season finale had Will and Sue arguing in the principal's office about Sue's intrusion into the club and the principal's continued threat that the club would be shut down if they didn't ace their next show. This scene has happened so many times the first season that it has lost any ability to create drama or tension; it's just annoying. A viewer could watch the pilot, the fall finale, and the season finale and barely feel like they've missed anything, and that's bad plotting. It's also lazy and annoying to insist that every plot about the club deal with its very survival, which are the highest stakes possible. This would be like making every episode of "The West Wing" about the president's potential impeachment; after a couple dozen hours of the same story always winding up okay, the cracks would show, and that's what's happening to "Glee." It's not that there's nothing to care about. It's that we don't get a chance to. It would be far braver and more interesting to just assume that the glee club will continue to exist, and that Sue must find some way to cope with them or harass them that doesn't involve another lamely constructed joke about Will's hair. Are the musical numbers still good? Yes. But they're not great, and can't be until the show is once again able to establish a connection between the singing and non-singing moments. When the football players last broke into "Single Ladies," it was sublime precisely because of everything that had happened in the story to that point. The musical number was a perfect emotional extension of the narrative. Compare that with Sue's fantasized version of Madonna's "Vogue" video from this spring: lots more money and effects, and absolutely none of the joy. The show has forgotten that songs need people, not just performers.