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Glee s2e21 review: 'Funeral'

REVIEWS - TV

Glee tries to put the 'fun' in funeral ....

Hard to write about this week’s disappointment, you know? Sue gets her humanity back for the fifth or sixth time while the glee kids organize a funeral for her sister and Will contemplates leaving teaching for the fifth or sixth time. Wrap that around more Quinn/Finn/Jesse/Rachel drama and forget all the other characters to loosely describe my dissatisfaction. The episode is only saved when Quinn says something interesting right at the end, so I guess I’ll have to write about that.

Glee’s come to the point now where consistency and continuity are things a viewer should not expect; I don’t think a person can be a fan of the series if they do. While I think it may have been once, the show has not been consistently good for a while now and that’s not something you ought to recommend to people. Like The Sarah Connor Chronicles was really hit-or-miss, with most episodes registering as misses until it got canceled and the last five episodes were all fantastic culminating in a cliffhanger that wound up the series’ final shot.

I can’t suggest anyone watch it though; what am I gonna say? Telling someone “Yeah, the show’s really killer for that last five hours, some of the best broadcast TV I’ve seen in years... but you gotta watch the previous twenty-six episodes to get the context,” is shitty. Trying to get someone into Glee now would be like Heroes: “Watch the first season, then after you’re totally invested in it, stop.” The idea doesn’t go over too well; you’d only get the more adventurous pop-culture carnivores willing to take the risk.

I think one of the essential skills (for lack of a better word) a show must possess is the deceptively simple ability to make me want to see the next episode. In an anthology series like The Twilight Zone, it’s a collection of stories and if one episode didn’t work, it’s probably not a problem with the program as a whole; you shrug it off and watch the next one. The same goes for non-serialized series like Star Trek - The Next Generation: same characters week-in / week-out, but their individual adventures are usually entertaining if not better.

In these styles of TV show, interest in the next episode is determined by your interest in the show as a whole, your satisfaction with each hour adding up to a general feeling of goodwill leading to curiosity in what will happen to them next week. All you really need is consistency, as continuity is only important for characters, far less than the story. In a semi- or fully-serialized program, what happens the next week is contingent upon what has happened in previous weeks and the shows build upon themselves, layering themes, sub-plots and characterization to create a story with enough momentum to maintain interest. In these cases, not only is consistency imperative, but continuity is paramount.

Story continuity is maintained by planning, by not flailing around every week, trying to figure out new ways to tell the same old story and/or hitting the reset button on a subplot. Character continuity is even more important and more difficult, but pays out shockingly high dividends when done well; it vindicates extended interest in a property. Deadwood had many things going for it, but the most satisfying aspect was the deft development of three tiers of characters which numbered about three dozen. One of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s main strengths was its consistent characterization, which does not mean that the characters stay the same! They need to develop in credible, straightforward ways (developments shouldn’t repeatedly come out of left field) and when they have existential crises, those ought to at least be believable, if not welcomed.

Glee seems principally unconcerned with keeping its story straight or actually building towards anything. Sure, they’re always moving to the next competition, but so what? The soapy, character drama that usually involves a character behaving in a way it has never before isn’t building, especially when it’s discarded by the end of the episode and only brought up once in a nudge-wink manner later on, if ever again.

Glee wants to have its cake and ignore it, too: they want the illusion of continuity while not bothering with it for weeks at a time. The Dave/Santana thread is the closest thing the show has to a continuous thought (Rachel/Finn/Quinn/Whomever doesn’t count, as it’s always the same thought), but robs it of any resonance because the characters’ motivations are non-existent. It’s one thing to have characters do things, but in asking us to care, we’re sort of owed an explanation, otherwise what’s the point?

Its internal logic is nearly non-existent and the quality of its stories wildly varies from week-to-week. Worst of its neglected attributes, though, is how it treats its characters. There are almost no real, three-dimensional, well-developed, motivated characters on this show. Of the ones we spend the most time with (Kurt, Will, Rachel/Quinn/Finn), only Kurt has been the most fully-realized; it helps that he’s the show-runner’s author avatar. However, though Kurt has character flaws (bratty, indignant, un-pragmatic), none of the reasoning for them have been explored.

Quinn, to get back toward the point, has become troublesome as a character; last season, she was a bitchy head cheerleader who lost almost all her cache after catching pregnant and getting kicked out of her position on the Cheerios. Her entire arc for the first season was defrosting as an ice queen and making real friends. As soon as they could, though, they got her back in that uniform and back to step one. Being the physical embodiment of the status quo became Quinn’s narrative function to the point where her backstory and motivation were written around it: she was overweight and miserable and now she’s beautiful and miserable because she sees no escape from her shitty, provincial life.

I’m focusing on Quinn as a primary example of Glee’s major problems and also as the vehicle to shore up my larger point - making me want to see the next episode. For a good while now, I’ve been continuing to watch the show for several reasons: I’m holding out for a Def Leppard song; Brittany makes me feel kind of funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class; and waiting for those transcendent moments the first season had where what I believed to be the show’s central theme (loneliness + music = catharsis) crystallized. Leppard hasn’t appeared, Brittany’s becoming a troublesome character no matter how fanservicey they occasionally make her and my theory about the central theme has fizzled, so why do I keep coming back?

For the same reason I kept coming back to Heroes year after year: because I’m a sucker. Impress me a few times and I will stick with something til the revolution comes. Doesn’t matter that there was a clear drop-off in quality and appreciation, I will stay a viewer in the increasingly vain hope that a show can come back from the dead. With Glee, though, I don’t think I can do it. My desire to see each successive episode is pretty much gone, which brings me the long way round to my point - the show has, against all pattern and possibility, made me curious about next week’s episode and they did it in the simplest way possible: having a character drop a hint about something they’re going to do next week.

That was it. Finn, who has again dumped Quinn for Rachel, thanks her for not dropping out of glee even though it must hurt to be there. She replies, so sweetly and with a beautiful smile, “If I quit, then my big plans for New York would have been ruined.” When pressed, she just smiles again, “You’ll see.” Confused reaction shot off Finn and cut to black.

That’s it, that’s how they did it: one of the oldest tricks in the book and I am now one hundred percent interested in what she’s got cooked up. Sure, there should be some kind of Dave/Santana/Brittany resolution, but I’ve lost interest in that (hell, it wasn’t even brought up this week), that little exchange lit a fire under my ass to see what they do with the character. Of course, this being Glee it will either be anticlimactic, poorly written, hastily implemented or some combination thereof. Probably... and it’s that goddamn “probably” that gets me every time.

Grade: D+

Songs

“Back to Black” - Amy Winehouse (Santana)
“Some People” - from Gypsy (Kurt)
“Try a Little Tenderness” - Otis Redding (Mercedes)
“My Man” - Barbra Streisand (Rachel)
“Pure Imagination” - from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Nude Erections)

Random Observations

In case you’re wondering - the specifics of why the episode got a D+ are too much focus on boring things I don’t care about, stopping the narrative to have four numbers in a row, not advancing The Big Gay Plotline, the kids are gonna write original songs again, and killing off Jean just to have Sue turn the same old easily-turned-back leaf again.

Jesse - Still kind of pointless, but he does make me laugh. Also, just about everything he said about Nude Erections and its members was true.

So who’s in fuckin charge? - Is it Will, Rachel, Finn?

I would pay cash monies - to see Naya Rivera sing in some little mid-twentieth century-style bar with low lighting, a thrust stage and those dim little lamps on the tables where you feel you gotta get dressed up to go. That was an oddly specific fantasy.

Pure Imagination - was a nice choral performance, something I don’t think we’ve seen often enough.

Sue’s plans - I hope the show follows through on them.

Quinn’s big plans for New York - I hope that when Finn makes a big scene telling Rachel he loves her, Quinn stands up and says, “I’m in love with Rachel, too!” totally stealing Santana’s big coming out moment .

Great Lines

Sue - Turns out I’m allergic to pansies; I don’t mean that as a slight to either of you.

Jesse - I’m totally ready to give feedback that’s both blistering and unhelpful.

Jesse - You’re not a star, you’re just a girl who can really sing.

Jesse - You can’t practice reality show judging without a camera; it’d be like practicing skiing without skis.
Brittany - Totally done that.

Brittany - Maybe you could come on Fondue for Two and judge my cat.
Jesse - Rock and roll.

Jesse - That’s sweet; you remember the masculine click of my designer boots.

Glee at Shadowlocked

 

Comments 

 
#1 Glee episode as above.. Shirley McLaughlin 2011-05-31 02:11
Please can you tell me the name of the FINAL song performed on this episode. SOUNDED so familiar... NEW YORK NEW YORK is seemed to be called.. NOT sure.. Great Show.. keep up the great work:) thx SMc
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