When Glee first premiered in the Spring of 2009 in May, the pilot was released as a teaser in order to whet the appetites of the audience as we waited over the summer. The first season went well, with a mixture of songs I knew and those I didn’t. The cast played up a youthful vigor that enticed me to remember those days when I also was the outcast who loved to sing.
I enjoyed the second season, knowing the cast was growing up and that the sophomores of yesterday were the seniors of today. The freshmen from the first season matured and became part of the school, seasoned with high-school establishment and development of character. We saw the introduction of my favorite character, Blaine, and his relationship with Chris Colfer’s Kurt. The Dalton Warblers became an adversarial force and the plot thickened. We even saw Brittany Pierce move from a mere backup dancer to a deeply hilarious character on par with Silent Bob with her straight-faced ability to use one-liners with shark-like hunger.
When the third season aired, we saw the Seniors and Juniors really growing up. The Seniors were in their last year and the realization of their last halcyon days made them pass on their wisdom before they faded into the sunset in their Glee-colored graduation robes. I even teared up because there was dust in my eyes. We watched as our signature character dressed up like Mary Tyler Moore and walked off into the sunset into dreams of Broadway and New York in her eyes, (as seen in the Hulu shots).
There was an understanding that the cast would continue to be a rotating plethora of high-school aged characters and that being a freshman was the unwritten promise of four years of work for an actor. We were expecting that while the characters might change, the Glee club itself and its impression on the characters that flowed through it would allow the malleable ensemble cast to tell stories many ways through different eyes and endings. We were not stupid. We understood that the original cast members would be guest stars and would make reunion appearances. But the show would move on, like school, without them.
And then the fourth season happened.
While we as an audience understand the addiction to write for your favorite characters or relinquish them to a happy ending, Samuel Clemens said “a happy ending depends on where you end the story.” Rachel had a happy ending…and the writers ruined it in the hope of drama and just made Rachel a cautionary tale of idiocy.
They had already denied her admittance to NYADA so she could go along with Kurt in the third season. Kurt was successful in his audition and sometimes, despite all the railing and wailing in the world, somebody else is better. Kurt was not the soloist in high school, and didn’t seem to try as hard and yet, he got to go to the exclusive school with the impressive alumni list. He had the golden ticket he earned while Rachel Berry’s tantrums had failed her.
But the writers had become addicted to Rachel. They either were too timid or too ineffective to apply their talents to writing the other character stories effectively. In a massive betrayal to the character and for some reason that is out-of-the-real world, despite the other massive numbers of applications to NYADA from across the Glee-verse country, Rachel got reconsidered.
It bothers me that the scout played by Whoopi Goldberg is supposed to be such a hard-ass, but is secretly wooed by a second-rate tale of “heartbroken dreams”. The road to success is littered with them and Rachel Berry should have been one of them. Her ability to deal with that tragedy sans Deus ex Machina would have been a realistic tale that real audience members of nationwide glee club participants would have related to. The writers distanced their main character from the audience and their believability.
We saw Rachel challenge without training the Dance teacher, Cassandra July, played by Kate Hudson. That she did so openly was a terrible maneuver. Once an enemy knows you are an enemy, you have become under attack as well. Rachel, seeing her educational career was tanked and that she would be blackballed by the tight-knit theatre community at the school left NYADA to go be in Funny Girl, wasting the one suspension of extreme-disbelief to go join Broadway. She seemed to realize that this would be a risk. Lacking the training she snubbed from Thibideaux and Cassandra, she then went ahead and cut ties with the school.
Funny Girl seemed to be her brand new thing and then she left that to take an extended absence in the middle of rehearsals to putz around back home instead of taking her job seriously, a job she was only in by extreme talent, because she sure didn’t want the wisdom those who were older, wiser, had been there before. She is warned that anymore absences and she would be removed from the show and was on the thinnest of thin ice with the directors and producers.
We then see her get an offer to do a sitcom (that fails) and she comes crawling back to her old high school hat in hand and gets a job working with impressionable youth. Rachel has never learned that tantruming gets you nowhere. We see evidence of the lack of growth during the last two episodes. That flashback episode was a terrible idea because we see how little growth and development our heroine has actually accomplished. I suspect that Lea Michelle, like Rachel, like Ryan Murphy’s room of writers has never really grown up and has rested on the laurels of one good idea to get them in the door.
I would like to discuss now, that I loved the idea of Glee. I enjoyed watching the Glee Project when it was on the Oxygen network. (Yes, sportsfans, I watched chick-TV and eagerly enjoyed it.)When the Glee Project was on, we saw Ryan and Glee ’s casting director, Robert Ulrich take advice from vocal producer Nikki Anders, from the actual dance teacher Zach Woodlee and/or Brooke Lipton, his assistant.
The necessity to listen to your mentors, to listen to the advice of your fellow artists is key and when you don’t, you are gone and blacklisted. And this is somehow bull-pie broken in the last season when Rachel is not only allowed into NYADA (There are others who care about the school and actually WANT to attend) but is nominated for a Tony?!? That girl burned her chance to get a degree. The theatre culture is very tightly wound together, Broadway even more so as it is a single street of awesomeness and vocality and friends, neighbors and especially investors talk. There is a reason Max Bialystock has to sleep with senile old women in the producers, because he is blackballed everywhere else, and Rachel should/would have too after leaving her investors, both educationally and fiscally.
If you watched Glee or Glee Project, you see Ryan Murphy take a moral ground that does not change, the fictional tale of “follow your dreams, even if they burn your previous dreams because the fire won’t last long enough to affect your past.” Or the realistic “If you aren’t going to do what we want and listen to your bosses, the door is over there”. The problem was that I saw both. Ryan Murphy became unstable in his storytelling. He told the winners, I have always wanted to write a spot for a character like you and then takes those stories and puts them in the back.
Samuel Larsen, the Grand Prize winner swept the stage with a truly outstanding version of Jolene. It was amazing and I showed others this video. The Glee-staff were entranced to make this boy a star, talking about making a homeschooled innocent story with his character. It was heavily implied that there would be a smoking hot male version of the catholic schoolgirl. . .and then they met their minimum contract and stuck him in the back and forgot about him for two seasons until we see his dreadlocks missing in the last series episodes.
Damian McGinty also received the story arc prize as a tied second place winner, and although he got more screen time and his arc was extended, it came at a price. Instead of showing off the American Dream, or a chance to really bring him into the fold, the writers took the ethnic road and made irish jokes and stuck him on folk tunes like Danny Boy and Beyond the Sea. Yes, I admit McGinty was a wonderful crooner, but surely we could have had the same respect for his character we had for Finn’s or Puck’s or Artie’s.
Lindsey Pierce the other second-place winner was given her two-episode arc and it was fabulous and short as the “former Gerber baby” and star of a competing glee group that by all rights should have wiped the floor with our underdog group. Glee could really only throw the underdog card so often. In the end, Sue’s plot to undermine and underdog the New Directions just came off weird and a desperate hackjob by Murphy’s writing team.
And finally there is the wonderful Alex Newell who played the very respectable Wade “Unique” Adams. Coming in as the fourth place contestant in the first Glee Project season, Alex was used to tell the transgender story, a story only enhanced and invented because Alex came out in drag in his last performance saying it was the props that made him a more comfortable singer. I was worried they would turn it into Bosom Buddies and in this role among the Glee experience that I watched, I was pleasantly wrong in my assumption. But it took drag to come up with a character. In that, how droll!
When it came to the second season, Glee Project decided to narrow their prize, which made sense as they widened it at the last minute previously.
Winner Blake Jenner was set up to take the place that was emptied by the graduation of the Finn character, but the writers spent so much time focusing on the development of Finn who was no longer in Glee club that they failed to ever really let the character of Ryder really develop. The winner of a contest and the possible new leading man lost it to a guy who died. And then the writers just forgot he was even there in their tight grip on the lives of characters who should have moved on. Glee turned into “Glee: the college years” which was neither of the things they were actually writing to be and in the process lost two adiences: (a) the high-school audience they should have maintained and kept and (b) the maturing one they tried to maintain and keep.
Glee Project Season Two’s second place winner, Ali Stroker was a chance to actually put a wheelchair-bound person onto the set to truly show off different abilitys and the myth of one ability affecting truly unconnected abilities. Ali the actress was a hardworking singer and earned her way, belting out glorious tones. She became the closest Glee Project had to a female winner, with no sharing required. Murphy’s team rewarded her by making her character as Miss Pillbury’s neice into an unlovable character that the writers and audience could not wait to get off the show before episode number two. Doesn’t this make Glee in violation of their promise to have her in multiple episodes?
I know they were trying to do with her: what they started off succeeding with Sue Sylvester, another character who just got more disconnected from the audience as the show wore on, but Ali didn’t deserve to have her prize be a mud-covered sandwich of vitriol.
Aylin Bayramoglu came in third and never even saw screen time after her third-place win on Glee Project.
It was with this treatment of how to actually get on to a network show that gives us the appropriate perspective on Rachel’s expectations and treatment in the real world.
I liked Rachel as a character, but she wasn’t a good character and she wasn’t a particularly likebale character. She was an underdog with big dreams and once she stopped being that, she wasn’t much more than a drama queen and thus she needed to move on and be something else like a small fish in a big pond again.
This leads me to creepy people hanging out around their school. Alumni looking to hang out with high schoolers. In the real world they are escorted off campus. In Glee, they are called regular cast. Despite Ryan Murphy stating,”We didn’t want to have a show where they were in high school for eight years,” he did exactly that.
When Finn remained to hang out and be the Glee club assistant teacher without a degree, we let it float because it was assumed that he was a recent alumna who was on hard times. Most of the teachers and faculty knew the boy and thus he was vetted by reputation alone. Finn came back and was a good influence on the kids. He was supportive of gays without seeming like it was for show. He was supportive of others even when it didn’t help him seem cool or impressive. He, like I assume Cory Montieth was himself, genuinely was a guy with an honest and fair belief in the goodness and potential of others. Montieth’s Finn never seemed to be the leading man that fought his way to get there and would be fine if another person wanted the solo. It seemed right that he would continue his treatment of others first in his way of teaching.
When Puck tried to do the same thing, his reputation also vetted him , although it was as a creepy ex-footballer looking to relive the glory days and score with underage chicks. Why is it okay for a woman to be near younger generations but men seem creepy?
Chris Colfer’s return to Glee was easily explainable as an intern position. In order to learn how to teach and how the real world of scheduling and competition and determining solos and choreography as a team and a leader, it is a wonderful fit to have him as a substitute teacher, an assistant to a trainer, and even as a smart character building on the connections he already had to use his mentors, including Mr. Shue, in a role he saw as making himself better.
But Rachel, not so. She beggs her way back into the School to restart the Glee Program.
After whining into college and then telling them “no thanks for the support,” singing onto Broadway and then abandoning them to waste time in Ohio during rehearsals, going onto network television and exposing your bad talent to the masses, why in the name of Coach Beiste’s hogtying days would there be any positive vetting of Rachel Berry’s reputation. I make the assumption that she treated most of her teachers the way she treated Mr. Shue, whining because she wasn’t in the center like a musical version of Reese Witherspoon’s Election. There isn’t a whole lot of trust, so she doesn’t need to be around our students giving them bad ideas and teaching them that complaining solves everything.
Ryan Murphy taught us that if you are whiny enough, won’t put up with enough, and useless enough, you will wind up winning what you don’t deserve even if only eight people in a writer’s room like you.