And thus, I present Professor* Jenni's Advice to the Writers of Glee, or, Things Glee Needs To Do To Not Become Awful**:
- Enough with the guest stars, already. Listen, writers. You've got a large cast full of people who can sing (also, Corey Monteith), dance (... and also Corey Monteith), and act (and Corey--look, I know he tries and is adorable, bless his little auto-tuned heart, but come on***). UTILIZE THEM. The idea that Finn is the 'golden boy' of the glee club is sort of the ongoing, running meta-joke--vocally, he's the weakest person we've seen, and the fact that everyone has to suddenly change panties at the sound of his voice never fails to make me chuckle. But there are Glee club members we've barely heard from--hell, Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang, or "Other Asian"? Really?) spoke... once? Maybe twice in the entire season? And never received a solo. And the other football-playing glee club member remained completely silent. It looks like they're going to vanish next season, which is a shame. Not sure who's replacing them. It's established that the club needs at least a dozen members, which puts you in the precarious position of juggling a large number of different but occasionally interweaving storylines. You dropped the ball a few times in the first season, leaving out some crucial facts (it would have taken mere seconds of a throwaway line to establish where Quinn was staying after the "it's not Finn's baby" revelation, but you waited several episodes to do it for no good reason) or ignoring characters whose storylines remained in limbo while you focused on yet another love triangle. I will say, Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff's guest spots were handled decently. But as much as I love him, Neil Patrick Harris's character made for an unweildy episode awkwardly crammed in to an already crowded series.
Basically: There are so many storylines inherent to this series, simply due to the cast size and the fact that all the characters have angles worth exploring. Bringing in boatloads of guest stars is unnecessary, diverts viewer attention away from the core plot lines, and comes off as a cheap ploy for attention.
- Careful with the one-artist and 'theme' episodes. Admittedly, the costumes are always glorious. But focusing an entire episode on a single artist can get... awkward. The Madonna episode had a number of absolutely hysterical moments, but the premise felt incredibly awkward because it had no basis in anything any of the characters--especially Sue--had ever said or done. All of a sudden she was a lifelong fan of Madonna, and her insulting of Will was based on hair envy? The only reason this worked in any way was because Sue had already been established as batshit insane, and the idea of her just making all of it up suddenly on a whim seemed almost plausible. The Lady Gaga episode was slightly better, though again the premise ("help Tina find a new identity by dressing up like Lady Gaga"? Um, what?) was still shaky. Having the guys whine about the girly singing each time wasn't too awesome, either. Though, admittedly, teenage boys are jerks and probably would gripe like that, so I guess in the end that's a point to you. The theme episodes, though, like "Hell-o" and "Home"? We get it. Oh god, we get it, we get it, no fewer than three characters bring up the title and it's in every song and WE GET IT. It stopped being endearingly corny after the first two repetitions and crossed the line to 'annoying'. You don't have to back away from themed episodes, but being more subtle with them wouldn't hurt at all.
Basically: Like the guest stars, themes are a delicious seasoning to be administered with a light hand.
- Timelines. Use them. Admittedly, this one might just be me and the fact that I am disconnected from the high school seasonal rhythm. And I know everything is filmed in lovely sunny California, where everything is warm and pleasant. But the series takes place in Ohio, and aside from a few thunderstorms (during which characters always felt compelled to discuss things dramatically while sitting in parked cars), we saw no weather. There was no mention of timelines, aside from the occasional "it's XY weeks until Sectionals/Regionals". I was not aware that it was the end of the school year when Regionals rolled around. I was not aware that Quinn was nearly nine months pregnant at the time, so her giving birth was a bit of a surprise. But your typical high school year has a number of specific events that are useful time markers--breaks, proms, etc.--and it would have been very easy to toss them in as an aside or in the background. You went out of your way to make the pamphlets in Emma's office hysterical, I know you can throw in a ridiculous winter dance poster somewhere.
Basically: I was a bit confused. Halp.
- Pick a threat, please. Every other week, the glee club was in danger of being disbanded. Oh, someone's cutting the budget, oh, the Cheerios need the auditorium, oh, someone's quitting, again. It's old. And now you've got a group of characters who have all demonstrated that they are committed to the club, an auditorium paid for by a former glee club member that is specifically for them to use, and a guarantee from the principal that they're allowed to at least exist until next year's Regionals. Their budget has been increased (it must have been; they were sporting some pretty nice costumes by mid-series), and now their biggest threat is destruction from within (you've got no fewer than three burgeoning divas in that group, seriously), and their big rival, Vocal Adrenaline--who have lost their director and might not be quite as big a threat. Or, who knows, you might throw in something new. I rather hope you do, actually.
Basically: Please don't rehash the same old "gotta save the glee club" plotlines again and again. Please.
- The hell is up with Sue? She's psychotic and delusional, she's compassionate and helpful, she's sexist, racist, and cares for her mentally challenged sister. She destroys the glee club, she saves the glee club. She hates Will, she loves Will, she thinks glee club is a waste of time, she thinks Will is a great teacher and is doing good things with the kids. There is a fine line between "hilariously crazy" and "confusing and frustrating for the viewer", and Sue is inching over that line. Of course, no one is entirely good or entirely evil, especially not on this show--that's one of the reasons I enjoy it. But I just want to know what kind of evil Sue represents, or if she's still threat to the glee club at all now that she is singlehandedly responsible for its continued existence. Please don't let her wackiness become your excuse for explaining gaping plot holes. "Because Sue is crazy" only works so many times, and you've milked it pretty steadily already.
Basically: Sue is not your "get out of logic free" card.
- Watch your -isms. Okay, first off, credit where credit is due: Kurt's father is easily one of the greatest dads on TV, and his reaction when Finn referred to Kurt's decor as 'faggy' was perfect. The handling of Kurt's sexuality has been, by and large, pretty great. He's a fabulous sparkly stereotype in some ways, but when it comes down to it he's still an awkward, learning, and incredibly endearing teenage boy who just happens to be fabulous, and the fact that he's gay doesn't usurp his personality. It's a part of who he is, but it's not the only part of him we see. Well done there. As for your treatment of the other minority characters, particularly within the glee club itself... Well, I know a lot of people have some issues with it. And they aren't wrong. You sort of gave everyone a sideways wink regarding the whole situation at one point, having Sue recruit all the non-white kids, who complained about being ignored. Clever. And then you went right back to the love triangles involving the pretty white kids, who also got the bulk of the solos (please, oh please don't turn it into the Lea Michele Glee Hour; she's got a beautiful voice, but she isn't the only one). Amber Riley got a few songs, and can be relied upon to wail soulfully in the background while Lea Michele sings the main melody, but Jenna Ushkowitz is nearly invisible. Again, these actors are talented and capable, and it's damn near criminal that their potential is being ignored. Here's the thing: The racist things characters might say or do are not as important as how you, the writers, treat the non-white, non-straight, non-ablebodied characters. That's what we're picking up on. It's not Sue's outrageously awful statements, it's the fact that Mercedes has an amazing voice and is constantly being shoved in the background. The treatment of most of the women in the series improved throughout the season, which impressed me. Terri had serious problems, but it's clear that she, personally, is disturbed, and not an example of all women. Emma grew a spine. Rachel is clearly a bit off-kilter, but by the end of the series, she seemed less cold and calculating than the Rachel of the first episode who lied to get a teacher fired for inappropriate conduct. Quinn, throughout most of the series, actually came off as a normal, even fairly mature teenage girl. After the random property damage Mercedes inflicted on Kurt's car, she became much more easygoing. The use of the paralyzed character was awful. Bonus points for using an actor who actually was paralyzed from the chest down, but having him there just to serve as a one-time lesson for Rachel? Ugh. I'm torn on the casting of Kevin McHale, who is ablebodied, as Artie, who uses a wheelchair. On the one hand, why not cast a paraplegic actor to play the character? On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea how many singing paraplegic actors who can pass for teenagers are roaming around Hollywood, or if the writers/directors/producers knew for certain Artie would be in a wheelchair when they were casting. I know last-minute changes were made; Kurt's role was added after he auditioned because he was just that awesome. So, yeah. I love that his issues aren't glossed over (him telling the other kids that no, it really sucked that he couldn't ride the bus with them, was good), I love that he got a romantic interest--one who, while she did start looking into ways to 'fix' him, only did so after he expressed a desire to dance, and was pretty clear that she really likes him regardless of whether his legs work.
Basically: You get some things right, you miss the mark elsewhere. Don't joke about it, don't ignore it. It's so easy to fix!
Dear GOD I have far too many opinions on a silly little television show. This is what happens when I don't have a hobby.
*I am not actually a professor of anything.
**I am aware some of you may well think the show is awful already. This list is based on the assumption that it is not. You may deal.
***I pick on him a lot, but I rather like him as Finn. The character is not supposed to be very bright, but is basically a good guy, and Monteith does that pretty well. Also, he's kind of adorable in a goofy, overgrown sort of way. He pleases me. He may stay.