For the past two years I’ve been obsessed with Glee, it just made me happy. In fact it made me sufficiently happy that I could forgive the not inconsiderable problems it had. Season 3 however broke through some kind of barrier and I suddenly found myself completely unable to ignore the terrible writing. I was not just irritated, I was so angry that I really had to force myself to keep watching, and only made it thanks to a commitment to watching the whole thing for this review and enthusiastic use of the fast forward button.
This was always going to be a difficult year for Glee, as with any school based show it had to decide what it was going to do now that its original stars were coming up on graduation. For the characters this meant growing up, saying goodbye to school and friends deciding what to do with the next phase of their lives; for the show it meant deciding whether to say goodbye to those characters and introduce new ones, or saying goodbye to the school setting and following the characters along.
The problem is that Glee was so busy looking towards season 4 that they completely forgot season 3 had to be coherent and enjoyable too. Everything about the season was aimed at getting characters where they needed them, regardless of whether that made any sense or not. I realised the show was doomed in the first episode of the season when it’s revealed that half the characters aren’t the ages you think they are. If there’d been decent writing in previous seasons they could have planned for graduation, but instead because of a lack of forethought the writers are forced to sacrifice continuity, consistent character development and coherent storytelling to get characters where they think they need to be.
The stories they tried to tell and the way they did it, were at best clumsy and often just plain awful. The most offensive were those that tried to deal with serious issues, but came from out of nowhere and disappeared almost as fast. The domestic violence storyline was particularly stupidly done, but the story of Finn’s father, or Quinn’s accident were also ineptly done. Then there was the ridiculous congressional race with heavy handed soapboxing about the importance of the arts, and ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ looks at issues of what it means to be poor, mentally or physically disabled, transgender or gay. None of these stories were well enough written to make their inclusion anything other than downright insulting.
I’m surprised the teachers unions aren’t boycotting Glee for their presentation of teachers. Will and Emma (‘teacher of the year’ and guidance counsellor respectively) utterly fail to notice or care that two of their group are failing the year, that most of them have no idea what they want to do and that those that have are pinning all their hopes on just one option. I don’t want to sound like a grouch, but the key message of “don’t be afraid to dream” is one thing for 15 year olds, but when it’s leading to 18 year olds pursuing unrealistic paths that may seriously affect their lives, it would be nice if some of the grown-ups were at least challenging if they’ve thought everything through.
Even the music couldn’t save the show this year. I don’t know whether the playlists changed, or whether I did, or whether the bad writing somehow polluted the whole experience, but I found myself fastforwarding a lot of the pieces, particularly anything without a dance number going on. Too many of the pieces were wallowy ballads and the direction that accompanied them featured far too much staring into the distance. That said, I did still find the big choreographed dance routines kept the magic of the previous seasons, and had me smiling along with them. I’m not faulting the performers in any of this. The last couple of episodes highlighted just how good much of the cast were, capable of delivering some heart breaking scenes as the kids say goodbye to each other, but also incredibly talented singers and performers.
Maybe I’m just very late to see the light and I’ve just been an idiot the last couple of years. But to me the first two seasons of Glee were just what the title said – gleeful. It was fun to watch, silly and cheesy but also full of positive messages about being yourself and supporting each other. This season I don’t look back and remember the great musical numbers, the fun camaraderie or the moving acts of friendship, I remember all the stupid stories and clumsy character development. Glee just wasn’t fun to watch, it made me sad and frustrated – the very opposite of why I used to love Glee.