At the cross­roads

The sec­ond sea­son of Glee is show­ing the strain of rec­on­cil­ing its mu­si­cal-the­atre side with its more con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOD - By ANN POW­ERS

The sec­ond sea­son of Glee is show­ing the strain of rec­on­cil­ing its mu­si­cal the­atre side with its more con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments.

IF A mu­si­cal is ever made about Ryan Mur­phy and his amaz­ing Tech­ni­color cast cre­at­ing Glee, the big cli­max at the end of the first act should cor­re­spond to this par­tic­u­lar moment in time.

The show has reached a peak, in terms of pop­u­lar­ity and artis­tic am­bi­tion. In the last two weeks it’s tack­led two of the most con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects of our time: re­li­gion and Brit­ney Spears.

The rat­ings are through the roof, the iTunes down­loads just keep com­ing, and celebri­ties such as Amy Adams, Javier Bar­dem and fu­ture guest star Gwyneth Pal­trow have all pub­licly expressed their en­thu­si­asm for Glee.

Like Rachel Berry (played by ac­tress Lea Michele), the show’s would-be Streisand who, mu­si­cally at any rate, is the cen­tral char­ac­ter in this en­sem­ble show, Glee is also wildly am­bi­tious and earnest about what the lively arts can ac­com­plish.

If Mur­phy and his team had done noth­ing more than cre­ate a vi­able TV se­ries em­ploy­ing the struc­ture of mu­si­cal the­atre, that would have been enough; it’s never re­ally hap­pened be­fore in prime time.

Glee has gone fur­ther, us­ing the soft­en­ing agents of song and shticky hu­mour to take a strongly Heather Mor­ris por­trays Brit­ney Spears in the

episode of left-lean­ing stance on is­sues in­clud­ing teen preg­nancy, ab­sti­nence, gay vis­i­bil­ity and the rights of the dis­abled.

Grab­bing huge au­di­ences with these plot­lines – not to men­tion its fun­da­men­tal role as a cheer­leader for arts in the schools – it’s a po­tent pop-cul­tural force in op­po­si­tion to the right­ward push of that other pop phe­nom­e­non of the moment, the Tea Party move­ment.

So, as Rachel might have sung in the Joan Os­borne-hon­our­ing episode: “Yeah, yeah, Glee is great.” But in that fan­tasy mu­si­cal about the show’s rise, we’d be at the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond act right now – the point in the plot where things get more com­pli­cated.

So far, re­views have been mixed. The sea­son opener was a plot-pusher, with down­load-court­ing but the­mat­i­cally point­less song choices such as the group ren­di­tion of Em­pire State Of Mind, serv­ing Glee’s func­tion as, to quote Daily Beast com­men­ta­tor Jace La­cob, “a sin­gles de­liv­ery sys­tem”.

The much-hyped Brit­ney Spears­themed episode made clear that Glee watch­ers split into two camps: those who want a clas­sic book­mu­si­cal ap­proach, with each song ad­vanc­ing the plot, and those in it for the more con­tem­po­rary grat­i­fi­ca­tion of video re-cre­ations and cover songs on YouTube.

Most re­cently, the God-in-asand­wich mus­ings in the episode Grilled Cheesus caused some to cry “too se­ri­ous”, even as oth­ers lauded its re­spect­ful­ness to­ward spir­i­tual di­ver­sity.

Be­hind these quib­bles lie the ques­tions that Glee must face as it moves be­yond its im­pact as a nov­elty. How can it serve both the view­ers who love its up­lift and clas­sic feel stem­ming from its mu­si­cal the­atre roots, and those who love what scholar Chris­tine Bacareza Bal­ance has called its “karaoke aes­thet­ics” – the “un­abashedly pub­lic sing­ing and un­apolo­getic cover ver­sion­ing” that con­nects it to the mu­sic of right now?

Con­nected to that for­mal is­sue is one re­lated to the show’s ap­proach to char­ac­ters. How can it revel in stereo­types, tap­ping into the broad hu­mour of vaudeville, and yet move be­yond them to do what tele­vi­sion must ul­ti­mately do: present char­ac­ters that view­ers feel could be their friends?

The an­swer, I think, lies in a strong fo­cus on the very con­tem­po­rary pop-soul of Glee. Like much of to­day’s main­stream mu­sic, the se­ries is a hy­brid: a mix of dif­fer­ent ap­proaches and his­tor­i­cally un­bound sounds.

As it con­tin­ues to re­fine the bal­ance among its key el­e­ments, Glee can evolve into an en­dur­ing hit that, like other medium-ad­vanc­ing pro­grammes from All In The Fam­ily to Lost, ac­tu­ally broad­ens the pos­si­bil­i­ties of tele­vi­sion it­self.

Mu­si­cally, Glee is mostly three things. It’s a twist on the book mu­si­cal, us­ing songs the way shows like Ok­la­homa or Billy El­liot do, to un­cover the beat­ing hearts of its stock char­ac­ters and, pe­ri­od­i­cally, to ex­plo­sively pro­pel the plot.

Sec­ond, it up­dates the legacy of the cover band to suit the age of YouTube – it’s no ac­ci­dent that Charice Pem­pengco, one of the new­est cast mem­bers, found her ini­tial fame through that democratis­ing medium.

And fi­nally, it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of the am­a­teur voice, from show choir to the lo­cal bowl­ing-al­ley lounge to the iPhone Glee karaoke app that brings the viewer into the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Right now, Glee is show­ing the strain of rec­on­cil­ing its mu­si­calthe­atre side with its more con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments, and not only in the weakly in­te­grated num­bers by break­out star Michele, who for all her tal­ent some­times lit­er­ally stops the show. Most ur­gently, Glee needs to con­tinue to re­fine its at­ti­tude to­ward stereo­types.

Car­i­ca­tures like Rachel’s JewishAmer­i­can princess, Kurt’s (Chris Colfer) “nelly” gay boy or the man­nish women coaches Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Shan­non Beiste (Dot Jones) re­late to this his­tory – one that goes all the way back to min­strelsy, the knotty root of all Amer­i­can pop.

One func­tion of mu­si­cal the­atre has been to defuse the ten­sions of prej­u­dice by mak­ing us laugh at the grotesques we cre­ate un­der its in­flu­ence.

Glee does this con­sis­tently and well. But with char­ac­ters like Ja­cob Ben-Is­rael (Josh Suss­man), the ar­guably anti-Semitic em­bod­i­ment of Port­noy’s com­plaint, or the in­fer­tile shrew turned venge­ful ex-wife Terri (Jes­salyn Gil­sig), the satire fes­ters.

This hap­pens partly be­cause Glee is not an old-fash­ioned mu­si­cal: it’s a se­ries, and we trust that its char­ac­ters will grow, at least in­cre­men­tally. — Los An­ge­les Times/ McClatchy-Tribune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Baby one more time: much-hyped Brit­ney/Brit­tany


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