I wish I knew how I felt about Glee. I haven’t missed an episode since the series’ inception on Hulu, yet I wouldn’t consider myself a “fan.” I find plenty to cringe at week to week—like Mr. Schue kissing Coach Bieste for no particularly good reason—yet I couldn’t stop grinning during the mash-up of “Umbrella” and “Singing in the Rain.” That little earworm was so cheerful it actually worked to lift my mood. I listened to it at least once a day for a week after the episode aired.
I’m not the only one who feels conflicted about the show. On an episode of this season’s The Office, one of the characters threw a Glee-watching party at his apartment. While sharing her opinions about the show, Kelly (Mindy Kaling) raised issue with the rampant plot holes and inconsistent characters, citing specific examples and quoting episode titles, and finally calling Glee “irresponsible.” It’s funny because she couldn’t have possibly had leveraged these specific, detailed critiques without having watched the show obsessively. She’s a very particular kind of “Gleek” who happens to hate everything about Glee. I’m very much the same way.
The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWeff reviews Glee for their TV Club, and has pointed out several times that the show has three principal writers, who trade off episodes to scribe. This has led him to the “Three Glees Theory,” which is that these three writers have three different opinions of what the show should be, which results in a confused and overall schizophrenic tone. VanDerWeff’s theory is catching heat in the critical world, and it has definitely influenced how I experience Glee. Really, I’m judging Glee by a different metric than I would normally use for TV shows: it’s all about the writing. I’m more acutely aware of the tone of an episode of Glee than I am for The Office because Glee’s is so much more likely to change unexpectedly. It isn’t the “good” or “exciting” kind of unexpected, either—it’s just downright confusing. Mr. Schue’s character has alternated from “inspiring educator” to “senseless dick” so many times that it not only affects the tone of an episode, but the entire purpose of the show. Is Glee about the kids or is it about Mr. Schue? Is it carefree entertainment where the plot is less important than the peppy songs, or is it an after-school special meant to teach us about tolerance? These abrupt shifts grate on my nerves and I wonder why I continue to watch.
Yet, it can be argued that Glee is easily a much better show than a lot of the other programs on television today. It stacks up snappier production values and acting than any daytime soap, and manages to choreograph and rehearse at least three songs per episode to boot, which is not an insignificant task to accomplish. Yet, none of this matters to me because I’ll still feel betrayed by a preachy episode for no sudden reason.
Why are the standards are so high? How can I feel “betrayed” by a TV show that has no clue who I am? I would say that the medium in which the program is delivered has a great effect on this. Because I only watch television streamed over the internet on my computer, I’m automatically weeding out things I would not watch (Hulu’s insipid commercials being the one exception). This shallows the pool of comparison against any other TV show because I’m only watching shows I want to watch. So when I watch Glee, I’m not comparing it to Two and a Half Men or Dancing with the Stars. I’m comparing it to Arrested Development, to 30 Rock, to Community, to The Venture Brothers, and to all my favorite shows. I’m sure I wouldn’t watch Glee at all if it didn’t have moments that stack up against these titans. I’ve also found that the more time that’s passed since I’ve seen a show tends to lionize it in my opinion: I only recently rewatched all of Arrested Development, and I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as flawless as I had thought. I had forgotten about the jokes that didn’t land so well, and had only remembered the funniest bits. How can any program measure up to that kind of pressure week after week?
At the end of the day, Glee doesn’t owe me anything. Clearly the show has proven to be enormously successful and popular as is, as the cast’s grubby little hands clutch Golden Globe after Golden Globe. Yet I can’t help wishing that the show will rise to the challenge of being quality television in addition to being good entertainment. While I see the great in the show that everybody loves, it’s still not perfect, and I want it to succeed at being perfect so bad. I still want those grin-worthy, glamorously overproduced moments because they’re so unlike anything else when it comes to TV. Rachel Berry’s teeth are so sparkly when she belts “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” they’re like diamonds. But when I am given these diamonds encased in a cheap pewter ring of broad clichés and endless, unrealistic fake-pregnancy plotlines, it feels like being socked in the gut.