IMG_0354The only show that I’ve been obsessed with enough to keep up with exclusively in the last few years is Glee.  I realized that I was pouring so much energy in keeping up with the show that I might as well try something new with VDCC, my outlet for thoughts on different media, and have a blog series. Why not chat it up about Glee? Why, I think I might.

This post is a recap/review of episodes 1-7 and episode 8 (though separately), so beware of spoilers.  After this recap/review, there will be a recap/review of each episode thereafter (I hope).

So without further ado, let’s talk about singing.

Meet the Characters

If ever there were a tangled web of intrigue and outright lies, Glee has woven it.  Glee has a dramedy feel to it at times, and is very much like a soap opera.  Because of this, it’s hard to give a straight A-B of where we began and where we are in the series, so I’ll take a roundabout way and go character by character.  This is going to be long, so hang on.

This series about an Ohio high school glee club has many stars depending on its mood, but the only one who consistently shows up as a focus is Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), McKinley High School’s star Spanish teacher and now glee club enthusiast.  Will has a part in every plot line, either directly or indirectly, known or unknown to him.  If the student body of McKinley High and all of the adults in the show are two sides of a zipper, Will is the slider that initially joins them together and, at times, is the only thing holding them together in the end.  This is important because the show uses him as a pivot point to tell every story in the series. As we will see, this is one of the only hinges that the show has, which may or may not be problematic.

Will used to be in the McKinley glee club fifteen years prior, when they won nationals. He doesn’t go on with it, though it is his dream, and becomes a Spanish teacher as a compromise to his wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) who wanted and still wants him to become an accountant.  Terri is the perfect depiction of a harpy wife, who complains about working three days a week, four hours a day as an assistant manager at Sheets n’ Things.  Though Will and Terri are getting along okay, they still don’t have a lot of money, which dogs them throughout the first three episodes and comes up as a device later on. Will drives a car with a busted tailpipe, and Terri has an expensive Pottery Barn addiction that she tries (and fails) to hide from Will.

Will convinces the principal Mr. Figgins (Iqbal Theba) to let him have Glee Club, but he makes Will pay for it because of ambiguous budget cuts that Figgins pulls every other episode as a recurring plot device, and makes it a condition that they place in regionals and bring prestige to the school, but he also pulls some of Coach Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) budget for Glee, who then declares war on Will and his club.  Sue’s appearances are always among the series best moments.  Her dry lines, absurd life experiences (“I was on the strike team that took down Noriega…”), and (later on) her Sue’s Corner segment on the local news show (one was on caning children) are the funniest in the entire show.  Sue gets three of her “Cheerios” to infiltrate the glee club so that she can have eyes on the inside.  One of these Cheerios is Quinn Febray (Dianna Agron). Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the “kids” in the series.

Quinn Febray is the president of the Celibacy Club, head of the Cheerios, and completely (and appropriately) two dimensional to start out with.  She wears a small cross necklace and is the only overtly Christian character on the show.  She is dating the football quarterback Finn Hudson (Corey Monteith), who is actually very insecure.  His dad left his family very early on, and he found his love of singing through the mullet-haired lawn painter his mom hired when Finn was young who used to play Journey really loudly.  Finn is a people-pleaser, first and foremost to his mother, but secondarily to everyone else.  When Will is trying to build the Glee Club to have twelve members, which is required to compete in glee club regionals, the counselor Emma Pilsbury (Jayma Mays), whom we’ll get to shortly, suggests that if he can lure the popular kids, everyone else will follow.  Will desperately plants some marijuana that was given to him by Sandy Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), the ex-glee club teacher who was fired for inappropriate advances to one of his male students, and was able to guilt Finn into joining the glee club instead of getting detention on his permanent record. Also, by way of introduction, Noah Puckerman a.k.a. Puck (Mark Salling) is Finn’s jock best friend.

Which brings us to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), the arrogant and conceited but extremely talented lead female in Glee.  Rachel is important because the Glee Club doesn’t have a chance to win without her, but Will constantly struggles with to negotiate with her.  Rachel makes a demand on Will, Will says he can’t in good conscience comply with the demand, Rachel stomps out, Will tracks her down and negotiates, and Rachel finally comes around.  This is already a too-familiar formula and we’re already on episode 8.  But the show does make a lot of effort to have the audience feel sympathy for her, as Rachel frequently says that, without Glee Club, she will have nothing else to show for high school.  She’s intensely lonely, partly because of her driven nature, but her loneliness only furthers her determination to be the best.  It is partially due to this determination to be the best and only perform with the best that she puts pressure on Will to find her a proper leading man, which he delivers in the form of Finn.

The rest of the squad fulfills a range of outcast stereotypes, which serves Glee’s purpose as it is a show aggressively about outcasts and failures.  There’s Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), an insecure diva-type who becomes best friends (after crushing on him fruitlessly) with Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), the closeted-yet-flamboyantly gay boy who’s gets put in the dumpster every day before school and is increasingly insecure about his sexuality until he finally comes out to his father in episode 4.  Another character who we still don’t know much about besides she is another friend of Mercedes is Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), who has a pitifully ubiquitous stutter. Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale) is the most hilariously out of place in his wheelchair, though he is one of the best singers in the group and also plays guitar in the musical accompaniment section, though we know little about him besides the fact that he is wheelchair bound and that is apparently enough for the writers of Glee.

Someone mentioned but not covered is the character of Emma Pilsbury, the school counselor. A germaphobe who’s germaphobia acts pretty curiously in some of the episodes (it seems like the writers forget it at will), she wears gawdy bows and big necklaces and is in love with Will. It’s painfully obvious to all around her, even to Will eventually, who doesn’t really discourage it.  Her semi-boyfriend, who really is just creepily in love with her though he knows she will never return his affection is Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher).  He’s a large man who wears bicycle shorts and a fanny pack and sweats all the time, and is basically the antithesis of Emma and what she wants.

Recap: Episodes 1-7

So, somewhere between episodes one and two, this is where we begin – and then it’s off to the races.  Here’s an rundown of major plot developments between these beginnings to episode 7:

Terri tells Will that she’s pregnant, though she quickly finds out that she’s not really pregnant and that she’s having a hysterical pregnancy. Terri’s sister, who occasionally comes in and makes things worse, tells Terri that she has to keep it a secret from Will and just find another baby. Will has no idea, and apparently isn’t suspicious in the least when Terri won’t let him touch her stomach, which is actually padded with a device to make it look like she’s pregnant.  He tries to quit his job as a teacher to become an accountant, though Emma convinces him it’s not worth it.  He then takes a second job as the school janitor because Terri needs to stop working as much, so she says, and they need a new house because Terri won’t give up her craft room for the new baby.  It’s while Will is working as a janitor that Emma, who tries to help him by cleaning a pencil sharpener with a toothbrush for an hour, that their feelings for each other first come to the surface, though it was obvious beforehand that Emma really liked Will.  Ken descends upon her once he has an inkling that there is something going on between them and tries harder than ever to make her choose him.

Terri comes to her senses and tells Will to quit as janitor.  After being told by Rachel that the Glee Club needed a professional choreographer (an idea planted by Sue via her infiltrator Cheerios), Will has a crisis of confidence.  By weird circumstance, he soon thereafter starts an a capella boy band called Acafellas, which includes Ken, Howard (one of Terri’s coworkers), and the woodshop teacher.  They’re successful, but Will puts aside Glee Club, which tries to raise money without his help to hire a choreographer that costs thousands of dollars.  They end up getting him, but instead of breaking up the Glee Club like Sue had hoped, the choreographer gives them solidarity.

It’s around this time that Quinn tells Finn she’s pregnant with his baby because he accidentally, er, climaxed in a hot tub, though they’ve never had sex.  Finn is dumb enough to believe it.  Turns out it’s actually Puck’s baby, because he got her drunk at a party and they had sex.  He tries to tell her he can take care of her, but Quinn is more than opposed to the idea.  As we find out later, Puck is actually Jewish, which makes makes one wonder if this is a factor in Quinn’s refusal.  Finn comes to Will, who tells his wife about the situation at school.  Terri sees a possibility and descends upon Quinn and makes a deal to take her baby.

Kurt gets caught doing a dance video with two fellow Glee Club gals while wearing a leotard to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” by his dad.  When asked what they’re doing, Kurt’s dancers come up with the excuse that he’s on the football team and is just working out.  His dad, in appropriate stoic disbelief, then tells Kurt to make sure to get him a ticket to his game. Kurt pulls a favor with Finn and asks to try out for kicker on the football team. The catch? That he has to dance to “Single Ladies” before a kick.  The team sucks, so Kurt fits right in, but then the whole team is asked to dance to “Single Ladies” to get them prepped for a play and as a distraction. It works, Kurt makes a field goal, and Puck and two other footballers come and join Glee Club, giving them enough to compete. Also, Kurt comes out to his dad, who does, thankfully, accept him.

Back in Glee Club, Rachel throws a fit for not getting the major singing part from West Side Story.  Sue has planted a trap, bringing back Sandy through blackmailing Figgins through a video he starred in for anti-embolism stockings.  When I referred to “ambiguous budget cuts” as a plot device earlier, this is exactly what I was referring to.  In fact, Figgins himself is a bit of a plot device, as he arbitrarily shows up and changes the game that the teachers at McKinley are playing.  Thus, Sandy’s reappearance as paid faculty when everyone else is suffering from budget cuts.  Anyway, he comes back due to Sue’s plan to collapse Glee Club by stealing Rachel away (“with four words – Liza Minelli, Celine Dion”) with a school production of Cabaret (the audition song has to be a Celine Dion number).  Rachel gets stolen away fairly easily, her ego being her Achilles heel, and Will is left to make something of what is left.  Thus, through a curious loophole, Will is able to bring back one of the best singers in the Glee Club his year, April Rhodes (Kristen Chenowith), who failed to graduate more than fifteen years prior.  An amazing singer who is also an alcoholic and random drug users (including horse tranquilizers at one point), she becomes an awful influence on the kids.  At the same time this is going on, Finn is trying his best to get Rachel back because he needs scholarships for college, which Emma told him he was more likely to get for Glee – if Glee can win.  He does some rather shady things, like allowing Rachel to kiss him and flirting with her shamelessly, which gets her to come back for him.  Then it’s announced by Puck that Quinn’s pregnant by Finn, and Rachel realizes that it was all a trick to get her to come back.  Emma convinces Will that he’s doing it for himself and not for the kids, or he would have gotten rid of April who came to a show drunk.  He sees her point and kicks out April, just in time for Rachel to come back, admit the error of her ways, and do the last number with the Glee Club (an amazing rendition of “Somebody to Love”).

Sue figures out what’s going on between Will and Emma, and decides to “break the man” rather than the club.  So she talks to Will’s wife about what’s going on, and convinces Terri to apply for the nursing position at school, though she has no nursing experience.  Figgins, eager to fill the position, allows her to take it with limited first aid skills.  Will gets really angry with her controlling nature and how he can’t get away from her.  She says she’s only trying to help with the bills.  At the same time, Will is upset that the Glee Club kids are being really lax about practicing, so he gives them reason to compete. He pits boys against girls, and they have to write their own mashups.  The winner gets to decide the song they perform at sectionals (the boy’s version is here).

Both teams don’t really care, but Finn, who’s been having trouble resting and is exhausted from all the stress in his life, goes to visit the nurse.  Terri starts quizzing him about his life, knowing that he’s supposedly the father of the baby Quinn is having, and weirds Finn out.  Terri gives him pseudoephedrine, basically speed, to pep him up.  He gets really hyper, and gives it to his friends, which leads to them doing quite a production. Kurt, who wanted to be on the girls team but wasn’t allowed, show his “allegiance” to the ladies by telling them why they were so good.  The girls partake as well, and do an outrageous mashup as well.

Figgins finds out about the drugging of the Glee Club and fires Terri, but not before she is able to get to Emma and tell her to back off of her husband. Emma does have enough gumption to tell Terri that Will deserves better, but Terri hits a nerve when she suggests Emma isn’t as good as she thinks when she’s going after a man with a pregnant wife. Earlier, Terri had talked to Ken about Emma and Will’s relationship, and convinces Ken that he has to propose to Emma.  He does so, basically guilting her into thinking she can get any better than Ken Tanaka, and, in heartbroken submission, Emma accepts.

Because Figgins sees Will as partly responsible for creating such a competitive atmosphere, he enlists the help of a responsible leader who has championships under her belt – Sue Sylvester.  Obviously, this is going to be a nightmare for Will, and it is.  Sue decides to pit the kids against Will and takes all of the minority students out to perform one number and leaves everyone else to perform on Will’s team, which is possible due to a bylaw in the show choir rulebook.  It almost works, but Will hits a nerve with Sue and triggers a rant that reveals that she doesn’t care, and that it’s more about getting to Will than doing well with Glee.  Again, the students band together against the adults, and Sue ends up taking a backseat with Glee.

While this is going on, Will takes charge at home and schedules an ultrasound for Terri and states that he will go with her this time.  She agrees, and she and her sister are able to blackmail the doctor into faking her ultrasound (this involves a curtain and some interesting theatrics).  Because Quinn’s baby turns out to be a girl, and Terri had already told Will it was a boy, this gives an opportunity for the doctor to “correct” his earlier statement on the baby’s gender.  Finn is meanwhile trying to convince Quinn to keep the baby, because he wants some control over what he thinks is his baby, but Quinn keeps rebuffing him, but there are hints that she would rather keep it than give it up too.

During Glee Club, when Will is trying to tell the kids that their differences are what makes them a good group, Sue tells Quinn and everyone else that she knows Quinn’s pregnant, and that it will be on the school reporter’s blog by the afternoon (something Rachel tried to stop by giving the creepy reporter kid her underwear), Quinn is devastated.

This, finally, brings us to episode 8.

Recap: Episode 8

There are five different storylines in this episode, which is impressive considering Terri doesn’t even show up.  Emma and Ken ask Will to mash Sisqo’s “Thong Song” and The King and I’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” for their wedding dance as well as give them dance lessons; Puck decides he should date a good Jewish girl and goes after Rachel; Ken forces his football kids to choose between Glee and football because he’s jealous of Will and Emma; Sue gets asked out by the anchor of the local news show she does a segment for and is actually happy for once; the entire school has turned on Quinn and Finn due to their fall from grace between Glee Club and pregnancy, and are ritually humiliated by the football team by getting grape slushies thrown in their faces.

Things end up resolving themselves somewhat symbolically with Will, Ken, and Emma. Will finally tells Emma he can’t mash the songs together because they don’t belong together, a fitting allegory for Ken and Emma.  Puck and Rachel don’t work out because of their love interests aren’t really each other, as Puck wants Quinn and Rachel wants Finn.  Ken relents when Finn asks him to drop the football practice that conflicts with Glee, which even Will couldn’t get him to do when Will told him he would discourage Emma from flirting with him. Sue, who was asked to a swing competition by the anchor, discovers he’s been cheating on her with everyone else.  This causes her to become an angry person again, and she promptly stops being understanding about Quinn and kicks her off the team,  making Quinn’s fall from grace complete.  Finn, who is able to reconcile Glee Club and football, though he was the only one not to choose Glee, becomes the hero of the episode for refusing to choose.

Review of the Show So Far

The first episode of Glee aired after the American Idol on May 19, 2009, but didn’t actually get under way until September 9.  Though it set up much of the story lines to come, it felt a little weird in tone.  Compare the pilot (rarely a good idea) to Episode 8, and it’s easy to see how convoluted the story lines have become.  The show is schizophrenic, changing between character development and plot, two dimensional characters and overexposed characters, conveniently placed plot device X and conveniently placed plot device Y.

The music, which has gone mostly unmentioned so far, is excellent.  The cast is full of great singers.  The choreography dives and rises in quality every week, but the songs are almost always great arrangements.  There are two types of music in Glee.  There is the personal, not-actually-happening type – we’ll call them “imaginary” – which is basically a monologue in song using someone else’s words (Quinn’s rendition of “Keep Me Hanging On” is a perfect example).  The other type is the actually-happening, or the “real”, songs, such as the aforementioned “Somebody to Love,” which was actually a recital piece.

All of these songs are intensely related to what’s going on in the show, which is indeed what makes it a musical. Yet the show is still rough around the edges and is having a lot of trouble finding its center. So the show revolves around Will, who has been unvaryingly boring, but the kids on the fringes only exist in group shots. The episodes switch directors constantly, and Joss Whedon has announced that he will indeed direct an episode. Characters show up, disappear, cause trouble, do nothing – all in very predictable patterns.

But is the show fun? Well, yes and no. Sometime it’s frustrating, and sometimes it is very sad and pitiful. But the rest of the time, yes, it is fun. And funny. But it is awfully frustrating for major characters to simply disappear because the writers have put so many plots in the story that they can’t put them all in a 45 minute episode.

That said, there are major problems with the show, but it’s holding somewhat steady on the ratings. Hopefully they’ll be able to straighten most of the problems out by the time the show takes a break in November.

So that’s the recap and mini-review.  My reviews of future episodes, which will be more indepth than this post which was mostly recap and little review, will be up at the earliest on Thursdays.

Hope to see you again next week!