One of my new favorite shows this season is Glee, the Fox show about the misfit members of a down and out high school glee club and their teacher. It was created by Ryan Murphy, one of the creators of Nip/Tuck, and has a lot of musical numbers in it, and it's a pretty awesome show.
But it's not totally awesome, and since it's been on my mind for a while, I wanted to talk about why Glee isn't living up to its potential.
Short answer? Characters.
The pilot episode set the characters up very well, giving us an idea of who each of the glee club members were in a nutshell, and most of the people I know who were excited about the pilot were excited to learn more about those characters. But the show has taken some odd twists and turns with regard to the characters that don't really make sense, and its making the characters hard to understand.
An example: Finn Hudson is the football quarterback who is coerced into joining the glee club* and ends up staying because (a) he loves singing, (b) he likes one of the other members of the glee club, and (c) he wants a music scholarship so that he can go to college and get a better job to support his unborn baby. There was a whole episode in which Finn discovered that his girlfriend was pregnant and he worked to make the glee club successful because it's the best shot he has of getting out of the small Ohio town he's from.**
In other words, Finn's motivation is two-pronged: (1) he wants to take care of his unborn baby and be a good dad; and (2) he wants to get out of Lima. Those are the things that drive the decisions he makes.
At least, those are the motivations that are supposed to drive his decisions.
But in the most recent episode, the football coach tells Finn he needs to choose between football and glee club and Finn chooses football. FOOTBALL. Even though he's not good enough to get a football scholarship, even though the other members of the football team who have to make the same choice choose glee club, even though his pregnant girlfriend chooses glee club.
Why? I think it's because there's a scene where the rest of the glee club waits to see which of the football players will choose them, and it's very dramatic when the rest of the football players come through the door and Finn doesn't.
But it doesn't make sense from a character perspective. Finn has already told off people who questioned his joining glee. He's already been paintballed by other football players for this choice. He's lied and manipulated*** to get Rachel, the best singer, to come back to glee club so the club has a chance of doing well, thereby securing him a music scholarship. And he's already shown himself to be devoted to the idea of his unborn baby, and supportive of his pregnant girlfriend, even though it was quite a shock to him to find out that his girlfriend was pregnant (and he probably isn't actually in love with her--they've only been going out a few months).
In short, Finn would never choose football over glee, and having him do so for the sake of a dramatic moment? Cheap.
And this is not the first time in Glee's short run that it's taken a nonsensical detour in character development. There's Mercedes' decision to break Kurt's car window when she finds out he's not interested in her, even though she already knows that he's gay. Or Mr. Schuester's decision to abandon the glee club in favor of his own a cappella group in, like, the third episode, after spending all this time trying to get the job of glee club coach and convincing kids to join.****
In short, more than once, Glee has taken the thing it tells us is most sacred to a character and then had the character cast it aside for the sake of expediency. It needs to cut it out, or it's going to turn from an inventive and affecting musical comedy into a one season novelty full of stereotypes. Fingers crossed, they get it together.
* The teacher frames him with marijuana possession -- one of the cool things about Glee having Ryan Murphy as a creator means that it has a darker side you wouldn't otherwise get in a show like this.
** Theoretically, the show takes place in Lima, Ohio, but Murphy needs to work on his research a teeny bit, because (a) the town is not as small as he thinks it is, (b) it has seven high schools, not just one, and (c) it does not have a high school with outdoor hallways. This is Ohio, not California. We have winter here. But these are nitpicks that go wrong in every show shot in California that are supposed to take place somewhere else. They'd be better off shooting in Ontario.
*** In a minor way.
**** He comes back by the end of the episode, of course.