At the moment, I'm a fan of two shows on television: Friday Night Lights, which is in its fourth season and is about a high school football team, and Glee, which is in its first season and is about a high school glee club.* But even though I'm a fan of both shows and watch them religiously, FNL is an infinitely superior show to Glee. Infinitely. Like the Sistine Chapel compared to a doodle I made on some meeting notes yesterday.
Why? What makes one show so much better than the other? One word, one that I'm sure will be no surprise to anyone whose read anything on this blog before:
FNL is a show so based on character that it actually interested me despite the fact that I don't actually care at all about football.** At all. Ever.
The way FNL works is that it develops characters, then puts them in motion, and the stories and conflicts arise out of them. Take for example, Tim Riggins.*** Last year I wrote this about Tim's character:
From a story perspective, they could certainly keep Tim in town--he's allegedly going to college in the fall, but Tim Riggins is not the type of kid to actually succeed at college. Without his brother, and Lyla, and his coach to keep him in line, Tim is a one semester and out kind of kid.And sure enough, what happened in the first episode of the show? Tim Riggins, who had gone to college at the insistence of his brother and his girlfriend, dropped out and went back home. Is it sad? A little bit, yeah, because people think that everyone should go to college all the time, no exceptions. But, frankly, Tim Riggins is not college material. He can't really do the work, and more than that, he doesn't want to do the work.****
That's the beauty of FNL. I know Tim Riggins. I knew, way back in March, that the college situation wasn't going to work out for him. It couldn't, because of who Tim is. And knowing the characters makes the stories more dramatic, because we can see the conflicts before they come. When a character does X, we know that something, Y or Z or Q, is going to happen. (We don't know exactly what is going to happen, though, because FNL is not a predictable show.)
And that's the problem with Glee. With the exception of Kurt, who is fully realized and three dimensional*****, the rest of the characters have no center, no guiding principles. I've talked about this a little bit before, but in the second half of the season, the show has really gone off the rails in terms of characterization.
An example: over the course of the hiatus, the two leads Finn and Rachel have somehow ended up together, even though at the end of first part of the season, Finn had just broken up with his pregnant girlfriend and lost what he thought was his baby (it was actually his best friend's baby). But now, somehow, he's with Rachel? Um...okay.
And maybe you're willing to accept that because Rachel is a very...demanding person and could probably make anyone to do anything just by sheer force of will. But then the show goes and breaks them up right away. Again, fine. Finn is obviously ambivalent about being entangled with Rachel (and wisely so). It makes sense, from a character perspective, that they shouldn't be together at this point. Rachel wants it too much, and Finn doesn't want it much at all (at the moment. He is interested in her).
But then, by the end of the SAME SHOW, after Rachel has decided to move on to another boy, Finn decides that no, wait, he really does love her and want to be with her and she has to take him back.
Because Finn, the Finn that the show has shown us (in fits and starts, sort of, throughout the season), is the type of person who thinks about things. He's not a very fast thinker, but he's a thorough one, and he understands people, and he wouldn't do something so stupid right off the bat. He might be jealous of Rachel's new boyfriend, but he wouldn't try to get her back right away. He wouldn't even necessarily want her back right away. It's just not true, from a character perspective.
But it's not just Finn, it's all the characters. Rachel, who has a dreamy new boyfriend (Jesse) who loves show choir just as much as her and who is just as talented as her, decides to make a video in which she pretends to be the girlfriend of Jesse AND Finn AND another boy, and then shows everyone the video. ::eyeroll:: Because Rachel would totally insult a boy who is completely into her (and who she is totally into) in favor of making some lame video for no reason. It's just mindboggling that the writers would do this to her character.******
It means that Glee is unpredictable in a bad way -- I can never trust what I think about, what I know about the characters, because they are mercurial and random. I can't get too invested in what happens, because the next thing that happens might not make any sense. But FNL, there's a show I can sink into, immerse myself in, because I can rely on the characters. I don't know what they're going to do, but I know who they are. That's a good show, right there.
* Can you tell that I'm a YA writer? Seriously, I have the brain of a 14 year old girl.
** I'm a baseball girl, myself. Football? YAWN.
*** You'll have to fight me for him, though. sigh. Oh, Tim Riggins. CALL ME.
**** Which is part of the reason that he and Lyla were such an awful couple, in my opinion. Tim Riggins isn't stupid, but he's not intellectually engaged enough for Lyla, who is super bright in a school way. He just doesn't care about stuff like that.
***** In part, I think, because his experiences are based on the show creator Ryan Murphy's real life experiences.
****** Although they've certainly done worse.