This article completely misses the mark. The problem with Glee has nothing to do with the presence of musical numbers. The problem with Glee is one of pacing. Every episode some character someone falls in love with someone they’d barely noticed before, and this new relationship is culled before you can sing all the verses of “American Pie.” Will Schuester has happily done dance numbers with the show’s evil villian Sue Sylvester, just like they’re new best friends. Take the latest episode, where the Glee teacher lets the head cheerleading coach run his Glee boot camp. This from the woman who ran for congress on a “Kill the Arts” platform. Will Schuester is such a flip-flopper he could run for president. The plot moves so ridiculously fast that nothing feels real. The story can’t have depth if the audience knows that no betrayal will impact the characters’ relationships for more than three episodes.
The article is substantiated by the statement, “Glee produces 26 one-hour episodes per year, and it’s proven excruciatingly difficult to tell stories through song serially at that pace.” But Glee has no trouble coming up with plot, the biggest problem is that the show moves too quickly. They could easily cover half the emotional landscape in a season and it would make the show stronger. The audience won’t object to more songs on the same subject. For a show-about-a-show that gets pacing, watch Slings and Arrows. The Shakespeare Troupe depicted in that drama would take an entire season to cover a single play. Similarly, the plotline mentioned above—Sue turning over a new leaf and helping out with New Directions—could have been stretched to fill a whole season.
The point is, this problem has nothing to do with the fact that Glee is a TV musical. In fact, the pacing on the show is so terrible that your average Gleek basically sees the plot as a loosely-strewn together excuse to create high-production music videos. Those of us over age thirteen don’t fret over whether Rachel and Finn will live happily ever after. We’re not here for the story. We’re here for musical numbers.
In some ways, the author may be right: the fall of Glee and the failure of Smash may be a sign that TV musicals don’t have a bright future. But that would only be because producers think the same way this author does—-it’s the same assumption that because I like True Blood I’ll like Twilight, or that a story is worth funding simply because it’s about zombies. The hidden premise is that branding is more important than story. The Atlantic has told us that the brand of TV musicals isn’t doing so well. There’s something deeper going on here. Good writing matters, and the fans of Glee are responding to that. But it doesn’t mean we don’t want another TV musical. It means we want one so badly we’re even willing to sit through it when it gets silly or preachy or when the characters do something inconsistent.
So, a musical TV show debuts to standing ovations, praised for its ambition and bravery in daring to merge the worlds of theater and television—only to soar off the rails in such grand a fashion that even its biggest supporters can’t help but shake their heads in dismay. Sound familiar? It’s exactly the plight of Glee, the cheeky song-and-dance soap opera whose initial success arguably paved the way for Smash. What started as a candy-colored breath of smart-and-snarky air quickly became muddled by overly earnest “message” episodes, laughable dialogue, a glut of unlikable characters, and jarring tonal shifts. Currently, both shows are at a crossroads: Smash recently received a second-season renewal, but fired the showrunner responsible for its cacophonous premiere season. Glee returns after an extended hiatus Tuesday night to close out a season that will see a crop of pivotal characters graduating high school—and perhaps the show. Some might view these as opportunities to regroup, restructure, and reboot. But perhaps a better idea would be to face the music: The TV musical experiment has failed. […]
Glee and Smash both gave it the old college try, producing undeniably fantastic moments of television along the way—historic moments, even, in the case of Glee. But every good theater performer knows when it’s time to take a graceful bow and exit the stage. Let’s draw the curtain on the TV musical.
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