Here’s the thing. Of all the Dreams I have, the one I cling to when the debit machines go down at work and brittle old customers start yelling at me in Asian, is the one where I’m a writer for television. It’s a dream that’s both beautiful and ugly. Beautiful because I can see myself doing it one day, and even doing it well. Giving established characters clever lines to say in wild situations in eight minute chunks between car commercials would be an exciting challenge that I would love a crack at. But it’s an ugly dream because the chances of that happening are very, very slim. I might as well aspire to win the lottery, or get skydiving head (the rarest and, I’m told, most exquisite head to get). Because the people who write for The Simpsons are certifiable geniuses, ER was often penned by novelists, In Treatment, True Blood, Big Love, and Big Blood Treatment have episodes written by Oscar winning screenwriters, and I read that 30 Rock is comprised exclusively of former SNL scribes and Harvard grads. Where is there room for a snarky long-hair like me? I realize, though, that I must focus my tv writing dream not on where I want to be, but where I am truly needed. I must cast aside my aspirations to be on the team for Weeds, Damages, The Late Show, Modern Family and shows of that ilk, and go where I can shine. Where an inexperienced, lazy, corner-cutting, plot-contriving, soon-to-be-fat guy like me can make his mark.
Dream: Write for Glee.
Goal: Barely achievable. Every gay kid who’s dreamt of being a part of a lavish musical (see: every gay kid) wants a piece of this show. I’d have to fight off throngs of pole-smokers in line to touch the hem of Jane Lynch’s sweatsuit to even get in the door. But in the episodes I have seen this year, I think I have cracked the codes needed to write a solid gold Glee. I will share them with you now, but this doesn’t leave this internet. Don’t steal my ideas, the glory to be had will be mine, no backsies-stabbies.
Plan: Compile my findings, synthesize the data, get the rights to some disposable pop music, and begin.
Let me start by acknowledging the obvious hypocrisy of decrying what is undoubtedly television’s guiltiest pleasure. While I haven’t seen every episode, I’ve watched about three episodes at full attention (the pilot, the Madonna one, and tonight’s episode because Molly Shannon was inexplicably included). Mostly though, Glee is on in the background while I’m doing other stuff like surfing the internet or getting in and out of my Snuggie. I have recorded and started several episodes with the earnest attempt to watch, but find the plot so ridiculous and the dialogue so irritating that I end up otherwise distracted until they bust out Van Halen’s
Jump at a mattress store and I go “Zuh?”
The musical portion is pretty stellar and worthy of attention. Everyone on the show has amazing vocal chops and the arrangements and mash-ups of pop songs are sometimes really impressive. When Glee‘s creator Ryan Murphy was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air last summer months before the show aired, they closed with the cast version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” and I marked my calender for the premiere of what was sure to be the Best Show Ever. Wasn’t, though.
The opening credits of Glee last about twelve minutes because of the dozens of characters on the show. The rule of thumb over there seems to be that these characters are completely one-dimensional and disposable until they’re not. Off the top of my head I can think of the Music Teacher, Lead Girl, Hunky Guy, Gay Kid, Black Girl, Wheelchair, Cheerleading Coach, Cheerleaders (never out of uniform, which is never explained), Pregnant Girl (who is not visibly pregnant but wears flowy peasant tops so we remember), Guy with Landing Strip on his Head, Asian Girl, Deer-in-the-Headlights Impossibly Thin Bug-Eyed Woman, and a couple people with Down’s. For all the care that the creator and writers took to develop the well-meaning choral instructor, the tough-as-nails coach of the rival cheerleaders, the shy, awkward, but extremely talented female lead, and the gentle jock with a hidden passion for the stage, it seems a shame that the rest of the cast is trotted out for easy punchlines like, “That is whack!” or “Campy gay reference” or “I can’t move my legs, so I gotta roll!” And some of the names! Mercedes, Puck, Santana? Did they just look at the posters in a dorm room for those?
Other series are surely guilty of such token diversity (on any given show the forensics expert with three lines is black, the store clerk is Pakistani, the co-worker is a lesbian), but Glee‘s subtle racism is made overt by the fact that it presents itself as so diverse and aren’t we awesome for being so inclusive? Asian Girl (does she even have a name?) who I think was supposed to be written as bad-ass and punkish as evidenced by her hat (indoors!?!!) and heavy eyeshadow had one scene I caught earlier this year where they were drawing names out of a hat for duet partners. She drew hers, sighed heavily and said, “Oh great! The Other Asian.” As if that’s all he, and by extension she, were. Asian people. But have they given her any character development for us to believe differently? I believe she sang True Colours at the end of one episode, along with Black Girl (nice hidden message there). And Black Girl seems only there to belt out big notes and high five the extras after a big group number. Mercedes says of herself, and is described by others, as “sassy” and “having soul”, which are adjectives white people use to generalize black people without seeming racist. Gay Kid is flaming, but neutered. He can be the let’s-go-shopping and I-love-your-hair kind of gay, but not the sexual kind of gay, which is the most threatening kind of gay there is. This self-described “honorary girl” has a crush on the leading man, but expresses it in the creepiest, least sexual way. Last week he sang a high-pitched, glassy-eyed “House is Not a Home” while staring at the clueless jock that was so painfully awkward it made this week’s ballet number seem wholly appropriate by comparison.
If the characters are poorly sketched out, the plots are finger-paints covered in throw-up. The glee club at the school is supposedly in perpetual danger of cancellation (by the East-Asian principal with the unlikely moniker of Figgins), yet they are always performing full-scale production numbers in grand auditoriums and winning competitions. Not to mention that they seem to always have a full band just sitting in their rehearsal room fronted by the creepiest dude ever. Who is that guy? You know, with the glasses and beard who’s always smiling in that “I don’t know where I am” kinda way. Is he a teacher? Why doesn’t he talk? How does he know what to play all the time? Impossibly Thin Bug-Eyes was supposed to marry the gym teacher earlier (for some reason), but called off the wedding (for some reason). In tonight’s episode, Lead Girl’s boyfriend (with a distinguishing feature I’d like to call “gaybrows”) broke up with her because she put a bunch of guys in her music video for “Run Joey, Run” (What?). Talk about the easiest write-off for a guest star ever. “How do write out Jonathan Groff when his contract is up?” “How about Rachel makes a video of ‘Run Joey, Run’ but then puts other guys in it too and that made him made for some reason?” “Go with it!” And the stupidest story arc of them all: Music Teacher’s wife fakes a pregnancy while Head Cheerleader gets for real pregnant by Landing Strip Head, but tells Jock Guy he’s the father meanwhile negotiating with Music Teacher’s wife to give her her baby for money and gifts? (What? What??) And that whole story seem to come to nothing, except, I guess, to write out the wife character and give the Head Cheerleader bigger, fuller pregnancy boobs.
Sour grapes are a sweet, sweet fruit to me. It’s all fine and good to kvetch about the most popular show on television, especially when I have no ideas of my own to improve it (except for a James Taylor episode, they should do that). But I do know, seriously, how short-changed teenage characters are in movies and television. I was sad to miss the drama fest this year, where I’ve gone the past couple years to watch high school students play high school students in One Act Plays. I’ve been so lucky to have a couple in there in years past. And Bradley Hayward is a machine. He has literally dozens of amazing plays written for teenagers that are really, really good. That capture the true voice that is so eluded by Ryan Murphy et al. How is it that Bradley toils in retail while his 30-some published plays are being produced by high schools around the fucking world (royalty fees to the playwright aren’t very high, it would seem), and the people behind Glee are making millions with shallow characters, hackey plots, and Olivia Newton-John covers? I mean, who writes this shit? Not me. Not yet.