Glee needs to find a new tune.
This week I caught the fourth episode of Glee, a show that FOX is putting all its chips on the table for. Commercials and extended promos were playing on television and in the movies long before the show hit the air, and the anticipation alone was attracting a cult following among those who more or less wanted to see High School Musical become a 22-episode sitcom.
Glee, like High School Musical, is about kids defying stereotypes. In Glee, a hunky football player sings his heart out to “Don’t Stop Believin.'” A bespectacled boy in a wheelchair rocks out to Kanye’s “Gold Digger.” An Asian goth girl gyrates to “I Kissed a Girl.” Bravo!
But for a fresh new show about defying stereotypes, the entire show is a stereotype. There’s the black diva singer, a homosexual music teacher that’s fired for sexually harassing a student and a Celibacy Club president who becomes pregnant. The cheerleaders even don their uniforms 24/7. It’s unfortunate that this original show is so unoriginal. It isn’t for lack of talent – many of the actors come from Broadway backgrounds – but the script and the character development are so uninspired that the only part that brings me any glee is when the glee club actually sings.
The most obvious comparison to Glee is MTV’s The Real World, where each person is designed and edited to fit a certain stereotype. “The black one.” “The anorexic one.” “The promiscuous one with a boyfriend back home.” “The gay one.” Without fail, each season has these people.
Most TV characters do fall into certain categories: the popular kid, the band geek, the teacher’s pet. That’s how a show can quickly establish a character in a viewer’s mind. But in Glee, the characters fail to exhibit anything but their one-dimensional roles. Rachel, who is supposed to be the main protagonist, is completely unlikeable; although the show attempts to evoke some sympathy by establishing that she is a misunderstood outcast and that Glee Club is the high school’s bottom feeder, all Rachel does is whine whenever her day in the spotlight is given to the other glee members. No depth exists — the mark of poor character development when a viewer can’t even relate or like the main character.
The most painful Glee character is Kurt, who wears corsets to class and fears that bullies will mess up his Dolce & Gabbana sweater. In other words, “The Gay One.”
This week’s episode opened with Kurt in a black, skintight leotard shimmying side to side and bending over to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. His father, an average joe, is mortified when he walks in to discover this debacle. Kurt quickly covers up, saying this is how the football team gets warmed up. Because he’s a kicker for the team. Dilemma. Now Kurt must join the football team and invite seemingly homophobic Pops to the game. Kurt, obviously, is an incredible kicker and there just happens to be a vacant spot on the team. He makes the team about two seconds after realizing he needs to try out. Fast forward to game night. To make a long story short, with the pressure of the final kick upon him and breathless fans hanging on his every move, he goes on to win the game by sashaying his way to the ball and kicking in time with “Single Ladies.” Granted, if they were going to do this, at least they picked the song with “the best video of all time!” Right, Kanye?
Later that night, as Kurt goes through his nightly skin care regimen, Dad walks in to congratulate him. “I’m proud of you, son. I wish your mom would have been there … alive.” (As opposed to being there dead? If you missed it, that was another blatant plot device smacking you in the head.)
Kurt works up the courage to say football isn’t for him — and shock — he’s gay. Dad, who previously gave off the vibe that he would beat Kurt to a pulp if he heard Kurt ever utter the words “Liza Minnelli” (which, by the way, he does in a previous episode), smiles and tells him the cat was actually out of the bag when Kurt asked for “sensible heels” for Christmas at age 3. Dad says he accepts Kurt and loves him, and all is right in the world.
Give me a break. This was by far the greatest oversimplification I have ever seen about what it means to be gay and the difficulty of coming out to one’s parents. If anything, this is perpetuating a bad stereotype—not breaking one. However heartwarming it was that what first seemed like a dad-in-denial turned out to be an unconditional, loving father, the surprise element didn’t cover up the fact that what could be the real conflict – not finding acceptance even within your own family – was glossed over, packaged and tied with a pretty bow. FOX evades tackling a serious issue and the ratings win. Score.
Here’s a clip from the episode:
Glee isn’t the only show attempting to tackle the gay issue. A lot of shows geared toward teenagers either feature one gay character or at least have some of its characters experimenting with their sexuality, if only for a short while, as if it’s a decision made on a whim. Television shows are missing the mark, because they try to prove a point (and get ratings too, because let’s face it, ratings equal money) by saying it’s OK to be gay. But then, they fail to capture the essence of what it’s all about. The gay character’s dilemma is always something associated with being gay – because gays presumably don’t have other issues other than the fact that they like someone of their sex. Other characters struggle with keeping good grades, or have sibling rivalries. But not the gay character. The gay character worries when his friend accidentally outs him, or is concerned that the guy he’s secretly dating hasn’t told his girlfriend he’s into guys now. (That last example was straight out of this week’s GREEK episode on ABC Family.)
Shows like Glee hang up a thin veil that suggests they are trying to tackle the great social issues and concerns of the times — that they have a grasp on high school and the personalities it comprises, but in actuality, these shows are just putting up a facade of diversifying its cast in order to attract audiences of all types. The media is a great platform for gays to gain acceptance, and if it is handled the right way, could really make a difference. But these shows aren’t handling it the right way.
One show that did get it right was Will and Grace. Two out of the four main characters are out and proud. But you’ll notice the show isn’t always about being gay because of it. Sean Hayes’ character – Jack McFarland – is the gay of all gays. (Although he faces some harsh competition from Kurt.) But each episode doesn’t focus on the pains of being gay and being accepted. They go about their day and they date guys, but it’s just a matter of fact.
In my opinion, that’s how television should be handling these serious issues. Neither by trying to break stereotypes nor inadvertently perpetuating them…but rather, to say: They’re here. They’re queer. Now get over it.