I have been a junkie for musical theatre since my early days, when my mother and I would sit around, watching Annie and West Side Story and, later, Tommy and Rocky Horror Picture Show. Andrew Lloyd Webber made his way into the mix, my early teens spent belting out Jesus Christ Superstar and Phantom of the Opera when home alone. As if my mostly alto ass could ever hit Brightman’s ‘angel of music’ notes for the demanding Colm Wilkinson.
These days, my musicals of choice have evolved, but they remain a constant in my collection. My most recent love is the production that took Broadway by storm a few years ago, Spring Awakening. I travelled to both New York and Chicago, as well as living at the Toronto tour dates, taking in the show 16 times and cursing my financial limitations. My first two shows were the final two for the original leads, Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, and they were fantastic in their element.
No wonder, then, that my ears immediately perked at news of a television series about a show choir, starring Ms. Michele and another Spring alum, Jenna Ushkowitz. Musicals and alumni, together, in an awesome package? Sign me up!
The premiere blew the continent away, many understanding what I instinctively knew to be true: everyone, secretly, wants to root for the underdogs, especially when they are doing what most of us do in our private homes (belting out hit songs). Journey probably filled a swimming pool with cash, reaping the rewards of a resurgence of love for retro classic Don’t Stop Believin’. Why not? It’s a bad-ass tune! (Hey, I grew up on Journey and their ilk; I am unashamed) Over time, as we came to know our rag-tag group of musical misfits and their teachers, we cheered them on. We marvelled at the way those with unique challenges and life circumstances were loved and embraced by the New Directions team, from Kurt’s homosexuality to Artie’s physical struggles, from Emma’s debilitating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to Quinn’s teen mother status. Even Tina’s gothic attire was attacked and then defended, ultimately being championed as a sign of the individuality she should be proud to express. The show worked in little lessons and moments, all while keeping its dark humoured, wink-nudge play on stereotypes and simultaneously challenging them. It was an inspiring season, one without a cliched happily ever after: undeservingly, New Directions lost their battle at regionals, although thanks to a moment of heart, were spared being disbanded by their principal by wickedly good coach Sue Sylvester.
Oh sure, there were moments where the growing popularity of Ryan Murphy’s baby seemed to be leading it astray. The plethora of artist-centric episodes in the back end of the season grew a bit tiresome, and characters Jesse St. James and Shelby Corcoran were written almost one-dimensionally and on the fly to suit plot direction, betraying their original voices in later moments – St. James in particular as he viciously permitted attacks on Rachel Berry when he returned to Vocal Adrenaline. The Lady Gaga episode mostly devolved into a worship of her costumes, as opposed to any real meaningful story beyond, “Let Tina be Goth! Don’t call Kurt a fag!” The lowlight episode by far was Hairography, an episode in which Will basically encourages the kids to throw out everything he’s taught them and be cheesy hair-swinging idiots on stage in front of their competition for sectionals. But all in all, the show had something to say, and said it through song and quirky dialogue. I endorsed it fully to everyone I knew.
But then, the second season happened.
I knew from the first episode that things had gone horribly, horribly wrong. Characters had become caricatures of themselves, and rather than playfully winking at stereotypes, they became their stereotypes with gusto, as if they had no other depth. Lessons learned in the first season were thrown aside by several characters, in a strange de-evolution created solely for the sake of teen soap drama llamas. Rachel, whose inner diva had given way by the finale to a woman who wanted her group to succeed as much as herself, took a step fifty shades beyond her normal harmless self-absorption and directed potential competition to a crackhouse to keep her from auditioning, a move Sue Sylvester would applaud. Quinn, once pleased to be a Glee kid and rejecting the Cheerios for not accepting her as is, viciously maneuvers her way back into being captain, shitting on Santana in the process. Artie and Tina have broken up, because suddenly, Tina is all about ‘Asians and abs’ and is snug with Mike Chang. Artie, now insecure, somehow believes he can win back the newly superficial Tina by being on the football team, paraplegic or not. Kurt becomes less of an adorable fashionista and more of a gay drama queen slash asshole.
The musical choices also betrayed a loss of direction – or a lousy new one? – with cliched top thirty hits driving the opening episode, instead of songs with a little age that still resonate, or classics made new again. I was horrified to hear one of the worst songs in recent memory, Billionaire by Travie McCoy, in all its wretched glory, and actually shunned my laptop, nauseous. None of the songs, until the end, made any sense whatsoever for the plot, whereas previously, songs were meant to convey character or events on the show. Unless Sam is obsessed with making money, what was the damn point? What was the point of having the kids wail about New York City in Lima, Ohio?
But still, I stuck with Glee. Every show has a few trips and falls, after all. The second episode, Britney/Brittany, had silly fun as it paid tribute to the bealeaguered pop star, revealing character dynamics while playfully exploiting the dentist’s anaesthetic. I would actually declare it the most effective use of a celebrity-centred episode thus far, although the Madonna episode is up there as well. Grilled Cheesus, while an ingenious plot idea, let the viewers down with having Kurt be uncharacteristically cruel, even in light of his father’s illness. But to that point, I was still on board, even if I disagreed with the direction of certain characters, particularly Rachel, Kurt and Quinn.
Strike two: the atrocity and travesty that was The Rocky Horror Glee Show. I’m not certain if Dianna Agron is making a power play or if the show’s writers are attempting to demonstrate that they don’t give everything to Lea Michele, but her performances in this episode were utterly dreadful. While Kurt would have seemed a natural Frank, I respect that Chris Colfer asked to be Riff Raff instead, and applaud Amber Riley’s turn as the Sweet Transvestite. The plot concerning Will, Emma and Carl was just…. sad, and again, completely contradicted established canon for characters, especially Will. The use of the term ‘tranny’ offended several critics and LGBT organizations, while the sanitization of songs and costumes just dampened the experience, even if having Finn discuss body issues was good to see for the sake of men struggling as much as women to measure up. Ultimately, the dual Magentas and Columbias, coupled with the decision to have the entire group sing Time Warp, was just a mess – and not a hot one. This seems like an idea that played great on paper, but ultimately failed miserably in its execution. I actually covered my ears in places, shaking my head in dismay. What were they thinking, taking on an iconic cult musical and butchering it soundly?
Never Been Kissed came closest in spirit to the original season’s moments of insight through comedy and music, and a return to great music choices with blends of old and new. It also attacked gay bullying head-on in timely fashion, particularly in light of the recent rash of gay teen suicides in America, a heartbreaking trend. Having Kurt finally find a gay ally seemed long overdue, and it was refreshing to see him smile again. But the episode took the easy way out in the end, making Kurt’s main aggressor a cliched closeted gay jock, whose hatred is a projection of what he feels about his own sexuality. It disappointed me that the behaviour of the Glee men, especially Puck, was never reprimanded and addressed, such as in the episode Wheels regarding Artie being seen as a burden. It also disappointed me that the show didn’t have the harsher reality: that bullies of homosexuals are usually just filled with hate, period, either due to their upbringing or fears that homosexuals are ‘out to convert/rape them,’ as has been my repeated experience as a bisexual women with countless gay friends. Having Dave be secretly gay gives him an almost sympathetic excuse in Lima for being a douchebag, which sits heavily in my gut. Will’s failure, again, to step up and help with the bullying made me wonder why he was even there anymore.
This past week, however, I threw down my fan card and walked away from the show, more furious than I was with the butchery of Veronica and Logan’s characters and relationship in season 3 of Veronica Mars. For starters, I detest Gwyneth Paltrow as an actress, and feel she is incredibly overrated, bought her Oscar via the clout of her parents, and did her best turn as a head in a box in Seven. Her voice is higher-level karaoke at best, and she’s also a tremendously ignorant person, judging from her sad, misguided site GOOP. That said, I don’t even need to mention my personal grievances with the guest star of The Substitute to outline why this time, Glee has completely flushed its founding morals down the proverbial toilet.
Glee has, repeatedly, explored mental illness topics with compassion and in a sympathetic light, through the character of Emma Pillsbury. Sue aside, since she’s always cruel, Will and others have been compassionate to her fear of dirt, mess and disorder, working with her and encouraging her to work through the rituals and terror she experiences. As a Psychology major and someone who’s known OCD individuals, Emma has been spot-on and realistic. So why, Glee, have you chosen to not only misrepresent Bipolar Disorder entirely, but encourage mockery of its sufferers as well?
Paltrow’s lovely character, in a scene teaching, says, “Mary Todd Lincoln in the house. My husband was probably gay, and I’m bipolar. Makes me yell things like that tea pot is spreading lies about me and this can’t be my baby because I don’t love it.” Wow, Ryan Murphy! I didn’t know, as someone with 22 years of experience as a bipolar individual coupled with a degree in Psychology, that Bipolar Disorder involves delusions like that! You see, silly me, being as it is a mood disorder, I thought it was about dual/cycling moods. Hmm, that’s what the DSM-IV-R – the diagnostic manual of mental disorders used by clinicians – and my textbooks say. Fuck, are we all wrong? Or did you accidentally glance down at the Delusional Disorder definition by mistake? What a horribly misleading portrayal, almost as bad as Jim Carrey’s Me, Myself and Irene, in which people refer to his blatant Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personality disorder to laypeople) as Schizophrenia. Bipolar II Disorder, a form of bipolarity, is characterized by only exhibiting hypomanic episodes, ones that decidedly do not evolve into delusions of grandeur or so on. Adding insult to injury, Paltrow’s shining example of an educator then instructs the class to practice bipolar rants, for history is now made fun by them.
Judging from the backlash on several official message boards, I’d say you shot yourselves in the foot, Glee. Thank you, for making it even more difficult for mood disordered individuals to be open about their illness with family and supports, or perhaps making them feel as if, “I can’t be bipolar; I don’t talk to objects. I don’t need help!” Thank you for spitting on the hard work you’ve done with Emma by denigrating an even larger population of the mentally ill on the flipside. Bipolar people do not rant as a whole, and it’s certainly not funny to live with this illness. From its pervasiveness to its strong heritability (I can thank my mother for my battles), from the medications that can destroy your memory and motor function to the instability and hurt caused on all sides of the person, effectively isolating them, to deaths from severe manic episodes in which suffererers feel invincible, Bipolar Disorder is not a laughing matter. I’m not laughing when I can’t sleep, or when I lash out at my beloved fiance because my mood is swinging up and down all week. It’s not funny when one minute, you feel happy and the next, you’re wishing for a gun in your mouth – at age 10. Like all mental disorders, Bipolar demands and deserves respect – just like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I’m the first to be able to laugh at mental illness jokes and let certain things go (for example, the way bipolar has become a colloquial adjective for people who veer back and forth), but this is just insulting and misleading, and shameful for the year 2010. I cannot and will not support a show that would be so blatantly dishonest about a real problem many people face. Given the track record this season, I sadly cannot even chalk it up to a one-off failure. Glee has truly gone off the rails.
So, Glee, farewell. I will miss you dearly, and miss your music (most days). But you have fallen victim to Heroes syndrome, and have lost your way entirely at this point. From now on, my Glee is a one-season show, that ended with the beautiful and bittersweet To Sir, With Love. It will take resolve on my part to not tune in, to not listen to more of the music, but I, unlike the show’s writers, will not compromise my principles and core beliefs for anyone or anything, even ratings.