Why I stopped watching Glee (but will watch this week)

When Glee first premiered in 2009, it was a groundbreaking, unique and clever program.  The pilot was so clever, so quick-witted and so charming that I remember saying “this show is going to be cancelled so fast.”  I didn’t think there would be an audience for it.

Clearly, I was wrong.

We’re now on Season 5, two episodes in.  I watched the show up until last season.  I kind of went through this feeling of “I am annoyed with so many things about this show, and yet I can stop watching” syndrome.  It was really frustrating.  All of the qualities I mentioned about that pilot truly faded away rather fast as the show plowed on.  But the charm and talent of its original cast (headed by Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowitz, Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays and (reluctantly) Matthew Morrison) is what made me watch every week.  If the show just featured Michele, Colfer and Rivera, I would probably still be watching.

Why did I watch Glee to begin with?  Music obviously was the first interest.  I truly think that when you see a character sing in a musical, you are actually seeing that character’s honesty and truthfulness.  The other was that I love stories about underdogs.  And when Glee first started, it was about underdogs in high school who were misunderstood and who came together because of their love for singing.  You were rooting for them, because the general population would not.

(Still makes me teary watching it – everything the character of Rachel had been striving for was built into this performance  – brilliant).

Of course, much to my surprise, the show completely blew up and EVERYONE (well, mostly everyone) was watching. The show has allowed a grown awareness on all kinds of songs.  It’s a pretty big deal if your song ends up on Glee.  And I think this is also where things have soured with this show.  Consistent storytelling and continuity have been thrown out the window in order to “sell” the latest buzzy song of the week.  The writers clumsily find ways to incorporate the songs of the week into their character development and more often than not, it doesn’t work at all.  This is the main issue with the show and it’s only gotten worse as time has gone on.  The song may have been sung phenomenally, but the sacrifice has been with its writing.

The show was aware of the continuity of its characters (a.k.a. they can’t be in high school forever), decided to jettison some of the core cast last season in order to introduce newbies to the mix.  Makes sense and I have to say it was a great decision and quite respectful of the audience as well (Friday Night Lights did this to absolute perfection).  However, when I started to tune in last year with the new cast members, what I realized was that these new kids were so underwritten and so cookie cutter (more so than the original characters) that I couldn’t relate – and I didn’t care.  So, I turned my TV off on Glee.  I would read updates here and there – and found myself more interested in the written recaps.  But I stopped.  I broke free.  My weird addiction was done.

Then, we all heard the news about Cory Monteith this summer.

I found myself being quite down with this news – his goofy jock with a heart and voice of gold was truly the heart of the entire show.  Finn saw the good in everyone – he was the team leader, and the one the audience rooted for and loved.  I loved his character, and by default, that meant that I really liked him too.  So, when I heard that he had passed away there was this weird sadness that came over me – and made me wonder how the show was going to deal with it.  Were they going to side-skip in their writing as they are normally prone to do, or would they go full force and deal with this crisis full on?  Suddenly, I was interested in Glee again – because no matter how you slice it, I did love the show once upon a time and I couldn’t deny that.

So, I have started to watch this season – two episodes in, and I have my usual hangups going on as per usual.  There’s been some nice performances (it’s been Beatles week for these last two) but nothing truly golden.

A promo has been released for next week’s episode entitled “The Quarterback” which will deal with the death of Finn.  In 20 seconds of advertising, I was bawling like a baby.  There has been no leaks or spoilers around how this episode will go down, and I’m really surprised and impressed by that.  Because this is a real life tragedy that has happened and that the writers and actors have no choice but to full on deal with it, I find myself fascinated by the idea that this week’s episode won’t be an acted one.  The tears seen, the songs sung…they will be part of this cast’s grieving process – and the audience’s as well.  There’s something really dysfunctionally public about that, but extremely beautiful at the same time.

I don’t know whether I will be back to watching the show again after this week.  We shall see, I guess.

Also, I’m really not sure what my mental state will be watching this episode.  For me, a well-written scene always will connect with my emotions – include music in the equation and well, you’ve got me.  Here’s hoping this show does justice to a real life person who connected with many individuals through his television persona – and perhaps in the long run harkens the show back to its former glory.

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How it’s done

So, this entire Miley Cyrus fiasco has gotten under my skin off and on over the last few weeks.  From the stupid VMA Awards performance dissection to the horrid, stupid, ridiculous video for her “Wrecking Ball” song, Miley Cyrus has become the epitome of annoyance to me.  Why? Because clearly this is (was) a young woman with a fair amount of talent, worked through the entire Disney marketing machine and had the creative power to go in any direction she wanted to regarding the next act of her career.  And what did she choose?  The obvious, hypersexual money making route, of course.  Which is obviously a route most artists these days take – fine.

But what wreaked most of all about everything was how mechanical and strategic it all was.  Nothing organic about it, just full on machine – no heart behind it.  And this is cause for alarm, because this is not art.  The girl has blatantly said that she wants to make memorable, iconic moments that people will remember and talk about.  Mission accomplished, because we’re ALL talking about it.

There’s a moment in the “Wrecking Ball” video where Miley’s face is in close up, and while singing a tear falls down her face.  For my generation, this moment triggered a memory of another teary close up from another video – which happened 23 years ago – and I will remember for the rest of my life:

When this song entered my life back in 1990, me as a 13-year-old boy stood in my tracks.  This was a thing of beauty – this Irish, shorn, beautiful voiced woman.  And the moment when she sheds that tear, we all knew she was sad.  Sinead O’Connor did not write Nothing Compares 2 U (that honor goes to Prince) but damn, she FELT this song.  And as an audience, you felt it too.  As one of my dear friends Michele says, it’s one the greatest interpretations of a song reading ever.

So, in the back of my mind, as I’m watching this sad, mock version of that moment in a video where the protagonist is riding a wrecking ball stark naked and licking sledgehammers , I keep thinking “Where is the irony? I’m not feeling this at all. Man, if only she knew about Sinead O’Connor and how it could be done properly.”

Well, sure enough, Miley did know about Sinead and Nothing Compares 2 U and said this lovely comment in Rolling Stone:

“It’s like the Sinead O’Connor video [for “Nothing Compares 2 U”], but, like, the most modern version. I wanted it to be tough but really pretty – that’s what Sinead did with her hair and everything. The trick is getting the camera up above you, so it almost looks like you’re looking up at someone and crying. I think people are going to hate it, they’re going to see my ass and be like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe she did that” – and then when we get to the bridge, they’re gonna have a little tear and be like, “Fuck you!” I think it will be one of those iconic videos, too. I think it’s something that people are not gonna forget. Hopefully an artist 30 years from now will be like, “Yo, you remember that Miley Cyrus video? We gotta do something like that.”

This quote basically made me want to throw myself out of the window.

But, apparently, Sinead herself was watching and wrote an open letter to Miley, extolling Miley’s talents and what she could be and also calling her on her behaviour.  Sinead also explained what her actual intentions were about her own persona, both physically and with her art as well.

I won’t rehash what happened next, but Miley Cyrus clearly shows that she doesn’t have a damn clue what the hell is going on.  Disrespectful, rude, and just plain dumb.  I’m not saying Sinead O’Connor is some perfect, saintly being – but clearly what has gone down here is an example of how artists these days really do not have an idea of those that came before them and what their impact was.

When I was a kid, I loved Sinead O’Connor – she scared me and she fascinated me.  And while I understood that she wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you JUST KNOW when someone is doing something that is from the heart, and not from the wallet.  I devoured everything off of “The Lion and the Cobra” but it was “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” that really was the one that spoke to me most.  There she was on MTV, there she was on Arsenio Hall, there she was everywhere.

And then she did this:

I was 16 years old when I was at my friend’s house, and saw this happen.  I knew that something was going to explode – I mean SHE RIPPED A PICTURE UP (lol) …but it was of the Pope, a revered figure.  But, I didn’t know why.

And then all of that love for her, suddenly disappeared.  I watched that Bob Dylan tribute where she was scheduled to perform, and I heard all of the booing.  I saw her get embraced by Kris Kristofferson and wondered what exactly was happening.

I watched that clip again today, and I had tears in my eyes.

It was years after the fact that I really understood what Sinead’s actions were – and how she was standing up, being brave, being a trailblazer for other artists, other women and making a statement through her work.  I finally got it.  The world gave her a terrible hand.  She retreated, and she has had her own battles to deal with.  But she made it.  And she’s still here.

And today, when Miley Cyrus said those terrible things about her – and made fun of her mental health, I felt sad.  I know it sounds ridiculous and weird – these are people I do not know – but my heart just sank.  It sank because it made me see that maybe some of this generation don’t give a shit about others, about extending a hand, about learning from what has come before.  It sank because out of all of what Sinead wrote to this pithy girl, what she got from it, was nothing,  And rather went to Twitter and dug up old tweets that Sinead had written when she was going through something dark and crying for help. This girl used that to make Sinead – another human – look stupid.  And her gargantuan amount of fans will be laughing along with her, thinking that this is funny…and that it’s ok to make fun of people.

Thankfully, Sinead wrote an equally articulate, biting response to Miley’s actions (ironically, Miley will be hosting SNL this weekend…for sure all of this is bound to come up) but for me it makes me wonder about artists today.  Listen, do not get me wrong – I am a pop culture lover, and I am not ashamed to admit that I have Rihanna, Katy and others of that ilk on my iPod.  But it’s more this behaviour that’s getting to me – that we’re now at an age of extreme sex, extreme nudity and how that’s the coolest thing.  The marketable thing.   I don’t think I am a prude – but there’s this sort of non subtle way of expressing oneself that is made to be cool now. I miss the days of leaving things to the imagination.  To me, making my brain question and provoking in an interesting way – now that is sexy.

Even Madonna – for all of her strategy – was organic in her approach to her music and art.  It came from her mind and her heart, no matter what naysayers will say.

So I guess after all of this time, I too have become a naysayer – much to the shock of the 16-year-old that still lives somewhere in me.

I don’t think the solution is to call anyone crazy or nuts.  I think a solution here is to talk amongst each other and question these images and call them from what they are – be it wrong or right.  We as the public need to make sure that we are understanding the entire picture, rather than sweeping it under the rug and chalking it up to the “bad media doing its bad thing once more”.

We don’t have to be brainwashed.

And I think there’s a long road ahead for all of us – because the bulk of us thinks this is just stupid and will blow over.  And in some shape and form it will.  But there is something greater going on here that isn’t just being an entertainer or being a celebrity – and I feel like it’s going to get darker as time goes on.