Tag Archives: Friday Night Lights

Glee Takes New Directions, Unless It Doesn’t

1 Nov

We’re two months and three episodes into the new season of Glee, and I’m not sure what’s happening.

I had—have, actually, present-tense—high hopes for this season of Glee. After two seasons being written by the sometimes-genius-always-unpredictable team of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, the new season saw a writing staff tripled in size, including an impressive team of veteran writers: among others, Allison Adler, who did great things with the first few seasons of Chuck; Marti Noxon, of Buffy and Mad Men fame; Michael Hitchcock, who was hilarious in Season One as the coach of the deaf choir (“SCARLET FEVER!”); and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, fresh off of his rewrite, for better or for worse, of the book for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

This is all great news, because it’s a move toward sustaining the series. The first seasons of Glee are an oddity in terms of the ways they ignore the tropes of mainstream TV and instead take the shape of Murphy’s apparent spirit animal of the week. When it works, it’s fresh and unique in the TV landscape. When it doesn’t, it reads as an unwillingness to commit and ultimately an exhausting lack of confidence. This new crew of writers is a talented group with a tantalizing goal—not to strip the show of its voice, but to add narrative strength and consistency.

A few episodes in, it’s hard to say how things are shaking out. The season is still young because of the World Series break, and FOX left things on a high note, with a strong third episode. It wouldn’t be Glee without a dash of the obnoxious: weekly play-by-play on the state of Emma Pillsbury’s virginity, the plot to defame baby Beth’s adoptive mother, and hints that Mercedes might be pregnant; on the other hand, she might be pregnant by Friday Night Lights alum LaMarcus Tinker, and the very presence of Blaine covers a multitude of sins. And who even remembers what’s happening with Rachel and Finn? In any case, this season is a turning point for the show—with its three biggest stars leaving at the end of the season, better writing is of the essence. Here’s where I think you go, if you’re trying to make Glee respectable:

– Move on from the Rachel/Finn train. Let them be together, or don’t; whether they get their true love story, live happily ever after as Broadway’s new power couple, or never even get out of Lima, give them the endings they deserve and lay the groundwork for new romance. Which brings us to…

– Make Brittany/Santana your It Couple–allow them to remain supporting characters, but follow through on making them the fan favorites they deserve to be. Place them in contrast with the carousel of random dating that is the rest of the cast, turn up the charm, and give fans a couple to root for long-term. (To be fair, the writers’ work with Kurt and Blaine approximates this already—but Kurt won’t be around forever, and to deny Brittany and Santana the fruition of their relationship would be a terrible thing.) Additionally, if Ryan Murphy’s looking to make a lasting cultural impact with this show—and it seems like he is, whether or not he cops to it—making the entire TV-watching American public root for a couple of teenaged lesbian cheerleaders isn’t a bad way to do it.

– Figure out what to do with Quinn. First-season Quinn was great. She had a purpose, she had an arc, she had spectacular hair, and Dianna Agron proved she’s a mature enough actor to handle the big stuff with grace and nuance. The downside to all this is that, post-baby, her plain old high school “big stuff” came across as petty melodrama. Her second-season quest for Prom Queen status made a vague kind of theoretical sense, but it wasn’t rooted in the experience of her pregnancy or carried out with an eye to how she’d changed—instead, we got the idea that she actually hadn’t. This season started out in an interesting place, with Quinn rebelling against her old social routine to play queen of the losers, but her plan to get baby Beth back from her adoptive mother (Idina Menzel) still reads as shallow compared to the emotional potential of the character. In other words: Shut it down and find this girl something realistic and satisfying to do, stat.

– Offer Dot Marie Jones Dictator-For-Life status. Coach Beiste is one of Glee‘s most inspired creations, and Jones inhabits her beautifully. Use her.

– Commit to Emma Pillsbury. Emma was barely around last season (possibly unavoidable for scheduling reasons, though I question the amount of press junketing The Smurfs required); as one of the few semi-reasonable and sympathetic adults on Glee, it’s nice to have her back. Whether or not her continued affection for Will actually speaks well of her taste in guys,  Jayma Mays is a warm human presence who also happens to nail the comic stuff without making a big deal out of it. Depending on the extent to which the writers decide to engage with her mental illness—and the sensitivity with which they handle it—Emma is a rich vein of material wrapped in a pretty, funny package. While you’re at it: bring back her psychotically matchy vintage wardrobe.

It’s hard to say what a grown-up version of Glee  would look like—Freaks and Geeks with singing?—but the move towards finding out is an encouraging one. If the new staff can impose order while preserving the tone of the show, more power to them. If that’s the case, everybody wins.

On Dumbasses I Have Loved

28 Jun

First, let me just say: if you are a dumbass, a real, in-the-flesh dumbass, I probably don’t like you. I probably don’t think you are funny, and I probably don’t think you are charming; actually, I probably don’t think that much about you at all except maybe to wish that you were not a real, in-the-flesh dumbass. HOWEVER. If you are a dumbass in fiction, a dumbass who does dumbass things but then learns and grows and becomes a real person, well. In that case, it is very possible that I might be a little bit in love with you. Surprise!

Let’s talk about a couple of fictional dumbasses. Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips), of Friday Night Lights fame, is the kind of guy who proposes to his girlfriend at the strip club where she works and thinks burying stolen cars is the same thing as disposing of them. He’s “raising” his teenage brother, perpetual audience favorite/heartbreaker Tim Riggins (also in possession of dumbass tendencies, but endlessly golden-hearted, not to mention pretty-faced), which mostly consists of buying him beer and then yelling at him about it later. Billy occasionally spills over into “genuinely destructive” territory–Tim eventually goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit so that Billy can stay with his wife and newborn son–but mostly he’s just a guy who wants to be a man but doesn’t have the common sense to pull it off.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Mason (Callum Blue), George Lass’s smarmy  grim reaper colleague on Bryan Fuller‘s 2003 show Dead Like Me. Mason is fundamentally gross. He’s British, perpetually high, and spends most of his time scamming on girls and staking his squatter’s claim on the apartments of dead people, or both. Par for Mason’s course is his cause of death: self-inflicted head wound via power drill while in search of a permanent high…which does nothing to stop him trying to smuggle drugs fifty years into his afterlife (“I’ve got illegals in my bottom!”). Unlike Billy Riggins, the source of Mason’s dumbassery is that, after fifty years of taking souls and observing human nature, he knows better, sort of—and continues to be repellent in a number of hilariously dumb ways. And yet, Mason is moved by those around him in ways that surprise nobody more than Mason himself: there’s the gay couple who start out as a joke and end up as a (somewhat disturbing) lesson in true love, the old lady from whom he intends to steal art and whose worthless paintings he ends up hanging around her house (…after he moves in as a squatter, of course), and Daisy Adair, his love-starved reaper nemesis/love interest, played infuriatingly and then heartbreakingly by Laura Harris. Between acts of mind-blowing stupidity, he’s prone to acts of random kindness: surrendering his beautiful house to the girls, say, or simply treating Daisy like a loved person for just a second.

And that’s the shocking, wonderful thing about great dumbasses in fiction: even in the midst of their deepest cluelessness, they’re always ripe for just a hint of redemption, and for touching the the lives of others in ways they’re too self-absorbed to have planned. The ideal balance of idiocy and self-transcendence is a delicate one, making dumbasses a risky character type to create; on the other hand, they can be the most satisfying to write and to watch–hence the title of this post. When Billy Riggins becomes a maker of men as an assistant coach for the East Dillon Lions, we know it’s all he’s ever really wanted–not the football job, per se, but success as a leader. When Mason kills Daisy’s violent boyfriend Ray (a surprisingly scary Eric McCormack) in her defense, it’s spur-of-the-moment–but it’s an act of bravery of the kind that Mason generally avoids, and it comes with a brand of guilt that he spends most of his time trying to escape. It’s a coming-of-age moment, sort of, or at least a statement that he cares. And we love him for it, murder or no.

This is the joy of the fictional dumbass: the fictional dumbass is always shadowed by his or her own potential in a way that the non-fictional dumbass is not required to be. It’s a potential for brilliance or a potential for compassion or a potential for just maybe being okay, but it’s the possibility that that character might someday not be a dumbass. Or maybe they will be, forever and ever amen, but by the time that ship has sailed, it’s too late, and we don’t mind all that much.

The List

28 Mar

 

For me, 2010 was a year of monogamy, TV-wise. I essentially watched two shows, and two shows only, on DVD: The Wire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s twelve seasons of intense, arc-heavy must-see TV, mostly about cops and drug dealers and teen angst (and occasionally all of the above). If it’s about Southern California/the mouth of hell or about the Western District way, you can ask me anything. I was in it.

This year? This year, I’m like a soldier on leave. I’m hanging around in bars, picking up strange shows, just because I can.

To emphasize the frolicky feeling of watching whatever I want, I’m starting with the short stuff—the young and the canceled-too-soon. There’s Wonderfalls, which, let’s face it, might get me off track right away if I let myself veer into re-watches of Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, and there’s  White Collar, which is charmingly retro and features Matt Bomer’s stellar fedora-wearing skills, and there’s The Middleman, which is brief and which I somehow see as the much-delayed successor to the live-action Patrick Warburton/Nestor Carbonell version of The Tick. There might also be a brief rendezvous with the most recent (Eleven/Amy Pond) series of Doctor Who, which I didn’t even realize was on DVD yet, because everybody I know downloaded it. Or, you know, so I hear.

After the palate cleansers will come the time bombs—shows that are currently airing and getting away from me with every passing week, i.e., The Good Wife, Fringe, and a few errant episodes of Friday Night Lights. And then, if it turns out I’ve somehow caught up and it’s the end of the list or, like, endless reruns of MASH or whatever, there are the beloved but non-urgent–the ones I intend to watch, eventually, but that aren’t pinging my radar all that loudly. There’s Community, a show I’m supposed to love but don’t, and Psych, which I suspect will seduce me more successfully than I can possibly imagine, and possibly a variety of other comic procedurals. I can get a lot of mileage out of comic procedurals.

And then, once I’m feeling good and ready for a commitment, I’ll go back for Angel: The Series. Because we can’t all be TV sluts all the time, and…nothing says monogamy like David Boreanaz? Right.