12
Nov
2009
Glee: Season 1, Episode 9
Wheels
Jordan
So Glee is back, and it's as divisive as ever. After a two week imposed hiatus (some men wanted to wave sticks around in a diamond and people cared for some reason) the show returns with the Artie episode so many of us have been longing for since day one. The show has an incredibly large ensemble, and so I'm inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt when it takes a while to develop some of its supporting characters. Slowly but surely Glee is giving us an idea of who these people are, and if it takes them a little while, that's all well and good. Especially if they manage to do it in ways that are less preachy and obvious than "Wheels" which basically amounts to a "very special Glee" in which we learn that everybody is really the same, and we shouldn't treat people differently because of their handicaps.

The biggest problem I have with the episode is that it instills this heavy-handed lesson in us by doing just the opposite of what it proposes"”the episode singles out Artie, and to a lesser extent Becky, as the "different" people who need to be treated "the same." Even Will seems oblivious of the counter-intuitiveness of claiming that these kids need equal treatment, then singling them out by first forcing everyone into a wheelchair and then spying on Sue's treatment of Becky. The moment where sue shut him down, arguing that she abuses all of her students and Becky is no different, would have felt rewarding if it wasn't so blatantly obvious.

So while I had been rooting for an Artie episode for weeks, I left his first major outing knowing exactly what I already did about him"”he is in a wheelchair, and that makes it hard to be normal in high school. That this observation is true, again, makes it no less obvious, and the show missed a real opportunity to give Artie some actual depth as a character. When he recedes to the background again next week there will be no opportunity to infuse the few moments he'll be given with anything of real depth, because all we know about him is still pretty surface. We don't even know his likes and dislikes really; we just know he's paralyzed from the waist down (but still has the use of his penis).

His abortive romance with Tina (whose name I honestly had to look up because Sam and I have called her, true to her stereotype, "stuttering Asian girl" until tonight. As of next week, she may have to become just "Asian girl" or perhaps "blue haired Asian girl") does nothing to deepen either of them either. So Tina doesn't stutter. How does that effect her as a character, except to show that she's shy? And her speech about Glee Club bringing her out of her shell felt extremely forced and obvious to boot. Plus, the idea that Artie only wants to date kids with other handicaps seems incredibly stupid. I understand that he would be hurt that she had lied to him (I guess, in a sort of dumb, abstract way), but I would think he would be more excited that she felt close enough to share her secret with him. Instead he is off put, mostly because the show likes to leave almost everything exactly where it found it at the end of any given episode. It is a testament to the show, however, that when it puts characters together, even for an episode (Puck and Rachel before, Artie and Tina tonight) it manages to make me root for them, even when I really don't care about the characters independently of that. If Tina never appeared on the show again at this point, I might not notice, but if she and Artie became a storyline it could provide a gateway into deepening both of their characters to the point where I could care.

It is perfectly normal for a show to struggle in the early episodes of the first season, and this is especially true for a show that is as ridiculously high-concept as Glee, which has the added burden of being pulled weekly in disparate directions by the three creators. However, this episode left me again worried about the show as it shifts to the long term. Setting a show in a high school is tricky simply because there is a timeline on how long you can maintain your cast before their characters should graduate, but this is far from becoming an issue here. The main problem I have is that the show's main characters, who could easily be very interesting, are already feeling a little tired and overdone in their plotlines. We know that Will misses his glory days on Glee club, that Rachel feels disliked and overlooked, and that Finn feels overburdened by his life. The show just seems to be struggling to show us that there is more to these characters, or even that what we know can translate into any story in the long term. Additionally, doesn't it feel like the gang has been prepping their one song for sectionals every week so far? Since they only get to do one number, why don't they make up their minds already? I worry that sectionals is a sort of macguffin to drive forward the singing each week, but since this is a musical we don't really need much reason for the characters to sing.

All of that being said, the show is finding some resonance, and long term possibilities, in some of its minor characters. Kurt's relationship with his dad felt mostly authentic tonight, as his father struggled to show his love for his son and balance that with a worry for his safety. That would feel a bit cliché as well, but it was played solidly on both sides, and in small town America I can see why Kurt's dad might be worried. And Kurt's quest to sing "Defying Gravity" (which, realistically, could be sung a few octaves lower and still be quite the song) made for some great character moments as he threw his High-F to protect his dad. Also, Puck and Quinn's relationship has real depth and long term possibilities. Quinn has chosen Finn as the more viable father, but Puck doesn't want out that easily. He is struggling to provide for her behind the scenes, and her attraction to him clearly deepened tonight as she realized he is more than just a meathead. Their scenes really hit home, and reminded me of the Glee that I hope to love someday.

Grade: B-


Notes:

-Music round-up: Artie's version of "Dancing with myself" was very solid. In terms of "Defying Gravity" I loved the cover, but found the way they cut between Rachel and Kurt incredibly labored and repetitive. And is there a more cliché wheelchair-related song choice than "Proud Mary"? But hey, it gave a good portion of the cast the chance to sing, including the oft-underused Mercedes.

-I failed to mention Sue at all. I think that finding out Sue has a down syndrome older sister is sort of cheap, "pull at your heart strings" twist, but damn it if Jane Lynch didn't play it to the hilt. Even when she is given sort of labored material, be it dramatic or comedic, the woman pulls it off with aplomb. She remains the series clear MVP.

-"You sing like a girl! You know, in a good way."

-Anyone annoyed by the show's lack of continuity? How can Kurt possibly try out for the Cheerios when he is already on the football team?

-There was some pretty god-awful dialogue tonight. Lines like "You haven't done spit for her" seem jilted no matter how hard the actors try to pull it off.

-"I want to be very clear. I still have the use of my penis."

-Does this show have narration rules, or does it just let whatever character go for it whenever in an episode they feel like it? I'm not sure if this is lazy writing or just a "quirky touch."

-"The doctor said the shark shattered my spinal cord." "This is why I don't go to the aquarium!"

-"We've got homework and football and teen pregnancy and"¦lunch."
Tags: Glee
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