Glee: Season 1, Episode 19
Dream On
For everything I sort of like about Glee, and for everything the show could do, pretty easily, to become a great hour of television, there are about five things about it that piss me off. Its characters are stereotypes at best (and pretty much shells for dialogue at worst, like Tina, who I'll talk about more in a moment), its storylines are often pat and offensive when they aren't entirely illogical or just plain stupid. And it tends to hit the reset button at the end of every episode and sacrifice any interesting story developments or character movements just so things will be back at square one for the next episode.

Yes, Glee is a deeply flawed show, but it still reeks of the potential for greatness. I once wrote (some have said insanely) that I wish the show was just a little bit more like Mad Men. As I said a lot of readers (well, ok, two or three) told me I was crazy, but I think there's a potential parallel between Mad Men's characters who are trapped in lives they don't want to lead or constrained from achieving their dreams, and Glee's kids who, for the moment at least, are keeping the dream alive. Chances are none of our protagonists will ever be a star, and that fact haunts them all, even as they glue a smile to their faces, step outside, and put on a show. Will is more than just a teacher to these kids, and more than just a supportive reaction shot during musical numbers, he is a cautionary tale for what their lives may (and in fact, probably will) become if they keep chasing their dreams decades after its clear they are dead. There is a lot that Glee could be, and "Dream On" gets two-thirds of the way toward making a step in the right direction.

Because I liked quite a bit about this episode, I'll start with the storyline that I think was a failure (and isn't it true that Glee's insistence on doing three stories a week generally leads to at least one terrible one?). Arty's plotline this week was about the only thing that the Glee I hate would ever let an Arty story be about: the fact that he was paralyzed. Arty can sing, and he is a potentially interesting character, but why does every one of his plotlines basically just entail him screaming, "I'M PARALYZED!!!" at the screen with the show's characteristic lack of subtlety. I know that the show is trying to have a heart by having Tina tell Arty that he will walk someday, just as it tried to have heart by having the deaf school sing in the first half of the season, but what it doesn't realize is that there are some things that some people just cannot do. That is the nature of disability, and while it doesn't make the disabled at all inferior to other people in terms of worth or in terms of what they can give to society, it does mean that there are certain things that will be hard, or even impossible for them. And giving Arty hope that someday he may walk isn't a sweet thing to do; it dooms him to ending up like Bryan Ryan, crushed at the way his life has turned out, and bitter about the cards he was dealt.

Now on to the things that I think did work. Its time to mention that "Dream On" was directed by Joss Whedon, and that I am an unabashed Whedon fan. I have watched, and to differing extents, loved all of his shows, and I loved a lot of what he did as director tonight. He once said that the job of a television director is to be anonymous, and to an extent he is tonight, but there is a single scene that is Whedon at his best: the scene in which Rachel and Idina Menzel (I can't remember her character's name at the moment) duet to "I Dreamed a Dream" in a fantasy sequence on a darkened stage. Whedon has always been a fan of long shots, and there is a shot in that sequence that goes on for at least a minute, as the two pass each other, but barely come into contact, showing the connection they share in spite of the huge distance between them. This story line is working, in spite of its predictability, and I hope it keeps up this dramatic resonance in the weeks to come.

I also thought that the A-plot tonight, centered around Neil Patrick Harris' Bryan Ryan, indicated the themes of the Glee I hope this show becomes very well. Sure, Bryan was a bit ridiculous, basing his decisions on an entirely selfish reasoning, but NPH pulled it off believably by making his whole performance a bit tongue-in-cheek. It also helps that he is one of the few actors out there that can break my heart with just a look, and he does so tonight when it is revealed that he didn't get the lead in the community production of Les Miserables. Its a moment I don't think would have worked with another actor, but NPH pulls it off without a hitch. He also manages to turn in some excellent vocal work, with a rendition of "Piano Man," a personal favorite of mine, and with he and Will's duet of "Dream On." One thing that surprised me was how flat the scene between NPH and Jane Lynch turned out to be. With two nimble comedians in the frame, I expected the laughs to flow freely, but instead they just entered into an awkwardly statistics filled argument that pitted sports against the arts, and then dropped some jokes about having sex, only one of which really worked.

So Glee is still not the show I want, but tonight was a tentative step in the right direction. If the show can just remember that its characters should behave like people, not stereotypes, and if it can focus on developing these characters, and some sort of theme that continues from week to week, it may be something actually worth watching in the weeks, and even years to come. But if experience tells me anything, the show will jsut leap ten steps back next week.

Grade: B+


-Or not. The idea of a Lady Gaga episode is actually pretty exciting...

-Sorry I missed last week. Life is a bit hectic lately, but I'll try to stay on top of everything in the next few weeks.

-"Don't make that face. Global warming is a theory!"

-"Putting on a show about your father's prostate cancer will actually just make him more depressed..." Nice John Michael Higgins cameo.

-"You can't feed a child sheet music, Will! Well I guess you could for a while, but he'd be dead in a month."

-"Is it a tad over the top to bill the school district to have my Cheerios parachuted onto the football field? Perhaps."

-" I have a secret room upstairs. Like Letterman."
Tags: Glee
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