'Glee': The Primetime After-School Special

In the episode "Dream On" at the end of the first season, Will tries to rediscover his passion for performing, but gives up a part in a play in order to keep the glee club running. "The way I see it, I'm trading my one dream for the chance that all 13 of you might find yours," he says. At any moment you half expect Bob Saget and an Olsen twin to appear to help him deliver this very special Full House-esque monologue, twinkly music and all. Is the writing that bad? "You got it, dood."

It's a shame because the schmaltzy dialogue often times thwarts opportunities the show has head to address button-pushing issues in a refreshingly modern way. "Theatricality" has some truly touching, nuanced moments in which Kurt's family and friends struggle to accept his sexuality. But then the episode ends in a very stereotypical manner, with two tubby jocks in letterman's jackets pushing Kurt against a locker and threatening to beat him up and Kurt speaking the cringeworthy line: "I will never change. I'm proud to be different. It's the best thing about me."

But no episode so far has trumped "Grilled Chesus" in the sappiness department. In this week's show, Kurt finds himself at a crossroads. As a gay teenager he feels shunned by religion, but when his father becomes ill he doesn't know where to turn for faith that he will get better. It's a topical issue, and one that I was excited to see treated with Glee's boundary-pushing comedy. But the episode was completely devoid of humor, and the dialogue was so stilted, wooden, and earnest that the treatment of the subject was largely ineffective and far too easy to make fun of.

The episode featured a host of dramatic clichés: a montage flashback of father and son playing together, a teary-eyed hospital scene, a slow motion run through a hallway to deliver bad news. The ways the glee clubbers expressed their views on faith—dialogue like "It seems to me that true spirituality is making the most of the life you've been given"—were not only untrue to the ways the show's characters speak, but to how any teenagers, anywhere, voice their opinions.

It's admirable that with 13 million plus viewers, Glee is seizing its opportunity to say something. But there's a fine line between making a statement and crossing over into PSA territory. The series once showed promise of staying on the right side of this line, but now it all too frequently crosses the boundary. "Grilled Cheesus," a manipulative attempt to explore religion, was the capstone in a series of episodes that come off as after-school specials. It's time to stop giving Glee a free pass when it comes to its poor dramatic writing.

These are the same genius writers who come up with those biting Sue Sylvester one-liners and the uproarious Brittany non-sequitirs. But lately they have rarely been capable of translating that scene-chewing line-writing into dramatic dialogue with a semblance of nuance. The show has shown the potential to deliver on both grounds: blending sarcastic Sue with social commentary. It's for it to start delivering again. Let's pray on it.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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