How to Fix 'Glee'

Once fresh and irreverent, the Fox series is now tiresome and preachy. A fan suggests eight ways to save it.

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Fans of Glee are the same people who are most tortured by Glee. Season one of the show was irreverent and smart, at once deliciously outlandish and extremely relatable. McKinley High was a school filled with archetypes and clichés, but the show was nuanced just enough to maximize both hilarity and poignancy. From start to finish, Glee's first season was a breath of fresh air.

Now as it winds down season two, Glee is heaving, gasping, and choking for that same fresh air. The subtle line that it once so brilliantly toed—lampooning high school culture on one side and intelligently addressing real social issues on the other—has become a crazy zig zag.

Maybe it's a result of adding too many characters (New Directions now numbers 12 members) or becoming too reliant on themed episodes, but fans can't help but get the feeling that Glee is the unpopular kid in high school who suddenly gets a lot of attention (Emmys! National tours!), and then starts trying to become something it's not. In fact, we liked the show just the way it was.

So how do we fix it?

Let the teenage characters act like teenagers

In season one, Rachel developed a crush on her handsome show choir teacher, and it was endearing. Queen bee Quinn hilariously tormented Rachel for stealing her boyfriend. These are things that real teenagers go through, and Ryan Murphy and his Glee team set them to music, sharp one-liners, and occasional tears. It was fantastic.

It's no coincidence, then, that the best episodes of season two were the ones in which the teenage characters acted like actual high schoolers. In "Special Education," Rachel experiences teenage heartbreak to the soundtrack of "Dog Days Are Over," and it was her character's most believable moment all season. The Valentine's Day episode featured the first signs of Kurt's twitterpation over Blaine, and loads of energetic, cleverly written romance gossip. "Blame It on the Alcohol" was the season's funniest outing, a comedy of errors truthfully detailing a rite of passage for many high schoolers—something "Prom" also did so well.

But in a 22 episode season, these examples are too few and far between, with the characters spending the most of their time as vehicles for socio-political messages or taking a back seat to drama from the adult characters.

Stop trying to save the world

If the characters are going to start acting more like teenagers, the show as a whole needs to stop taking itself so seriously. Right before Kurt's gay bullying storyline began mid-season, Ryan Murphy said, "This episode starts off our arc about tolerance and respecting other points of view." Oy. The thing is, Glee always promoted open-mindedness. The fact that everyone in the glee club accepted Kurt in of all of his flamboyant glory—hardly ever mentioning it, even—spoke volumes about tolerance.

Sure, Chris Colfer expertly acted the bullying storyline, and that Ryan Murphy used his 13 million viewers-a-week platform to illuminate such an issue is inspiring. But the subtle ways Glee once handled such important issues somehow evolved into overly heavy-handed, maudlin public service announcements. In season one's "Wheels," Artie dealt with the loneliness of being handicapped by singing a poignant version "Dancing With Myself," which said more about the pain of life in a wheelchair than any of Kurt's long-winded speeches about tolerance said what it's like to be a tormented gay teenager. When he was crowned prom queen, the look on Kurt's face before he ran out of the room was the heartbreaking "teaching moment," not the soap box monologue he delivered in the hallway.

There's a way to address important social issues without making viewers feel patronized and preached to—Glee has done it, and, occasionally, still does. "Rumours" was this season's most successful themed episode for many reasons. The Fleetwood Mac album appropriately surfaced all the romantic entanglements and gossiping that plagued the members of New Directions, allowing them, again, to deal with teen issues. But its winning moment was the way it dealt with Sam's homelessness. Yes, it was another Issue that Glee was going to conquer. But instead of having each glee club member deliver a speech about why they love Sam before settling the matter with a big group hug, they bought back the guitar he was forced to pawn for money.

It was a heartwarming gesture that delivered the show's "message of the week"—friends will stand by you in a time of need—but it didn't feel overwrought. And, unlike a schmaltzy monologue or politically-fueled rant, it rang true to something that teenagers would actually do.

Return to continuing plot lines

The success of the Fleetwood Mac-themed episode was rare. But from outings focused on Britney Spears and Rocky Horror to episodes revolving around religion and football, the "theme of the week" model has failed the show this year.

Though some criticized the first season storylines for being too soapy—Quinn's baby daddy plot, in particular—those arcs were developed over the course of several episodes. Glee's season two has more in common with Law & Order than its own first season. Each episode could be viewed on its own with little confusion, as plots are introduced and resolved often in the same hour.

Presented by

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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