'Glee': How Much Madonna is Too Much Madonna?



Glee returned to television last week after a four-month hiatus, finally offering some answers to the questions that have been on fans' minds since December.

To help make sense of it all, we have a panel of musical theater buffs—Meghan Brown, Patrick Burns, and Jessica Reiner-Harris—to provide their takes on how realistic the show feels, how well the romances develop, and of course, how good the musical numbers are.

They weigh in on this week's show, which was all about Madonna:

Patrick Burns (writer, composer, and star of the original one-man-musical, From Foster Care to Fabulous): This week on Glee was Madonna week. It was Madonna week! Madonna. Some of you may have expected a Madonna song or two to show up during the episode. You may have even expected a few Madonna jokes. I know I did. However, halfway through the episode I found myself wishing I had been tallying Madonna references so I could execute some sort of sarcastic numerology here today.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as much of a Madonna fan as the next person, but how far will we stretch to fit in another Madonna song? Is "Like A Virgin" really the best way to highlight the struggles involved in the sexual liaisons of the three pairs of lovers who perform awkward synchronized swimming foreplay? And I definitely don't buy a group of high school boys singing to one another about the struggles of womanhood.

Did I mention it's Madonna week? Madonna.

Meghan Brown (co-founder of the Giraffe Hunt Theater in Los Angeles): Not to be grumpy... but wasn't tonight's episode sort of pointless? Yeah, alterna-Finn is somehow in New Directions and there was some convoluted virginity triangle (which, incidentally, resulted in the night's best musical number), but overall the overhyped Madonna-centric episode seemed to exist without any narrative function whatsoever.

A major contributing factor is the general uselessness of the musical numbers. Look, I get it. Musical numbers are fun! And they make Glee special. But there's got to be reasoning deeper than "the girls are sad 'cause boys are mean! MADONNA TIME!"

Musical Theater is about elevated emotions. Characters sing because their feelings are too large, too bare, too explosive to be contained by speech alone. In a well-crafted musical the songs push the story forward. Tonight, I'd argue that the vast majority of the songs were in place so that there would be songs in place.

I am also the only living person who doesn't like Madonna. So there.

Jessica Reiner-Harris (member of the touring improv comedy troupe The Striking Viking Story Pirates): This week, Glee discovered how to create a "jukebox musical," a secret formula that Broadway has been using ad nauseum for the past few years. The term refers to a show whose plot and characters are built around the songs of a particular band or singer. The songs determine where the show can go, as opposed to music being written into an organically written plot.

This episode of Glee was a jukebox musical, and commercial, dedicated to Madonna. For instance, the triad of first time sexual experiences (Rachel, Finn and Emma) did not inform the song choice of "Like a Virgin," but was clearly written in and molded so they could utilize the song. The sequence was not even plot furthering, as it turned out to be a fantasy! Musical shows, either on Broadway or on television, are significantly more enjoyable when the plot and characters determine the songs, not vice versa.

To read the panel's reaction to last week's episode, click here.