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Glee and the dangers of the theme episode

Features Editor

Published: Monday, October 11, 2010

Updated: Monday, October 11, 2010 13:10


FOX’s hit show Glee has become an impressive story of the little show that could. When it premiered last year it was questioned weather a musical show could survive on a broadcast network. Past shows such as Cop Rock and Hull High with more recent attempts such as Viva Laughlin have all failed miserably with each of them failing to last even a single season. So when Glee not only managed to get a renewed season but become one of the highest viewed shows on television, the show’s success is clear. This past week, marked the show’s highest views yet with the airing of the heavily advertised Britney Spears episode. However while the viewership was high the quality of the episode itself is a much less optimistic story.

Glee has had it’s ups and downs story wise but for the most part has managed to produce a successful musical television show week after week with only a few relatively minor flaws. However, the Britney Spears episode resulted in arguably the worst episode of the series so far.

The music in a musical must be present to further serve the story or to help better express the emotions of the character singing. While it can be difficult to do this without writing original material Glee has stuck with the jukebox method of picking songs and for the most part has come up strong. Some of the stronger examples include the teacher singing John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” as he contemplated switching jobs and leaving the Glee club, and another character singing Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” when he literally has a crush on the girlfriend of a character named Jessie. These songs while still being pop songs, serve to help the plot of the episode, and the series as a whole along.

However, in the latest episode, the majority of the songs were the result of characters hallucinating while at the dentist. This not only failed to help create deeper characters but ended up doing little more than take up time until the episode was over.

The Britney Spears episode serves as a prime example as the possible dangers of a themed episode where all of the songs come from a specific genre or artist. In the creation of a normal episode the writers can choose any song for a scene whereas in a themed show they are forced to select from a much smaller library. At times this can turn out okay. Last year the show did a Madonna themed episode, but because Madonna has such a large library of hits already there were enough songs to choose from that for the most part the songs helped to further the story. However few artists have libraries with the depth and variety of Madonna and more themed events led to less than stellar episodes. The latest Britney Spears episode serves as a good example, as does the Lady Gaga episode last year which resulted in an awkward scene where a mother and daughter bonded over singing Poker Face a song that is described by the artist as being about sex, booze and gambling.

Another concern of the themed episode is the possibility of alienating a portion of your audience who doesn’t like the genre that in the theme of the episode. For example, Glee has already announced plans for a Rocky Horror Picture Show themed episode to air around Halloween this year. While the musical is extremely popular with a specific group of people, both the musical and the music it features does not translate specifically well to audiences who are not fans of the original show. Not only that but it begs the question “how are songs such as the Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite, going to fit into the plot of a high school tv show?”

While there are complaints about the episode, it had its redeeming qualities. Sue Sylvester, easily the shows most entertaining character, had her best episode in a long time and new character Beiste continues to show promise from her introduction in the previous episode. It will take more than one poorly created episode to deem Glee a show no longer worth watching. The creators of the  show have already made statements that would suggest that they are hoping to ensure that the show focuses on it’s characters as much as the music. Over the next season they plan to turn the focus to fewer and more intimate numbers, saving the over the top show stoppers for specific occasions. Also the plan is to have only two artist themed episodes per season with the Britney Spears episode being the first one this season and another to come along later featuring the music of either Bruce Springsteen or the late Michael Jackson. Glee is in uncharted territory. Having come further than any of the musical television shows in the past, Glee has a strong opportunity to set a president. Lets hope it is one with a focus on quality as much as it’s viewership.

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