TV Round-Up: Idol & Glee

27 May

So, the terrible Tuesday twosome, American Idol and Glee. What was supposed to be the ultimate two hours of guilty pleasure kinda blew it – between a seriously underperforming season of Idol and a generally weaksauce season 1.2 for Glee, Tuesday became a night of TV that I generally avoided.

I’m not sure I really have too much to say about American Idol. It was a really weak season filled with lackluster performers and horrendously boring, old weekly themes. The guest mentors were given too much screen time and weren’t all that helpful, Ellen was a bust as a new judge, and the self-congratulatory, manufactured pomp and circumstance in which the show specializes felt even hollower than usual. Lotsa threads showing throughout.

But I think it really boils down to the contestants – not a single one on the level of the best singers of past years. Big Mike was just a hot mess, barely watchable for me. Siobhan never got beyond her odd lower register and lack of musicality – she’s got a great voice and a lot of potential, but didn’t seem to have the knowledge or wherewithal to really ever really do anything with it. Casey had a strange vibrato and flat stage presence… and, like, the other guy with the guitar was so boring, and… I kinda forget everyone else. The little kid Aaron? Come on.

So then the finalists – Lee was a technically woeful shouter who at some point late in the game started listening to his vocal coach and went from quite bad to moderately bad. And then, apparently, won the whole thing… while Crystal, the only contestant with any real skill or stage presence, did well enough that she’ll… release a pretty predictable album and do well for herself. Man, this is just riveting! I’m putting myself to sleep just writing about it.

Yeah dude, I guess I can't believe it either.

The only surprise for me all season was that of all the judges, I thought that Kara actually offered the most consistently useful feedback. Time and again, I found myself saying, “Yeah, Kara, that’s right on.” Considering how much scorn she has attracted in the past (even from me), it was unexpected. And particularly when compared with Randy Jackson, the other musician judge, well… at least Kara tried.

Anyway, a thoroughly depressing season that I stopped watching a few weeks ago. I found myself keeping track mainly so that I could know what they were talking about on EW’s amazing Idolatry series, and eventually those videos were actually all I needed. When Idolatry showed a short montage of the final few contestants from last year – Kris Allen, Allison Iraheta, and of course the monstrous Adam Lambert – it made it all the clearer that this was the season that the Idol battleship finally ran aground. I’m not optimistic for the future.

Moving onward… Glee. Yeah. A show that can be hard to have a critical discussion about, since most everyone who watches it has adopted it like a cute lost kitten, made it a part of their own personal emotional family. So even when it shreds the drapes or poops on the rug, it’s all good because it was just so cute when they found it…

But that said, despite my initial doubts about its longevity, I got into Glee, particularly after the generally strong first mini-season and its smashingly great finale. But since its return this year, the show’s felt increasingly tiresome and aimless – as though the writers have already run out of interesting ways to explore these characters. You can’t auto-tune a lousy Law and Order joke, ya know? Zing!

There’s so little consistency or relatability with the characters – they’re trying to tell afterschool special-style stories via skittish, unlikeable people whose motivations and temperaments swing so wildly from week to week that it’s impossible to have any sense of who they are and what they want. Four of the last five episodes have been a miss for me, particularly that egregious “Bad Reputation,” good lord. That episode almost killed Glee for me; it came to head as Jane Lynch and Olivia Newton-John were prancing about the screen doing an utterly flat recitation of “Let’s Get Physical” while accompanied by a bunch of almost-naked beefcake dudes. I was sitting there watching it and I realized, “Wow, there is literally nothing here for me. Why the hell am I watching this?”

The one good episode was Joss Whedon’s “Dream On,” but even it was largely carried on the strength of the music videos – the actual character stuff felt just as scattered and pointless as the other recent episodes. But I’ll tell you what – when that Safety Dance video got going, working in the handheld footage of a dance breakdown in the middle of an (apparently) actual mall, I was genuinely surprised and got really into it. It made me realize how long it’d been since the show did anything remotely inspired or unexpected, but as cool as that sequence was, it made the rest of the episodes seem all the more random and soulless by comparison.

"Drowning in smugness... need... human... dialogue"

Coach Taylor isn’t helping things. Coach who? Let me explain – Jaegle and I used to watch Glee pretty regularly on Burrito Night, but a few weeks ago we decided to kick up the new season of Friday Night Lights instead. We’re old-school FNL fans, and coming back to it was this sort of immediate thing – seeing a show where the writers care about the characters, where people act like humans and interact in ways that are consistent with who they are and what they want… it was as though my head had been submerged in Glee’s giant plastic ball pit and I’d suddenly, finally taken a deep breath of fresh Texas air.

I don’t know. I guess it’s started to feel like Glee centers around a bunch of plastic, narcissistic asshole characters created in a lab somewhere, foils for some TV writers to show us how clever they are. Which I guess is what it’s always been; the fact that I’ve liked Glee is more a testament to just how far good musical numbers can carry a show that is, despite all its pretense at emotion and heart, often a fairly hollow enterprise.

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