Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I don’t write about TV shows here, but if I were to start doing so Glee would not be my first choice. I’d rather write about Breaking Bad, or Mad Men, or Louie, or Parks & Recreation, or Community, or The Good Wife, or, or, or. But, that’s neither here nor there. None of those great shows have a recently released 3D concert movie to their name. Which is just as well since Glee, a show about a bunch of misfit choir kids in an Ohio high school, has a concept ripe for cinema. The widescreen and big sound could have potentially given the show the fullest expression of its inconsistent and deeply flawed musical soul.

The show itself started promisingly enough, but by the maddening second season it became clear that showrunners Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk were not making the show I was ready to like. (To be fair, Falchuk, more than any of the other creators, seems to be interested in emotional coherence and narrative momentum). I want Glee to be a heartfelt high school musical with characters using their songs to express deeply held feelings, for production numbers to bubble up just because regular old talking just can’t handle the emotions on screen. Actually, the show is sometimes just that, and that’s when it’s good. Ironically enough, the best episode the series has yet produced, season one’s “Dream On,” was that. It was directed by Joss Whedon, a TV auteur in his own right, creating what is perhaps the clearest and strangest example of an outsider coming in and showing a better understanding of what a show should and could be.

Most of the time, the show is miscalculated comedy and thinly written characters that change their circumstances and emotions whenever and however it best suits the whim of the week. It’s exhausting and dull with terrible teasing flashes of brilliance. It’s often one of the best shows and one of the worst shows on the air right now, usually in the same episode, sometimes at the same time. It has attracted legions of vocal and committed fans though, and Glee: The 3D Concert Movie is sure to make them happy. For a hopeful but discouraged Glee skeptic like me, it’s hard to get too excited about it.

The film is technically proficient, loud, glittery, high-energy, and short. It features the cast singing and dancing (though the editing doesn’t do the choreography any favors) and every-so-often talking backstage in character. Once in a great while, the proceedings pause to showcase real-life stories from fans who have found inspiration in Glee, even though said inspiration is mostly tangential and incidental. There’s lots of screaming and swooning going on – this is a very youthful audience – but, as if to prove that this is no Hannah Montana concert movie, we get strategic cutaways to middle-aged fans flipping equally out over seeing their favorite characters singing memorable songs from past episodes.

What makes the show itself so good in patches, the very good, even great, acting from Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley and the terrific charisma from the likes of Darren Criss and Lea Michele, is missing here by the movie’s very nature. It’s just a string of performances and a bunch of self-congratulatory multi-media aggrandizement. I don’t doubt that people going to see Glee: The 3D Concert Movie will get exactly what they want to see. The movie is exactly what it set out to be, for better or worse. But couldn’t director Kevin Tancharoen, last seen trying to remake Fame, have tried to do something more with this opportunity? Maybe the constraints of being disposable between-season product, fuel for the money machine that is Glee, prevented him from doing so.

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