Glee: The Sue Sylvester Shuffle

Ryan Murphy (or Fox) appears determined to destroy what’s left of my soul by returning from an unfortunately abbreviated hiatus with two episodes in one week, one of which (last night’s) is extended, just to rub in the torment. Armed with a bowl of popcorn as a bribe for sitting through it, I watched the Glee Superbowl Special, and, boy howdy, folks. Boy howdy.

The opener was either the most brilliant, inspired metacommentary I have ever seen, or this is a show with even less self-awareness than I thought possible. Sue Sylvester telling us she’s ‘bored’ sounds like a line straight out of the writers’ mouths, followed by Quinn’s ‘you have to find a way to top yourself’ line; Glee, in a nutshell. Much like Sue’s Cheerios, I think Glee could really benefit from a back to basics. Rather than overextending itself in a desperation to make a splash and send a message, the show really ought to consider focusing on, you know. Not sucking.

In this episode, we learned that the best way to resolve bullying problems is to force bullies and their victims together on a group project. They will quickly join hands, sing kumbayah, and experience an inspiring moment with moving music and camera at half speed. Guaranteed. Oh, except for the part where it’s not. The episode really reinforced the idea that you owe your tormentors some kind of forgiveness and resolution if they’re ‘willing to meet you halfway,’ that you should extend hands and shake across the aisle with people who have beaten you up, doused you in slushies, trashcanned you, given you swirlies.

Which is something I disagree with pretty strongly. I’m not saying that the solution to bullying in school environments is epic grudge matches, but I also think that you reach a point, a point of no return, where victims don’t owe their bullies shit, no matter what they do, and the best you can hope for is a cessation of hostilities and an agreement to mutually ignore each others’ presences. That’s not feel good television, of course, but it’s a more realistic reality to shoot for than what Glee depicted.

Not to mention which, given how the show harps on the feminine coding of glee club participation, it’s notable that the solution to the bullying problem was to humiliate the football team by forcing them to participate in feminising activities. Now, one could argue that the intent was cooperation, not humiliation, but there were clear undertones in the framing of the episode and the lines; Glee wants to be comedy while it is also deadly serious and it’s at times like this that the divide clearly falls apart. It seems like the writers were uncertain on whether it was being played straight or for comedy, and it showed.

Glee seems determined, as satah points out, to give the antigay bully on the show some kind of redemption storyline. I agree with satah; I have zero interest in seeing his character redeemed, and, again, I realise that’s not a popular opinion. I don’t believe in the fundamental goodness of people and everyone’s possibilities for redemption and I’m not interested in his storyline, I’m not interested in Finn casually flinging antigay jokes, I’m not interested in the humanisation of bigots like Sue Sylvester. Which is not to say that bullies never, ever change, but I’m sick of this pop culture narrative where bullies always magically realise the wrongness of their ways and reform, because, guess what, that actually doesn’t happen very often.

And I don’t think a lot of viewers are interested in this redemption crap either, honestly. At this point, some people are watching Glee for the music[1. Which, in the interests of fairness, I should point out that I really liked the all male zombie rehearsal number in the auditorium. It felt like the show went a little lighter on the auto tune than usual, and it was a solid, interesting, fun number.]. Which, you know, that is a choice I respect. Other people are watching the show out of some sort of sick fascination to see if it can possibly top itself with awful. Then there are people like me who watch it out of obligation, and with a growing sense of dread.

And, of course, there are people who love Glee and don’t want to miss an episode, come hell or high water, but I suspect, although I cannot speak for them, that they are pretty tired of these wannabe afterschool special redemptive plots where Glee reminds viewers how very progressive and meaningful it is. Because, even if you don’t think they’re offensive, they’re pretty fucking boring.

It also seems that, again, Glee cannot find a way to integrate its minority characters, at all. They need Very Special Episodes, yet another reminder that we are weird and different and must be singled out for attention. Artie, Tina, and Mercedes were present this week, but in very limited ways (and mostly as props and objects of humor/inspiration), while the show revolved around the doings of people like Quinn and Karofsky. Yes, with ensemble casts, inevitably not every character gets equal screen time every week, and there are individual storylines to focus on particular topics. But it’s notable to see which characters get the most time, and what kind of stories they get.

Oh, by the way, Glee, I totally caught your casual fibro joke. Because disabilities are hilarious and make excellent butts of jokes! Good work!