Review: Glee and the Peril of Annoying Villains

Glee is a show I was very excited about. The past tense there is more ominous than it needs to be, but it does set a suitable tone for this review: enthusiasm and then slowly creeping suspicion.

Glee is a show that earned itself a rightfully massive amount of prep-premiere hype when the show’s pilot aired earlier this year. The pilot was a knockout, and the sneak preview I was able to see of the show’s premiere episode was as well. The show is essentially Election as an hour-long comedy series. And a musical. The show follows the lives of the members of the Glee Club at William McKinley High in Ohio (fictional, by the by, as that sentence made it sound awfully MTV True Life-ish). Because the show focuses on a music and performance club, they’re able to work in their musical numbers and have them be big choreographed productions without having them be the bizarre reality-breaking episodes that cause some people to shy away from musicals in general.

As I said, the pilot and premiere were just superb. Great musical numbers, sharp dialog, edgy jokes, likable cast, Jane Lynch. There was very little not to like. After the season started, the shows were not quite as luminous as the first two peeks we had been given, but were still fresh and lively and fun. However, as the show advances, I’m seeing a few chinks in the armor.

And lo, here be the spoilers, mild though they may be.

One of the good things about Election is that no matter how abhorrent you may find the characters to be, one way or another, they’ll be gone from your life in about two hours. Not so with a series. One of Glee’s strongest points are its characters (many of which are the typical larger-than-life versions of standard cliches, but all of which have just a little something extra to make them a bit more surprising). They’re all bold and big, as befits both a musical and a comedy. But since the show isn’t a drama, the villains/antagonists/least-likable-characters aren’t so much evil as they are annoying—and they don’t go away.

Jane Lynch as hardcore cheerleader coach and smalltown celeb Sue Sylvester is the show’s chief villain. But Lynch herself is hilarious and she’s a villain so to the extreme it’s clear you’re not meant to take her seriously. She’s a pure “mustache twirly” to use a phrase the mighty Oliver Grigsby taught me: she’s a modern version of a classic silent movie sort of villain who is just too broad and over the top to really be believed.

Jessalyn Gilsig, who I don’t want to dislike, plays Terri Schuester, wife of the show’s male lead. And we hates her. Part is that someone decided she needs to speak in this high-pitched, breathy, condescending and airheaded voice. She’s the true villain for the show’s first season (I’m not so sure she’ll be around for the second). She’s both too-stupid-to-function in a Drop Dead Gorgeous fashion and highly manipulative. It’s a great combo for villainy, less so for long-term watchability. Not helping this is the concept of her “plot” for this season. She has found out, after much hooplah, that her pregnancy is, in fact, a figment of her imagination. She’s triggered a hysterical pregnancy, which is a condition that causes her to manifest the signs of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. Now she’s trying to keep up the charade of her pregnancy, and she tends to cover her lies by being more aggressive and crafty. To top things off, she’s decided her fix for the dilemma is to adopt the baby of a pregnant girl at the high school—who has gotten pregnant about four months after her own pregnancy is supposed to have started. Really?

Many of the show’s sub-plots are interesting. The show’s main romances are compelling enough to keep me hoping. Feuds are entertaining and high school drama is a never-ending font of content. But to then have the key dilemma of the first season hinge on an idea that will in no possible way be something that satisfies me as a viewer, orchestrated by a villain I find irritating, is an almost fatal flaw. How will she explain that the baby she intends to produce will be 4-5 months overdue? Or if the girl she takes the baby from delivers a premature baby, how to explain that her baby was supposed to be take to full term? How will you hide the actual birth from the husband? Hospital bills? Birth records? Is the male lead not supposed to notice that one of his students is magically no longer pregnant, doesn’t seem to have a baby on her person, and the next day he has a happy newborn? The longer the plot goes on, the more dissatisfied I am with it.

Don’t discount your villains, even in something as light as a musical comedy. Villains will drive your show. They provide the conflict that makes your story interesting. Having a character be irritating isn’t enough to make them viable, but it feels like this is the choice the Glee staff have made. Rather than risk having Terri Schuester’s character be a little more realistic and therefore perhaps a little more serious, she’s been made into a totally out there villain. She can’t be identified with or liked on any possible level, and we’re stuck with her hour after hour.

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  1. #1 by Abby on October 19, 2009 - 10:25 PM

    DUDE. I completely agree. I threatened to stop watching the show for these very reasons only to come back due to my love/hate of Sue Sylvester.

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