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The Post-Game Show » glee

Posts Tagged ‘glee’

Now That’s What I Call Glee: Volume Two

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

The second season of Glee ended with a bit of a wet fart last week. I don’t agree with the common wisdom that the show suffered from a sophomore slump, but the last few episodes were definitely a disappointment, and the season introduced a raft of new flaws to replace some of the ones it fixed from the first season. The erratic personality swings were still there. The overwrought, over-familiar make-ups and break-ups kept coming. The horrific mash-ups still made themselves heard.

Yet the show’s biggest crime is over-familiarity. That’s usually what ’sophomore slump’ really means; that the thrill of novelty has gone. The show has to work harder to keep its fans interested. Next year they’re moving beyond their three-man writing staff and  introducing a writer’s room, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a bounce-back.

And the show still gets one thing right. It still knows how to put on a performance. Last year I talked about the fifteen best numbers from season one. This year felt like it had more songs, but the total was actually about the same, so I think what it actually had was more good songs. This year I’m giving you my top 25. Click on the titles or play the videos to hear the tracks. (No original songs feature on this list, and nor do any Matthew Morrison numbers. Take the hint, Glee.)

25. The Most Wonderful Day of the Year
New Directions (Ep 10, A Very Glee Christmas)

The Rudolph TV special has no cultural cachet for me, but this song about misfit toys was a perfect fit for Glee’s first Christmas episode. It had tons of charm and character, and was that rare ensemble number that gave a little something to everyone - like Santa!

24. Baby
Sam/Chord Overstreet (Ep13, Comeback)

It’s a Justin Bieber number but, as Santana says, ‘this song is actually really good’. I know that can be a hard thought to process, but it’s a future classic and a new karaoke staple. Hearing someone with a more pleasant voice than Bieber’s helps sell it. (Justin Bieber is a talented young man, but that pubescent squeak is something only a tween could love.)

23. Don’t You Want Me
Rachel & Blaine/Lea Michele & Darren Criss (Ep 14, Blame It On The Alcohol)

Season two has leaned too heavily on contemporary songs, neglecting its season one diet of Broadway and American rock. The 80s have barely ever got a look in, so it was a strange and welcome delight to hear this Human League song from the show’s biggest voice and its most engaging performer.

22. My Man
Rachel/Lea Michele (Ep 21, Funeral)

Rachel Berry does Barbra Streisand (does Fanny Brice). In theory Barbra is untouchable, but Lea Michele seems to walk that walk every day, and on this number she elegantly threads the needle between an admirable Funny Girl and a very Rachel Berry moment.

21. Thriller/Heads Will Roll
New Directions (Ep 11, The Sue Sylvester Shuffle)

Glee cannot do mash-ups. Or so I believed, until the Super Bowl episode came along. Thriller/Heads Will Roll was a mash-up in the modern sense; a dance remix weaving two numbers into a workable stomp.

20. Unpretty/I Feel Pretty
Rachel & Quinn/Lea Michele & Diana Agron (Ep 18, Born This Way)

And this was a mash-up as well! Actually, as a medley it was less successful - the West Side Story elements should have been dropped - but the women’s voices flattered each other so well on the TLC parts that it was a delight to listen to.

19. Landslide
Holly, Santana & Brittany/Gwyneth Paltrow, Naya Rivera & Heather Morris
(Ep 15, Sexy)

Glee’s stunt casting has usually tended towards Broadway stars that most people have never heard of, so the arrival of Gwyneth Paltrow was a big deal, and in her first episode at least it actually worked. ‘Sexy’ was her second episode, where she started to outstay her welcome, but Landslide was a great moment in spite of her slightly nasal tone, because it spoke to the ‘Britana’ story, and because the harmonies were lovely.

18. Listen
Sunshine/Charice (Ep 1, Audition)

The other bit of stunt casting was a smaller name unless you’re Filipino, in which case Charice is a huuuuge superstar. She’s certainly a huge voice, and though the show never did as much with her as it could have, she got a few showcase moments, and the best of them was on this, the lesser of the big Dreamgirls ballads.

17. Billionaire
Sam & Artie/Chord Overstreet & Kevin McHale (Ep 1, Audition)

I still don’t fully know who Bruno Mars is or why he got a near-Gaga number of his songs featured this season, but this number (introducing us to the show’s new blond pretty-boy Sam) was fresh and lively, and I find Chord Overstreet’s voice very easy to like.

16. Baby It’s Cold Outside
Kurt & Blaine/Chris Colfer & Darren Criss (Ep 10, A Very Glee Christmas)

The big story on-screen this season was the homophobic bullying that pushed Kurt to a rival school where he met dreamboat Blaine. The big story off-screen was the making of a new star in Darren Criss. This romantic winter duet between two gay teenagers was an unprecedented TV moment that kept the cold roaring winds of the haters at bay.

15. Marry You
New Directions (Ep 8, Furt)

Musicals are all about big emotional moments, and Glee has pulled off more than a few of them, but I didn’t expect I’d be made to care about the wedding of two minor supporting characters. This feel-good ensemble number, replete with dorky dancing, worked that magic - and YouTube will show that real-life couples are already trying to recapture it.

14. Hey Soul Sister
Blaine & The Warblers/Darren Criss & Tufts Beelzebubs (Ep 9, Special Education)

Tufts Beelzebubs are the sort of vocal group I expected Glee to be about when the show first started; preppy, primped and a capella. The show turned out to be about a rougher bunch with a lot more pop than prep, but it was nice to get a few glimpses of this other world and to enjoy the sterling showmanship of the Beelzebubs on numbers like this. The song is contemporary, but the performance is old school.

13. Dog Days Are Over
Tina, Mercedes & New Directions/Jenna Ushkowitz & Amber Riley (Ep 9, Special Education)

As an apt comparison to the Beelzebubs; this is the sort of group number that the New Directions kids excel at. There were no big Journey numbers this year, and weirdly they were actually missed, but this was as good as the ensemble got in year two. Joyous and energetic.

12. Take Me Or Leave Me
Rachel & Mercedes/Lea Michele & Amber Riley (Ep 13, Comeback)

Back before it became clear that the show would not neglect its lesbian constituents, there was some grumbling about the de-gaying of this passionate lesbian hate duet from Rent, but it also works as a diva-off  between the show’s leading belters. As a rock opera it perfectly bridges Rachel’s Broadway background and Mercedes’ big soul voice. For the record, they called it a tie but Mercedes won.

11. Le Jazz Hot
Kurt/Chris Colfer (Ep 4, Duets)

Kurt Hummel transforms himself into a one-man Berlin cabaret performance. Looking back, this was one of Glee’s boldest musical moments, a great character moment, and an extraordinary piece of staging. It was also incredibly, brilliantly, indulgently camp.

10. Songbird
Santana/Naya Rivera (Ep 19, Rumours)

The one sour note of Gwyneth Paltrow’s landslide was that I wanted the focus on Santana when it came to her same-sex Stevie Nicks serenade. Four episodes later, this was the do-over, and it was everything I wanted it to be. Naya Rivera usually excels at angry singing; it was a revelation to hear her perform with such sensitivity and sweetness.

9. Ain’t No Way
Mercedes/Amber Riley (Ep 17, A Night of Neglect)

If you’re going to do an Aretha number, do a lesser-known Aretha number. Amber Riley was given a gift with this song, because I had never heard it before but I will be sure to want to hear it again and again, and it will be Riley’s number that I come back to. Riley had way more chances to showcase her vocals this season than last. This was her best solo.

8. Never Going Back Again
Artie & Sam/Kevin McHale & Chord Overstreet (Ep 19, Rumours)

This beautifully bare Fleetwood Mac number will be a popular choice for a new generation of sensitive boys with guitars thanks to its Glee revival.

7. Sing
Tina & Mike/Jenna Ushkowitz & Harry Shum Jr (Ep 4, Duets)

Jenna Ushkowitz does not get much love on this show. Most of her solos are used as punchlines, and most of them aren’t very funny. This one was brilliant, introducing us to the voice of the one member of the Glee club who sings even less than she does, the dancing sensation Mike Chang. It’s worth watching online if you can find it, because this one is all about the performance.

6. Ohio
Sue & Doris/Jane Lynch & Carol Burnett (Ep 8, Furt)

Jane Lynch doesn’t get a lot of numbers - in fact I think this was only her second - but this was an ideal choice for her and guest star Carol Burnett (brilliantly cast as her mother, the Nazi hunter). Sue Sylvester was a mangled wreck of a character by season’s end, but this vaudevillian two-hander showed her at her very best; hilarious, absurd, but still recognisably human.

5. River Deep, Mountain High
Santana & Mercedes/Naya Rivera & Amber Riley (Ep 4, Duets)

If Glee continues to slide into nonsense in season three, we may look back on the episode Duets as its peak, and this duet in particular as the summit of all its joyful exuberance. Lea Michele deserves the respect she gets for her Broadway vocals, but for my money these girls are the best singers on the show, and hearing them let loose together is a too-rare treat. (I apologise for using an Italian video clip, but it was the only Fox-approved clip I could find.)

4. Rolling In The Deep
Rachel & Jesse/Lea Michele & Jonathan Groff (Ep 20, Prom Queen)

As on American Idol, when you hear a fresh arrangement of a hit song on Glee it’s often a safe bet that it’s a cover of someone else’s cover. I was disappointed to learn that this inventive version of the Adele song was a faithful copy of John Legend’s cover, re-imagined as a duet. Nonetheless, it was powerful and impressive, and absolutely perfect for the characters.

3. Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy
Rachel & Kurt/Lea Michele & Chris Colfer (Ep 4, Duets)

Speaking of apt choices; this number was not only right for the characters’ stories, but also right for the characters. A Barbra/Judy duet? For Rachel and Kurt? It’s what God intended! This was a medley from the days before they called all medleys ‘mash-ups’, and a master class in how these things should be done.

2. I Want To Hold Your Hand
Kurt/Chris Colfer (Ep 3, Grilled Cheesus)

It’s a little strange that Glee hasn’t done more Beatles songs, though I’m sure plenty of hardcore Beatles fans are relieved. Chris Colfer sang two in season two. One was the solemn Blackbird, made to seem goofy because he sang it to a dead budgie. The other was this usually goofy upbeat pop ditty, made beautifully solemn in this canny arrangement as a testament to Kurt’s love for his sick father.

1. Teenage Dream
Blaine & The Warblers/Darren Criss & Tufts Beelzebubs (Ep 6, Never Been Kissed)

This was the moment that we met and fell in love with Blaine and/or Darren Criss, the dreamy diminutive brown-eyed be-blazered boarding school heartthrob with the shimmying dance moves and an ever-present back-up posse of male harmony singers. Who could resist? This became Glee’s top-selling iTunes release of all time, and deservedly so, because it’s an infectious and charming re-imagining of the Katy Perry song. Yet what makes it especially extraordinary, and guaranteed it the top spot on my list, was that it was a gay kid serenading another gay kid with a slightly saucy love song on primetime network television. It was a cultural breakthrough moment.

Fact: Before this song and video became a huge hit, only 44% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. After this song, 53% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. This is because Glee changed the world.

I am only slightly kidding when I say that.

Glee: The Alignment Chart

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

My friend Christopher Bird has a thing for alignment charts. If you don’t know what that means, these people will explain it to you.

This week Christopher made the Mad Men alignment chart, followed by the DS9 alignment chart, and since he’s declared Alignment Chart Week at his his blog, I suspect there’s more to follow.

It seems like the sort of nerdy thing I like to do, so I thought I’d have a go at it - hey, it’s Alignment Chart Week! - and because I thought it was a fairly safe bet that Christopher wasn’t going to do one for Glee, I decided to step in to the breach. The world needs a Glee alignment chart, right? It was either this or classic Warner Brothers musicals. Maybe I’ll do that one next.

Click to make big.

ac-glee1

I know someone will surely call me a misogynist for putting women in all three ‘evil’ slots, when I could have put Sandy Ryerson or Dave Karofsky or Brian Ryan in there. My response to that is, shut up; evil women are awesome.

Music Music Music (Video)

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I feel like music videos have a renewed cultural importance these days, because watching short videos of all kinds has become a major way for people to entertain themselves, especially when they should be working. When I was a kid I had to tune in to The Chart Show on ITV every weekend in the vague hope of catching a good music video, and I was frequently disappointed. Now good music videos find you, because people want to share the videos that they’ve enjoyed.

So after years of MTV-imposed exile, music videos have a renewed presence in the Zeitgeist. Just as plants make their berries look extra delicious so that passing birds will propagate their seeds, so videos need to resonate with their audience to ensure that they go viral. For that reason, music videos may be a better barometer of our culture today than they ever were before. (It does also help if the music is good.)

One trend I’ve noticed in recent music videos is that there’s an increasing presence of gayness. I don’t mean the gay sensibility or the camp aesthetic that have informed pop musicians for as long as there have been pop musicians; I mean actual gayness. I mean same-sex relationships.

It’s not unprecedented, of course. Christina Aguilera showed boys kissing in the video for Beautiful more than seven years ago, and even she was not the first. But Aguilera’s video was edited on most TV broadcasts, and fear of having their music kept off our screens steered most artists away from exploring gay relationships in their videos. Now we live in a world where Cee-Lo Green’s video for Fuck You has had over 25 million views on YouTube; the old rules no longer apply.

Our Friends the Divas

As Christina’s example suggests, one place where there’s always a chance of some man-on-man action is in videos by modern pop divas, who know which side their bread is buttered. If the gays don’t love you, you’re nothing.

Examples from the past few months include videos from Pink (Raise Your Glass), Kylie Minogue (All The Lovers), and even sometime opportunist homophobe Katy Perry (Firework). If there isn’t a gay kiss in the videos for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way next year, I will eat a goat.

Of course, these videos have also been edited or blurred somewhere in the world, but the censors are less relevant every day.

The Gay Artist

Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing any gay relationships explored in videos by The Scissor Sisters or Adam Lambert, the foremost chart-troubling gay disco acts of our age, possibly because it’s tougher for actual gays to push the envelope. Only Nixon could go to China. Only a tiny straight Australian woman can writhe on a rising tower of omnisexual orgiastic naked bodies in the middle of the street.

The first Idol winner, Will Young, has been making music videos for the best part of a decade, and his videos are usually tremendous short films - but they’re never gay love stories, at least not explicitly. It took four albums before Young dared to even mention a male lust object in a song.

But Will Young is part of the old system, the big music label system, which still runs scared from the idea of teen girls ripping posters off their walls in horror at the idea of their favourite singer batting for the other team. It’s now easier and easier for small label artists - or no label artists - to make and circulate videos that don’t play by those rules.

One example is gay musician Tom Goss’s video for Lover, about a man waiting for news about his soldier boyfriend, and featuring real soldiers discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Another example is Ice Cream Truck by gay rapper Cazwell, which became a viral hit this summer precisely because of its risqué uber-gay go-go boy response to booty-shaking R’n'B videos. I should warn you now that it’s not entirely safe-for-work.

The Shameless Tease

Then there is Robbie Williams, who has never been afraid to flirt with the myth  (probably) of his own gayness. This year, in his reunion with Gary Barlow, he crossed a Rubicon of gayness with his Brokeback Mountain-themed video, full of lingering looks, bromantic shirtlessness and homosensual tension. It’s tongue-in-cheek, and there’s certainly no kissing, but for any straight (probably) male major recording artist to make a video like this feels like a watershed moment.

The Dream

When is a music video not a music video? This clip from Glee wasn’t made as a video, but it served the same purpose. It was released a week before the episode aired, and spread like wildfire across gay blogs and entertainment blogs. As a result the show’s 113th single (113th!) became its biggest seller, even outperforming its very first single.

This is a slightly bigger deal than you might think. The video shows one gay teen serenading another gay teen with a song about love, skintight jeans and going all the way, and the core of the song’s appeal - besides the delightful harmonies of the Tufts Beelzebubs - is singer Darren Criss’s flirtatious enthusiasm and Chris Colfer’s bashful, enchanted reactions. This single didn’t scrape its way to the top in spite of the video’s gayness. It distinguished itself from a crowded field because of its gayness.

The Sweet Love Story That Is Older Than The Sea

I thought Glee’s Teenage Dream would be the peak of the year, gay-musically speaking, but the last week has brought something that might be even better into my life.

Like Robbie Williams, Cosmo Jarvis is (apparently) a straight singer with a gay-themed video. As with the Glee clip, Jarvis has created buzz by showcasing a same-sex relationship. Like Cazwell, he made the video on the cheap, without major label support. And like Kylie, he put some gay kissing in there.

But Jarvis has gone one further than any of them, because his Gay Pirates is a whole gay love story in song. It sounds like a cheeky sea shanty, but it has something to say about homophobia, and it’s surprisingly sweet, sad and tender.

Gay Pirates has scored almost 90,000 hits on YouTube in just over a week. That’s not bad for a singer you’d probably never heard of.

The internet has led to the democratisation of creation. We don’t need MTV any more, and our media consumption is no longer constrained by conservative standards. In among the Kylie flash mobs and the videos of waxed twinks lip-syncing to Miley Cyrus, there is room in our media for gays to fall in love. If these are videos that people want to share, then maybe one day they actually will stop blurring out the kisses on TV.

As Cosmo Jarvis sings; “We deserve much better than we’ve had”.

Watch More TeeVee!

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

TV is full of antioxidants and Omega-3 oils. That’s science. Experts say that you should consume at least five hours of television every day. It is a historical fact that people who died of plague, smallpox and scurvy had close to zero traces of TV in their systems, whereas 99% of Olympic athletes watch at least some TV as part of their training regimen and/or lives.

So we’re agreed that TV is good for you. Now that the new TV season is starting up in the US, it’s time to ask what shows you should be watching as part of an idiocy-controlled diet. And here I am to tell you! Specifically, I’ll tell you what I’ll be checking out this season  - and what I’ll be avoiding. After that, you’re on your own. I’m not your personal fitness instructor.

This post deals with Monday and Tuesday nights. I’ll be back for the rest later.

teddydonovan

90210 (CW, Monday 8pm)

Let’s start with a terrible idea; Watch 90210!

No, don’t watch 90210. Watch House, or Chuck, which are both on at the same time (not that anyone watches shows in their timeslot any more). You don’t have to watch 90210. I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about it.

I’ll be watching it, but only out of a sense of blogger obligation. A spoiler follows. That young man in the photo above is Trevor Donovan. As you have surely already worked out with your extraordinary deductive skills, he is a former Abercrombie & Fitch model and former daytime soap actor. If there is such a thing as ‘too blond’, he is the Joseph Goebbels propaganda poster boy for the concept. And this season, his character is coming out as gay.

This is new. They never make the All-American jock the gay guy. Yet this year we may see it happen on two shows (and I won’t tell you what the other one is). Whether it’s the pudgy guy, the artsy guy, or the flaming guy, the gay guy on TV is almost always the most ’sexually unthreatening’ guy on the show. That’s not to say that gay characters are never objects of lust - everyone on TV is sexy to someone - but it’s never the actual pin-up guy. I’ll be watching 90210 this year to see how they handle it. You don’t have to. I’ll probably let you know.

Hawaii Five-O (CBS, Monday 10pm)

This is the third time CBS has tried to make a star of Alex O’Loughlin, an actor with good abs and no charisma, and if they can’t make America love him with this heavily hyped remake of a well-known show, it’ll be time to put him out to pasture wherever Martin Henderson is now. The pilot was hugely expensive, so it might be worth checking out, but I don’t expect I’ll stick around. I slightly resent that they cast white guys in the two lead roles, and cast ethnic actors as the sidekicks (a Korean-American and a Korean-Canadian).

ian-anthony-dale

The Event (NBC, Monday 9pm)

The officially designated Lost replacement is being promoted in the most frustratingly nebulous way. “It’s a mystery show! We can’t tell you what it’s about! Watch it anyway!” It’s a technique that didn’t work for Flashforward, and I think there were other recent mystery shows that were so short-lived that I don’t even remember them. Lost didn’t open big because it was a mystery show - no-one knew it was a mystery show when they started watching it - it was a hit because it started with a spectacular plane crash, and because the set-up posed some specific, definable questions.

That said, Lost has left a gap in the schedule. I suspect audiences don’t want to watch two mystery shows in one week, and that’s why nothing else could survive alongside Lost, but The Event stands a better chance than most of finding an audience hungry for New Lost. It also boasts a strong cast including Laura Innes, Blair Underwood and Željko Ivanek, and eye candy in the form of dreaaaammy Ian Anthony Dale (above) and Jason Ritter, who dances a delicate line between ‘hunky’ and ‘eerily like his dead father John Ritter’.

Glee (Fox, Tuesday 8pm)

If you don’t know how you feel about Glee by now, there’s no hope for you. It’s back, and this time it’s Britney, bitch.

Raising Hope/Running Wilde (Fox, Tuesday 9pm)

What I’ve come to think of as the ‘Verbing Name’ Comedy Hour. The concept of Raising Hope can be ascertained from the title - it’s about a young man left raising a baby. It’s a cringe-inducing concept, but I saw a preview a few weeks ago and found it surprisingly funny and endearing. It’s from the same creator as My Name Is Earl, and it has the same wit and intelligence - and it has Martha Plimpton and Garrett Dillahunt.

The other Verbing Name show is from the creator of Arrested Development, and stars Will Arnett, so you don’t really need to know what it’s about. It’s probably hilarious.

goodwife

The Good Wife (CBS, Tuesday 10pm)

This returning show was a very pleasant surprise last year. Juliana Margulies? Chris Noth? Lawyers? Surely it’s a show for mothers to watch with a large glass of Chardonnay? And so it is, but I know I’m not the only thirtysomething male who happily uncorks the Chardonnay every Tuesday evening for this splendid show.

Although The Good Wife is another lawyer show, its emphasis on footwork rather than court cases helps it to stand out. But that’s just a sweetener; what really makes this show work is its ripped-from-the-headlines main story. Margulies plays the scorned wife of a scandalized state’s attorney, a character based on disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. That creates a great driving conflict for Margulies to sink her teeth into, making her the most compelling female character on TV right now - and she’s brilliant in the role. The cast also features some wonderfully subversive characters played to perfection by Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming and Archie Panjabi. It’s an exceptional ensemble, and I’m unashamedly excited to see this show return.

Excuse me, I need to buy more Chardonnay.

Now That’s What I Call Glee: Volume One

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The first season of Glee came to an end last week, and a great sadness chilled our hearts. The show’s delicious mix of theatrical camp and outsider sentimentality will be sorely missed on this sofa over the summer months.

There has never been a show quite like Glee, and it could easily have bombed, so it’s a relief to see a show about gays and divas and boys who dance has become a hit – and more than that, a minor cultural phenomenon. It’s also a delight to see Jane Lynch finally getting her long-deserved superstar turn.

Glee has a lot of faults, some of which I would normally find unforgiveable – the characterisation has been especially horribly sloppy at times – but if you buy in to the conceit that this is a musical, with bigger emotions and crazier people than you’re used to seeing on TV, then it’s much easier to bite in to the sweet, sweet Glee confectionery.

It’s also much easier to forgive flaws in a show that gives you fantastically staged foot-tapping musical numbers every week. The very point of musicals is that they’re the best kind of escapism. People who don’t get them tend to complain that they can’t get to grips with the idea of people breaking into song and dance all the time. It’s too unrealistic. People who love musicals might argue that ‘unrealistic’ is the point. Musicals are impressionistic. They capture the intensity of a moment in emotional full bloom. Sometimes with a shuffle ball change.

The music has its faults as well. For example, there have been way too many numbers centred on Rachel and Finn. As the show’s central couple, their spotlight is inevitable, but it draws too much attention away from a splendid ensemble, and puts too much weight on actor Cory Monteith’s still developing vocals. There has also been a horrible tendency to get Broadway star Matthew Morrison to sing (and dance to) hip-hop and R&B. Gold Digger was fine. Bust A Move was too much. The Thong Song was unforgivable.

Then there’s the show’s biggest problem: Auto-Tune. The pitch correction was egregious in the first half of the season. It seemed to settle down slightly in the second half.

But when the show is good, it’s great. These – in my opinion – were the fifteen best performances in season one. Sometimes it’s the vocals, sometimes it’s the dancing, sometimes it’s the story, and ideally it’s all three. (I’ve included videos and audio links, but these may be taken down at any time.)

15. Four Minutes – Mercedes & Kurt (Ep 15: The Power of Madonna)
There were a lot of highlights to the Madonna episode – most famously the Sue Sylvester version of Vogue, and the cheerleader stilt dance to Ray of Light. Four Minutes is not usually one of my favourite Madonna numbers, but it was my favourite here, thanks in no small part to the presence of a full marching band.

14. Lean On Me – Artie, Mercedes & New Directions (Ep 10: Ballad)
Glee’s song choices are eclectic, ranging from little know contemporary pop numbers to 80s classics to show tunes. Of course, there’s always room for a hoary inspirational standard like Lean On Me, but Glee has a pretty good track record of finding something new to do with them. In this instance, they turned it into hand-clapping gospel roof-raiser and gave the song a much needed spark.

13. Keep Holding On – Finn, Rachel & New Directions (Ep 7: Throwdown)
Who knew that an Avril Lavigne song could have so much pathos? This one is a favourite despite some particularly obvious Auto-Tune and some weirdly mangled vowel sounds. Sung by the choir in support of Quinn when she was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant, it was one of the show’s best acted and most affecting numbers.

12. Somebody To Love – Finn, Rachel & New Directions (Ep 5: The Rhodes Not Taken)
Queen has cropped up in three episodes of Glee. As one of the most theatrical acts of all time, it’s a good fit. This show-stopper was perhaps the first time that the show got the vocal layering right. It’s still dominated by Finn and Rachel, but the other voices all came through – most notably Amber Riley’s incredible wail.

11. Dream A Little Dream of Me – Artie (Ep 19: Dream On)
Kevin McHale’s vocal on this was beautifully emotive and felt utterly sincere, but what made this a performance was the tap routine by Jenna Ushkowitz and the incomparable Harry Shum Jr. Shum rarely gets a showcase, but his dancing always catches my eye. He’s one of the show’s most magnetic performers, and hopefully more will be made of him in season two.

10. Sweet Caroline – Puck (Ep 8: Mash-Up)
Cory Monteith as Finn is meant to be the show’s schoolboy heartthrob, but bad boys are always so much more interesting. Mark Salling as Puck has been one of the big TV crush objects of the past year, and it helps that the actor has a surprisingly lovely voice when given the chance to show it. The only thing better than a bad boy is a bad boy who can make you swoon.

9. To Sir With Love – New Directions (Ep 22: Journey)
The season finale was packed with great performances, but this one was the emotional core. It’s not the Lulu number I’d have expected to hear on Glee, but of course it makes perfect sense, and it gave us the most satisfying coda we could have asked for to the characters’ first season journeys.

8. Poker Face – Rachel/Shelby (Ep 20: Theatricality)
The immediate consensus on this number came in two parts. First of all, why in the world did they choose this ‘bluffin’ with my muffin’ number for a mother-daughter duet? Second, who cares – it was amazing! This is a completely unexpected Barbra Streisand-meets-Cyndi Lauper reinterpretation that’s absolutely blissful. It’s a pleasure to hear Idina Menzel and Lea Michele having so much fun.

7. My Life Would Suck Without You – Rachel & New Directions (Ep 13: Sectionals)
This was the closer to the first half-season, but it was as good a season-ender as you’re ever likely to get; a tremendous feel-good performance. What really sells it, and makes it a favourite, is the dance routine, which recaps dance moves from throughout the first twelve episodes.

6. The Lady Is A Tramp – Puck/Mercedes (Ep 18: Laryngitis)
This is Puck letting his mask slip again, this time to show us his best Rat Pack slide. That alone would make this a wonderful number, but then Amber Riley unleashes an even more splendid surprise – she’s not just a great R&B wailer; she can also do an impressive Ella Fitzgerald.

5. Run Joey Run – Rachel, with Finn, Jesse and Puck (Ep 17: Bad Reputation)
This is one of the most delightfully cheesy things I’ve ever seen on television. I didn’t know the song, but the execution is witty and exuberant enough to make it an easy sell. Rachel as a winking angel? Sandy as a shotgun-toting father? Puck in an undershirt? Bravo!

4. Hate On Me – Mercedes (Ep 7: Throwdown)
Amber Riley is a powerhouse vocalist who, as the show’s own joke goes, is brought in to deliver the killer note at the end of every big number. But sometimes she gets a whole song to herself, and it’s always amazing. This was her best – a triumphant R&B ball-buster with plenty of brass (literal and metaphorical).

3. One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not a Home – April & Will (Ep 16: Home)
Here was the purest musical theatre moment in the show - two stage pros performing a pair of amazing Bacharach numbers as they expose their inner turmoil through song. Endlessly re-watchable.

2. The Safety Dance – Artie (Ep 19: Dream On)
The show’s most entertaining dance number is a bit unexpected, both because it’s an unlikely song, and because presenting it as a flashmob should have felt stale and predictable. Director Joss Whedon did a terrific job with his episode of Glee, and this fantasy sequence –Artie getting out of his wheelchair and setting off a dance routine in the mall – is the highlight of the episode. Energetic choreography, superbly directed.

1. Maybe This Time – April/Rachel (Ep 5: The Rhodes Not Taken)
Kristen Chenoweth is Glee’s secret weapon, and while it’s tempting to wish that she could be in every episode, perhaps it’s better that we keep her as a special treat. This number pitted two of the show’s best voices head-to-head on a wrenching Cabaret classic. Cheno is an amazing vocal actor, and this number breaks my heart every time.

Are We Being Served? Gays on TV

Monday, March 15th, 2010

AfterElton has a rundown today of the top 50 gay and bisexual male characters on TV, as voted for by the site’s readers (who are mostly gay men).

I’ll let you go over there to read the list, but I had some observations I wanted to share. The main thing to notice is that the vast majority of these characters debuted in the last decade; 41 of them, in fact. Of those, 28 debuted in the last five years (with a further three debuting before 2005, but coming out after).

gaysontvGlee, Southland, True Blood.

Memories are short, of course, and recent characters are always likely to have an advantage in a popular vote. Controversial early groundbreakers like Mr Humphries and Steven Carrington clearly weren’t popular enough to make the cut, but there is good reason for them to be unpopular. There clearly aren’t a lot of missing characters from before 2000. When AfterElton did the same poll in 2007, they only offered a top 25 - there probably weren’t enough popular gay characters of note to fill a top 50.

There are now, though they come from just 29 shows, of which 19 are still airing (though two of these are on their way out). It’s notable that sister site AfterEllen compiled its own list and had to allow characters from movies to get to a list of 50 gay and bisexual female characters.

Some other breakdowns for your consideration. Only 14 of the characters come from US primetime network TV. Nineteen are from cable shows. There are four from daytime soaps (two couples). Thirteen characters are from outside the US; eight from the UK, four from Germany and one from Canada.

Twelve characters come from soaps, and eleven from three queer dramas - six from Queer as Folk USA, one from the UK original, and four from the short-lived black gay drama Noah’s Arc. Of the remainder, three characters come from sci-fi, five from sitcoms, four from comedy dramas and five from teen dramas.

jackontvTorchwood

Eight of the characters are black, and four of these are from one show aimed at a black gay audience. Two are Latino. Only one is South Asian and none are East Asian. None of the characters identify as bisexual. Captain Jack Harkness is ‘omnisexual’; four characters fell in love with men but didn’t otherwise identify as gay; two are still in denial (Ugly Betty’s Justin and EastEnders’ Syed).

More than half the list is comprised of couples, albeit not always model couples. Only two of the couples come from US primetime shows - Brothers & Sisters and Modern Family, both of which are ensemble shows about extended families with gay members. All the other primetime gays are usually single.

What can we learn from all this? This isn’t a survey of all the gay characters on TV, but it does represent the gay characters that gay audiences actually like, and there is the suggestion of a positive trend here. There appears to have been a rise in positive gay representation on TV in the last few years, thanks to shows like Ugly Betty, Modern Family, Glee and Brothers & Sisters on network, and shows like Caprica, True Blood, United States of Tara and Greek on cable.

But that still isn’t a lot of gays, and that isn’t a lot of shows. Only 24 of these characters are on air now, and at least six of them won’t be by year’s end. (Oliver and Kyle, the gay couple from One Life To Live, who had US TV’s first male/male love scene, have now been dropped from that show.)

willontvThe Gold Standard?

It’s also noteworthy that all the gay characters currently on air are supporting characters in ensemble shows. There hasn’t been a gay leading man on US primetime since Will Truman on Will & Grace, and he was famously sexless for years and years. Outside the US, the only leading man is Captain Jack. Of course, this is not the least bit surprising. That there was ever a Will Truman is the real surprise.

In terms of diversity, more gays of colour would be nice, but when there are neither enough gay characters nor enough characters of colour on TV, that seems like a hopelessly optimistic wish. Bisexuality could clearly be a lot better represented - self-identified gays who dabble with women seem more common than self-identified bisexuals, and self-identified straight men who dabble with men are completely unheard of. While we’re on a diversity tip, one might argue that fabulous bitchy comedy gays with an idiosyncratic fashion sense are a little overrepresented, but characters like Greek’s frat jock Calvin and Southland’s bearish cop John Cooper are finally providing some balance in that regard.

The most interesting element of this list is that many of these characters have actually had storylines. To the best of my knowledge, only about a third of the characters have had ‘coming out’ storylines, which is nothing short of a miracle, and very few of them have been violently attacked by homophobes. Remarkably, some of these characters have been involved in love stories. Even more remarkably, some of these characters have been involved in stories that have nothing to do with their sexuality. Soap operas are both the best and worst in this regard; they frequently have coming out and gay-bashing stories, but they’re also more likely to do other things with their gay characters.

We’re approaching level three here, people. Level one is when gay characters appear. Level two is when gay characters appear, do gay storylines, and then disappear. Level three is when gay characters appear, have love interests and do non-gay storylines, and don’t disappear.

Level four is when we stop talking about how extraordinary it is.

Another Opening, Another Show

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Five years ago, in one new pilot season, the TV gods gave unto us Lost, House, Desperate Housewives, Veronica Mars and Deadwood. It was a good year. There hasn’t been a year like it since.

In fact, the most recent couple of TV years have been especially terrible, thanks to the writers’ strike. There have been very few good shows, and even fewer renewals. Chuck, Gossip Girl and The Big Bang Theory are some of the only survivors from 07-08, which is good news for underperforming shows from the 08-09 season, like Castle, Dollhouse and Better Off Ted. The closest things to bona fide hits this past season were The Mentalist and Fringe. Nothing truly popped, and studio execs are desparate for success.

So what looks good? Here are my picks of the shows I’m looking forward to in the coming season - assuming they get a season order.

glee

Glee (Fox)

Nip/Tuck’s Ryan Kelly goes back to high school (he was responsible for the underrated Popular, which gave the world Christopher Gorham, Leslie Bibb and Sara Rue) with a show about a school choir. It looks like it’ll be all the usual jocks/geeks/cheerleaders stuff - a well-tapped mine that still sometimes turns up gold - but with added musical numbers, and a regular role for the always excellent Jane Lynch. I suspect it’ll be the most fun thing on TV this year. We’ll get a sneak peek tomorrow, when they preview the pilot after the American Idol final.

Tremé/Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

If the HBO name is no longer enough to get you excited about the show, these two have some other names that may work for you. Tremé, about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, is the new show from The Wire’s David Simon. The neighbourhood of Tremé, also called Storyville, is next to the French Quarter, and it’s the birthplace of jazz. I love jazz and I love New Orleans, so this intrigues me more than The Wire ever did.

Boardwalk Empire is the work of Martin Scorsese, and it’s a show about Atlantic City gangsters in the 1920s - ‘Once Upon A Time in The Sopranos’. With a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Kelly McDonald and Michael Pitt, it promises some heavyweight dinner theatre - but the pilot may not get made until Scorsese is free to direct, so this could get bumped to another year.

eastwick

Eastwick (ABC)

The Witches of Eastwick has already inspired a movie, a musical and a sequel novel. Now it’s a TV show, with Rebecca Romijn as one of the three suburban witches, and Paul Gross as Darryl Van Horne, aka the devil. Casting the former Due South mountie in such a role strikes me as odd, but he is eerily ageless and rather irresistible, so it could be a good fit, and it will be nice to see him back on TV. The movie’s Veronica Cartwright, best known for vomiting cherry stones, also has a role in the show.

Masterwork (Fox)

As I mentioned this past weekend, Former Friday Night Lights star Scott Porter is my choice to play Captain America in the movie - but he may be too busy if his new show does well. Porter plays a globetrotting FBI agent tracking down art thieves. Hijinx ensue. Who doesn’t love hijinx? It sounds expensive, so it may need to do incredibly well in order to succeed - and, frankly, nothing does incredibly well anymore - a fact that seems to have been lost on the people who decide which shows to cancel or renew. Ratings ain’t what they used to be.

Flash Forward (ABC)

I am looking forward to this, but I’m also slightly dreading its likely inevitable phenomenon status. It’s another JJ Abrams show, and with Lost bowing out this coming season, ABC is lining this up as a replacement. The concept is that the whole world suffers a blackout (leading to death and destruction, yay) and everyone sees a flash of their future five months hence. You can be sure that these flash-forwards will set up lots of intriguing ‘how do I get to there from here’ mysteries. Stars include John Cho and Joseph Fiennes. ABC also has a remake of the lizard alien show V in the works, starring The 4400’s Joel Gretsch and Firefly’s Morena Baccarin.

Those are the shows I have high hopes for. There are also a few I’m wary of, so consider this fair warning:

Lost & Found (NBC)

A gritty cop drama from the Dick Wolf stable, about a young maverick LAPD detective who teams up with a grizzled older partner to work cold cases. It could hardly be more formulaic, but it does boast Katee Sackhoff and Brian Cox as the leads, so that gives it some small hope of being interesting.

vampirediaries

Vampire Diaries (CW)

I doubt your committment to sparkle vampires. The CW is cashing in on the Twilight thing with this adaptation of another young adult novel series about high school bloodsuckers. You shoulda wrote one of those! You’d be rich now! This one stars Ian Somerhalder as, I don’t know, ‘Jedward Scullen’, probably.

Eva Adams (Fox)

A sexist sports agent finds himself trapped in the body of a beautiful young woman. If it gets made (and I don’t think it will), it will surely be diabolical, but it does raise one interesting question; how would they handle the love interest? Is the male-to-female lead character going to get it on with boys (gay!) or girls (also gay!)? Like Ugly Betty, this is an adaptation of a South American telenovela.

Human Target (Fox)

This is based on the DC comic about a detective who impersonates his clients in order to protect them. The premise has a little in common with Dollhouse, but without all the rape. However, word has it that the show has ditched the comics’ impersonation angle. If so, it’s ditched the ‘human target’ premise that made this show intriguing (and, uh, gave it its name). Then again, if you want an actor who can exhibit range, craggy faced Mark Valley seems about as wise a choice as, say, Eliza Dushku.

Legally Mad (NBC)

This one didn’t get picked up, so we already know we’re never going to see it, and that’s a reason to be cheerful. This was going to be yet another tedious ‘wacky lawyer’ show from David E Kelley, who gave us Ally McBeal and Boston Legal: Ally McBeal For Boys. This one starred squeaky-voiced Kristen Chenoweth and squeaky-voiced Loretta Divine, so it would only have been audible to dogs. To cap it all, it was called Legally Mad, for God’s sake. We dodged  a bullet there, folks.