Bullies for you

November 10, 2010

Last night saw the broadcast of Glee’s much-anticipated episode about bullying, “Never Been Kissed.” I could go on at length about it, but I think I’ll confine my remarks to about a paragraph. I didn’t find it dramatically or musically successful or useful in a sociological sense. In fact, at a time when a show of Glee’s profile and audience demographic could really have modeled some behaviors that would be useful to kids who are at risk and the classmates who might be persuaded to stand up for them (Glee’s precise demographic, for all intents and purposes), it seemed to choose instead to write for the nostalgia of people who’ve come through those kinds of bullying crises, which is not useful at all to kids who are actually being bullied. Now, you may argue that Glee is under no obligation to model positive behaviors, but I would counter that the show’s creators are more than willing to accept praise for the show’s inclusive, empowering message, so, yes, there’s a certain onus in place for them to actually craft those messages with care. Also, Mr. Schue is an idiot.

I agree with this spoiler-filled review by Monkey See’s Linda Holmes in most particulars, if you want to see a more detailed examination of the episode.


I can sing any note higher than you

October 13, 2010

I put this theory out on Twitter this morning, and I’ll mention it again here, because I enjoy writing about Glee for some reason. Anyway, it struck me as I was watching last night’s episode, “Duets,” that continuity on Glee is kind of like the DC universe just after “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” By that, I mean that it’s intermittent, sometimes functional, and dependent on who’s writing at any given moment.

“Duets” is one of the good-continuity Glee episodes, in that characters remember things that have happened and behave in ways that indicate they learned something from those experiences. That’s a good thing, because Glee is rarely more frustrating than when it ignores character continuity for a passing joke or punchy scene. But, as I’ve mentioned before, Ryan Murphy’s attention span is a fleeting thing. (The celebrity-centric episodes like “Britney/Brittany” are sort of like line-wide crossovers where every character [or comic] gets wedged into a storyline or tone that doesn’t necessarily make sense for them.) So we really should just enjoy the good bits of episodes like “Duets” and tolerate the rest.

Some more specific thoughts after the jump:

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Hate on them

October 6, 2010

We’ll get to our regularly scheduled installment of the Seinen Alphabet tomorrow, interrupted by me ranting about all of the things I didn’t like about last night’s episode of Glee, “Grilled Cheesus,” which you can watch on Hulu for the next month or so. In it, young, gay, atheist Kurt is faced with a major life crisis, and his Glee Club comrades try and help him through it, but many of them do more harm than good, or at least show creator Ryan Murphy did. Episode spoilers after the jump.

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Finale thoughts

June 14, 2010

Even if the rest of Glee‘s final episode of the season had been entirely intolerable, and one should never rule that out as a possibility when Ryan Murphy is involved, I loved the Journey medley so much that it’s almost indecent. I’m sure Hulu is wondering who in West Virginia keeps watching that clip over and over again. I had never fully realized how much I love Journey in spite of the fact that they were basically the soundtrack to my high school years. Seriously, there weren’t many traumatic experiences that weren’t scored by “Open Arms.” If that hasn’t demolished my musical credibility completely, I would like to admit that I would totally pay to see a musical constructed on the song catalog of Air Supply.

I might have loved “To Sir, with Love” more if Quinn had been given a few solo lines. I’m always delighted to see Kurt and Santana get some of the vocal spotlight, but this song seems very much the right style for Dianna Agron’s sweet but not especially powerful singing voice, and the sentiment tracks with Quinn’s character arc. I love Santana, don’t get me wrong, but she didn’t learn anything this year, much less right from wrong.

The show can make that minor failing up to me next year by giving Quinn and the Cheerios a crack at Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” which would also give Heather (Brittany) Morris some awesome solo dance opportunities. I always smile when she’s on screen, particularly when she’s dancing.


Gleekery

April 14, 2010

So Glee is back, and I’m glad. It wasn’t a great episode (too little Quinn and Kurt), but it was nice to see everyone in fresh material. The problem, as I see it, resulted from achieving too much in the previous portion of the season. Remember that Dynasty cliffhanger when they were all at the wedding in Eurotrashia, or wherever, and gunmen mowed down all of the guests, and then when the new season started, everyone got up and brushed themselves off except for the other gay guy?

Basically, the makers of Glee had to push things back to a certain point, leading couples to estrangement so the audience could resume rooting for them to get together and undoing various other plot developments to fuel future events. I remember this sort of thing happening with the season finales on Ryan Murphy’s earlier teen dramedy, Popular. I’m not going to complain too much, because even really good shows have so-so episodes, and it wasn’t like it was “Acafellas” or anything that dire.

I would like to provide nerdish speculation on one plot development, which I will do after noting that I’d never actually watched an episode of American Idol before, and I am unlikely ever to do so again, because that hurt.

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Gleeful

April 4, 2010

As there won’t be a new One Piece omnibus for a while, I’ll have to obsessively geek out over something else. Fortunately, I have the Glee DVD set in my possession. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a comedy-drama-musical about a high-school show choir that airs on Fox, and it was created by Ryan Murphy, who has experience with surreal high-school comedy-drama from his work on Popular. (He also created Nip/Tuck, but I’ve never watched it, because plastic surgery grosses me out and some of my worst nightmares have featured scalpels.)

I loved about half of Popular (the surreal, bitchy parts) and couldn’t have cared less about the rest (angst-y teen drama). My enjoyment ratio is better with Glee, and I tend to enjoy the grounded drama as much as the heightened, bizarre material. As with Popular, I strongly suspect that Murphy can’t bring himself to really dislike bitchy, status-conscious blondes, though he pays lip service to the notion that perhaps we all should hold them in contempt.

The blonds on Popular got all of the good lines and funny scenes and, as a result, they were more effective when they were thrust into mope-y drama sequences. The brunettes fare better on Glee than their Popular sisters did, since they’re also quirky and funny, particularly stardom-obsessed Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele of Spring Awakening fame. In addition to having a perfect Broadway belt, Michele is endearingly shameless. Rachel is narcissistic and bossy, but she’s also a self-defeating goof, and she’s got a good heart somewhere under all that ambition.

I was talking about my fondness for Rachel’s foil, pretty cheerleader Quinn Fabray, on Twitter yesterday, and puritybrown summed up Quinn’s vibe nicely as “tell me to hate her and I won’t.” Quinn, played by Dianna Agron, joins the glee club at the behest of psychotic cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played perfectly by Jane Lynch). As you might suspect, Quinn grows to like being in glee club more than her high-maintenance cheerleading career and presidency of the Celibacy Club. Participating in show choir also allows her to keep an eye on her dim, quarterback boyfriend Finn Hudson, played by Cory Monteith. Quinn knows that Rachel has a thing for Finn, and she suspects that Finn may return the feelings. Finn’s a nice moron, and he wants to do what’s right to both girls, especially after Quinn discovers that she’s pregnant.

The pregnancy plot should dump Quinn firmly in the villainess category, and she’s undeniably manipulative and deceitful, but at least her feelings for Finn seems genuine. This puts her miles ahead of Terri Schuester, played by Jessalyn Gilsig, who fakes a pregnancy to hold onto her husband, Will, the advisor of the glee club, played by Matthew Morrison. Unlike Quinn, Terri’s manipulations seem based entirely on a desire to possess something she doesn’t even particularly like. Terri is like a real estate speculator who bought a parcel of land under the impression that it would increase in value. It didn’t, and she’s too stubborn and lazy to sell it at a loss and reinvest in something more promising. Gilsig seems like she could be funny, but she’s not menacing enough for this role, or she’s insufficiently shameless to really let the audience gape in horror at her character. (She should watch more of Michele’s and Lynch’s scenes.)

Another part of the problem is Will and Morrison’s portrayal of him. He’s supposed to be an inspiring teacher, but he’s too prone to letting his ambitions get in the way of the best interests of the club. There’s also something irritating about Morrison’s mannerisms; his grins, both elfin and sheepish, make me curl my hands into fists, and his attempts at boyish sincerity are similarly grating. It’s always irritating to see women fighting over a loser, a la Betty and Veronica, and it’s particularly irksome when one of those women is Emma Pillsbury, the decent, obsessive-compulsive guidance counselor winningly played by Jayma Mays. (At one point, she tells Terri that Will deserves better than Terri, ignoring the fact that Emma deserves better than Will.)

It’s not surprising to me that the adults gradually receded as the season progressed. After “Acafellas,” an episode where Will forms a middle-aged boy band, I couldn’t imagine them ever giving him the full weight of an episode again. The kids are just funnier and more interesting, and when they make stupid mistakes, it’s easier to sympathize with them because… well… they’re kids. Quinn can seem kind of heartbreaking in the midst of her schemes, but Terri just seems pathetic. (I’d love to see a scene where Quinn realizes that she could turn into Terri if she’s not careful.)

And the music is great. Sometimes the mere fact that the club is singing a particular song can make me grin like an idiot, and that’s before I get the chance to fully appreciate how well they’re performing it. (It’s not a criticism to note that a rival school’s performance of “Rehab” in the first episode sets the bar; the club is supposed to be leagues above our stars, and just about every big number is terrific.)


When nerd worlds collide

August 10, 2009

I love the “Five for Friday” feature over at The Comics Reporter, but I very rarely remember to respond when the question goes out. This is because I’ve usually shut down the computer and curled up with Mr. Hendrick by the time the call goes out. I even forget when I’ve suggested the week’s topic in a previous Five for Friday; in this case, I suggested Tom ask contributors to “Name Five Comic Properties That Should Be Adapted Into Broadway Musicals.” So here are my choices:

Fumi Yoshinaga's "Antique Bakery" Vol. 2Antique Bakery, by Fumi Yoshinaga (DMP): I think just about anything by Yoshinaga would translate well into a musical, because her characters could just as easily burst into song as they burst into monologue. I do think Antique Bakery would be a great starting point, as it’s got four solid male leads and a whole bunch of Tony-bait supporting roles in the mix. The leads also lend themselves to different musical styles for solo pieces, and their number holds promise for bizarre barbershop sequences. I admit that food-based stage productions are hell for the props crew, but there are ways around that.

pollyPolly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh (Oni): Given the quantity of apparently horrible family-friendly stage musicals Disney has unleashed on Broadway in recent years, it’s probably cruel to suggest an adaptation of this delightful but underappreciated mini-series. Still, it’s got a lot of things going for it: a spunky ingénue part in the title character, a big chorus of rowdy pirates, an exciting plot, and some fun staging and design opportunities.

10203010, 20, 30, by Morim Kang (Netcomics): Swinging in the other direction in terms of production scale, this look at the lives of three different women muddling through three different decades of life (teens, twenties, and thirties) would make a nifty chamber piece that would be very portable to university and community theatres. All you really need are interesting characters with distinct voices, I think, and this book has them.

palomarPalomar, by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics): Hernandez’s Palomar stories have an embarrassment of riches for composers, lyricists, librettists, and directors. A cast bursting with great characters, a community that could easily function as a formidable chorus, a lovely setting with just enough of a magical-realism quality to justify the bursting-into-song aspect, and a magnificent “Big Lady” lead role in Luba all suggest a musical that would write itself.

dragonheadDragon Head, by Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop): Okay, this is probably me just being perverse, undoubtedly influenced by that PBS special on the Lord of the Rings musical that aired on PBS. In my defense, history has shown us that Broadway will adapt anything – ANYTHING – into a singing-and-dancing extravaganza, so I see no reason for them to shy away from this post-apocalyptic treasure. And someone’s probably still got that helicopter from Miss Saigon lying around, so there’s a cost savings right off the top. It could be Carrie: The Musical or it could be Sweeney Todd, and I think it’s worth it either way.


The worst pies in London

December 26, 2008

I don’t really think of myself as a prissy Sondheim purist, but I didn’t care for the movie version of Sweeney Todd. Director Tim Burton seemed to hack the heart right out of the musical.

What really bothered me was the fact that nobody seemed consistently capable of acting while singing, or doing their individual equivalents of singing. In my experience, you can get away with not singing very well in a Sondheim musical, but if you can’t act a song, you are deeply, deeply screwed, as is your audience. And while there is no scenario in which it would be fair to Helena Bonham Carter to compare her to Angela Lansbury or Patti LuPone, she’s who Burton cast as Mrs. Lovett, so compare her I must.

Her reedy singing voice would almost be excusable if she’d brought an ounce of life or wit to the performance, but she was in full powdery corpse mode, which bore a striking resemblance to laziness. Johnny Depp’s voice was a bit better, but I grew weary of him scooping his way into every held note, which, combined with persistent flatness, made him sound like the lead singer from a B-list ’80s alternative band. Don’t get me wrong; I loved those bands. They were the soundtrack of my college years. But I don’t want to hear them singing Sondheim any more than I want to suffer through the Kiri Te Kanawa West Side Story ever again.

What really, really bugged me was how the intricacy of Sondheim’s language was slurred away by the vocal shortcomings of Bonham Carter and Depp. “A Little Priest,” one of the best and most bracing duets in musical theater, was painful to watch, drained of energy and wit for the sake of that blue-filtered style that Burton imposed on just about everything.

Look, Burton does what he does, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve loved as many of his movies as I’ve hated, and I haven’t been indifferent to any of them, which isn’t a bad track record for any director. But this was just plain awful.


Death Kitty!

May 20, 2008

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition takes a look at the two-day, 300-screen run of the live-action Death Note movie. It will definitely be interesting to see the results of this programming experiment. (Here’s Viz’s press release on the event, and here’s the event site from Fathom, which will shout at you if you let it.)

Now, if Sex and the City does well at the box office and film executives decide that women like going to movies, what are the chances of a similar blitz for the live-action adaptation of Nana? (In all seriousness, I really hate these obnoxious “can women drive commercial success at the cinema” think pieces that crop up every time a Sex and the City or Devil Wears Prada or Enchanted promises to make more than a dollar, because the answer has been a resounding yes every time. The only summer movie I’m excited about is Mamma Mia, because what healthy person with the capacity for joy doesn’t want to see Meryl Streep sing ABBA songs?)

Oh, and just because someone at NPR likely wanted to unnerve me on the way into work, they also ran a short piece about Hello Kitty’s new role as tourism ambassador.

If Hello Kitty is unable to complete her term as tourism ambassador, she will be replaced by her runner-up.


Phone rings, door chimes…

February 19, 2008

They don’t do it as often as I’d like, but I do appreciate how PBS tries to keep me in productions of Stephen Sondheim musicals. Thanks to them, I’ve seen Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury, Sunday in the Park with George with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, Into the Woods with Peters and Joanna Gleason, a lovely production of A Little Night Music by the New York City Opera (which doesn’t seem to be available on DVD, unfortunately), and Passion, which I only made it through part of but appreciated the opportunity to decide I didn’t care for it all the same.

Tomorrow, they’re airing a filming of the recent revival of Company, staged by the brilliant John Doyle. I had the good fortune to see Doyle’s Broadway revival of Sweeney, starring Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris, and aside from being knocked to the street in crosswalk in front of Rockefeller Center by stroller people on the way back to the hotel, it was one of the finest evenings of theatre I’ve ever enjoyed. (I think Doyle should do Night Music next. A character already plays the cello on stage, and those lieder singers can certainly double up as a mini-orchestra.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional staging of Company, so I’m really looking forward to it. In fact, I think I’ve only ever seen a college production with a cast culled mostly from the opera program, which is… not how I would have gone. In my opinion, you can get away with not being able to sing or dance in a Sondheim musical, but an inability to act is absolutely fatal.

And there’s a new staging of Sunday coming to Broadway. The director is profiled in this piece in The New York Times. Since Peters and Patankin are such distinct performers, I’ll be interested to see the response to Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, as it will say something about how dependent the piece is on star charisma.