A Corner Critic Special: A Recap of the Glee Episode "Dream On"

Glee is a phenomenon that I have, so far, somehow managed to avoid.  The whole concept is one I simply do not understand.  Why not create their own music?  And why are these covers considered something special?  I have not been able to listen to any of them for more than five seconds.  However, tonight’s episode (May 18th’s) was of some interest.  This was mostly because Joss Whedon directed it.  I am a fan of his work – and his use of music.  Maybe he could actually make it work.  In addition, it makes a good preamble for something I plan to do next month.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the Glee episode entitled “Dream On.”

So, we start with one of the most ADD recaps possible.  Then we see Neil Patrick Harris with a mullet performing a magic trick.  Of course he is a member of the school board who threatens to cut the glee club. So far, I have no emotional investment whatsoever and thus feel this is a documentary of what normally happens in public school systems.  Molly Shannon also shows up as part of a support group of people who are addicted to singing show tunes. Yes, such a thing exists.  Best quote: “Show choir kills.”  Middle school show choir does.  Among the worst things I have ever had to sit through was the Middle School medley of history (it’s far to difficult to explain and I do not want to relive it). It hurts my head to think about it.
OK, he gets the show choir to write down their dream (among them: no stretch marks).  Neil Patrick Harris’ character exists as an antagonist who exists solely to be an antagonist.  His smarmy persona is less Harry Lime and more Dick Dastardly. The teacher throws him out for saying that childrens’ dreams do not come true.

Title-white on black screen; never seen that to go. We get saved by a reference to Godard- yet claiming he is merely a “French New Wave” director is oversimplifying it, don’t you think?  And from wheel chair kid.  I do not know this character’s name – I know he ruined “Dancing with Myself” and I have yet to hear an apology.  He dreams of becoming a dancer.  But his legs don’t work.  So some girl (again, I do not know names here) states that he should rehearse a dance number with her.  Then a portion of a woman dancing ballet and discussing her spring break with a man who looks like the bastard offspring of Edward Cullen and Duckie from Pretty In Pink.  The woman wants to go to Broadway. Her dream is “I don’t know.”  How honest – I know many with that dream.  The girl has no idea who her mother is and wants to find out.
We then get a dance rehearsal between wheel chair boy and the girl.  “My tap wheels suck” pretty much sums it up – it seems like they are going for a cheap laugh.  He borrows crutches from a kid with cerebral palsy and wants to use his arms to get around his room.  It actually manages to work – for about two steps.  When he falls we get…what will soon become a dictionary definition of melodrama in which he tells the girl to leave.

Back to Neil Patrick Harris.  The Glee club teacher comes to convince Bryan Ryan (the only name I have caught so far-it is Neil Patrick Harris’ character) to not cut funding to the Glee Club. With that, first commercial.

So far, I have no idea who anyone is, I have absolutely no emotional investment, and the only involvement I have is a laugh that I feel very guilty about.

Back to the show.  The motherless woman is convinced that her mother is Patti LuPone.  We then pretty much get a touring history of LuPone from 1994.  Mandy Patakin….how do I know how these people are?  Her boyfriend states that they need to do real research “like CSI real.”  Hate to burst their bubble – CSI is not real investigation. At the very least, it is not always accurate and actually can bias juries and…look the truth is just depressing, alright?

We cut to a bar.  Bryan Ryan and teacher are there.  Apparently the teacher stole Ryan’s one woman that got away.  Motivation?  I’ll take it.  The teacher states that music is what kept him going.  It helped him emotionally.  We get another long winded speech about the importance of Glee Club.  Ryan breaks down crying and claims to be miserable.  He apparently sneaks to Broadway and “has a box of playbills hidden in my basement – like porn.”  Please Glee – do not remind me of Barney Stinson. And we have our first song….Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”  Well, both of the actors can sing.  The strange thing is that the actual song continues to play in the background throughout the performance.  Anyone remember Viva Laughlin?  And it took the same approach?  And how successful this approach was (ie, canceled after two episodes aired)?  Well, the purpose of the scene is that someone is holding Les Miz auditions and the teacher will take Ryan to audition.  Joy.  So, either “One Day More” or “I Dreamed a Dream” will make an appearance. Commercial #2.

And we are back with wheel chair boy and his oriental para more.  They try and apologize to each other.  The woman tries to convince the boy to try another doctor to help him walk.  Something about stem cells and electric impulses. “If you can imagine it – it can come true.”  A Hallmark card if I heard one.  They kiss, she leaves.

We then cut back to orphan and boyfriend.  She finds a bunch of old items relating to her life in the basement.  Among them is a recording of her first singing competition.  The boyfriend plants a cassette of something labeled “from mother to daughter.”  He suggests they play it.  The girl says no, as “she is not ready.”  And I finally get another name – Jesse (the boyfriend).

OK, Les Miz auditions.  Both Ryan and teacher are planning on auditioning the same song – Aerosmith’s dream on.  The director suggests they sing it as a duet.  (He can only keep his dry cleaning place closed for half an hour). OK, Aerosmith is not a pop band.  Why then does the actor take that approach?  And Neil Patrick Harris, I am convinced is going for comedy. Again, Harris is a very talented singer.  When they start trading off verses….it strangely starts working.  What can I say?  And then it ends just as it peaks.  Shame. They do a good job with the refrain.  Still, I have a duet of Sebastian Bach and Axl Rose doing a duet of “Back in the Saddle” on my iPod. This performance does not make me forget that cover. Commercial #3

And we are back to the wheel chair boy.  He has bought pretzels.  His Asian girlfriend offers a pretzel – sold at a kiosk that is upstairs.  Anyway, he went to a doctor and apparently claims the therapy techniques she suggested are working.  This has to be a dream sequence.  Well, he puts a CD in of…The Safety Dance.  Again, as with “Dancing with Myself” he butchers it.  It sounds like some sort of lo fi cover that Kim Gordon and Moby might have done as a joke.  I do not think this actor can sing.  That is a death sentence on this show.  Well, the choreography is nice.  And hey, after it’s done, he’s back in the chair.  Who said it was a dream?  Well….a fantasy sequence. Still, I called it.

Back to Ryan and…a PE teacher (Sue).  The actress is Jane Lynch, a veteran of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries.  She is a very funny actress.  Well, she seems quite good at her role.  And frankly, I am not surprised.  She gives a cheesy monologue – that she makes work.  Ryan insists on “angry sex” between them- I enjoy when two gay actors insist on trying to have a heterosexual relationship on celluloid;  sort of a Brokeback Mountain in reverse.  Commercial #4

OK, during this time I am actually going to look up some names.  The teacher is Will.  Wheel Chair Boy is apparently named Artie.  Asian Girl is Tina.  Motherless is Rachel.  Why did I have to look up these names during a commercial?

We are back.  It is Jesse and another woman (damn, didn’t look up her name) is discussing how Rachel will not listen to the tape.  And this is apparently the mother – her name is Shelby.  So the tape is real.  She apparently wanted to be a surrogate mother so she could live in New York.  Guess what –  she was an aspiring actress as well.  She wants nothing more than her daughter to listen to that tape.

Back to Artie.  He is actually talking to a therapist about what he can do to walk again.  She does not want to give him hope.  Apparently, the studies described are “in their infancy” and he will not be able to walk for a long time.  But he was actually a decent dancer (if not singer)…never mind.  He leaves with a “thanks Ms. Roseberry.”

Ryan goes back to the Glee Club with a variety of goodies, on the grounds that “the arts matter.”  He has bought them new costumes and new sheet music “from every Broadway show ever.”  Even Paint Your Wagon? Well, Sue comes in stating Will has won the role of Valjean and Ryan has won the role of “townsperson.”  Well, he will be involved in the “Do you hear the people sing” chorus. That’s something.  After getting this news, Ryan announces he will cut Glee Club funding.  Another commercial.

And we are back.  Ryan is rehearsing his one line “hooray.”  Wonderful.  Again, Will is trying to convince Ryan not to cut funding.  We get another funny line about Ryan’s feelings of Will.  Then a monologue about how most of the people in Glee Club “are not stars.”  Will responds about how such a thing would create a “black hole.”  Because that’s what happens when a “star” dies.  Yea, but black holes are relatively harmless.  Lift your leg.  Feel that tug?  That is as much energy as a black hole uses to suck things. Anyway, as a gesture, he offers Ryan the part of Valjean.  Ryan agrees not to cut funding with this bargain.

Back to Jesse and Rachel.  He plays the tape.  And guess what: the mom sings “I Dreamed a Dream.”  Again, I called that one. This actress playing the mother  is actually a very singer. No wonder – it is Idina Menzel.  So is Rachel, for that matter.  But the song is sung from the perspective from an older woman; having a teenager sing it is…bizarre.  And let’s see if they keep the line about Fantine losing her virginity – nope.  Damn – to me that was the emotional core of the song.  And Rachel singing the last verse is not as good as the rest of it.  Oh, and as an extra detail, this song is done with both of them on a stage.  Another fantasy sequence, in other words. Cut back to Rachel crying.

Now, Tina and Artie are talking about Tina’s routine.  He seems to accept his limitations.  He does not want to hold Tina back.  She asks him to “at least sing the song.”  And then Will announces how Bryan Ryan is not cutting funding.  And then we get the dance number from Tina.  She says her partner is some drip named Mike Chang.  We get another song from Artie: “Dream a Little Dream” ( I think that’s the title).  Again, it is a fantasy sequence.  Hey, remember the reference I made to good choreography earlier?  It’s not there anymore.  After this, it’s the end.  Wait, seriously?  That’s how the episode ends?  We had no closure. The next episode is about Lady Gaga’s music.

Final assessment: Eh.  That’s about all I can say.  Oh, I tried to like it.  The deck was stacked in its favor.  The problem is that the work seems to have no regard for anyone aside from its preexisting fan base.  That is why I did not look up character names until half way through – I wanted to remain an outsider.  Frankly, each episode of each TV show needs to stand on its own.  Yes, the season is the ultimate artistic vision.  But each episode needs to advance the characters and the overall story as well as being able to be a self contained story.  I feel that this did not do so – well, it did introduce items that I have no doubt will become plot points later.  The problem is that it was not done in a satisfying manner.  And what I received for my effort was a collection of haphazard to terrible cover versions of classic  songs and a plot that never crossed the line of immersion. I had no belief that the glee club’s funding was ever in danger of being cut. Harris was not really utilized and the work was never funny.  Whedon is a very funny man.  Buffy, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse…..all have a unique sense of humor.  I know he did not create the show, but that is not an excuse.  One of the episodes of The Office Whedon directed (Business School) featured much of his trademark humor and allowed him to reference his past work (the subplot involved Jim Halpert tricking Dwight into thinking he was turning into a vampire…a not so subtle nod to Buffy).  In addition – Whedon is a very talented songwriter.  His musical episode of Buffy and the internet phenomenon Dr. Horrible both had incredibly catchy and creative songs.  Why not have him write original numbers?  Using preexisting songs is only going to draw comparisons to the originals; usually unfavorable comparisons. I do understand why people might like this show – it has the potential to be smart and an effective commentary on pop music.  But do not count me among the new fans.   Overall, I know this is just Whedon as a hired hand – he probably had nothing to do with the script.  But that is no excuse.  I remain unhooked to Glee and will not be watching any future episodes (including the Lady Gaga one) unless some major changes are made. Among those changes; original music, more interesting characters who do not fit into some sort of political correctness quota, and more drama that again does not feel as though it was ripped from the pages of “The Beginners Guide to TV Writing.”  At the very least, is it too much to ask that the people who write the scripts to put some energy into it?

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