Don't Rain On My Parade
Glee's Broadway storyline has Adam missing the subtle, nuanced storytelling of Smash.
I was fully prepared to stop watching Glee after last season. The always messy and frustrating show had gone steeply downhill after its first season, and by the end of its fourth was limping along at what I thought was the bottom of the valley. And if you think that metaphor was tortured, you should have seen the hoops Glee jumped through to keep most of its leads on the show after half of them graduated from high school, while also explaining the conspicuous absence of the ones who decided not to come back to the show. But then Fox announced an end date for Glee, and I stayed on board. I'm a bitter-ender: usually if I stick with a show for a full season, I'm in for good. So while an endless future following Rachel's rise to stardom and inevitable fall to a life of prostitution (we can dream) sounded unbearable, a finite number of episodes (two seasons, for some reason) meant I could stick it out and finish what I started.
This. Was. A. Mistake.
Glee is in some ways the ultimate hope-watch. I rewatched the pilot a couple of years ago to see if I'd been crazy, and even knowing all we now know, that is still an exciting hour of television, ending, like a classic musical, on a total high. Glee is still capable of moments (if rarely full episodes) like this, which can lull me into a sense that these five years have all been worth it. One of those episodes came two-thirds of the way through this season, as the glee club was disbanded and the last of the original cast graduated from high school. The episode revolved around Mr. Schuester, a character who's become increasingly hateful and inappropriate, and I realized that Glee is, or at least should have been, his story all along. The end of glee club, which he had revived in the pilot, was the end of this story, and the episode was surprisingly moving (in no small part due to the evocation of Finn and the effectively manipulative reuse of "Don't Stop Believin'"). It felt like a series finale, and it would have been a good one. But you guys, it wasn't even a season finale. It was just a departure from McKinley High and the full relocation of the show to New York.
There was so much more downhill to go after what I thought was the bottom.
There was the time Kurt crashed someone else's gay-bashing. There was the plot about Blaine's weight gain which featured a shot of Darren Criss pushing out his stomach like a toddler but otherwise involved no hint of non-twinkiness other than sloppy eating. The very special episode about Artie having trouble getting around on the subway (which is actually a real issue, primarily because only like three stations are wheelchair-accessible so he couldn't be there at all, including, I'm pretty sure, in the station they shot in) and also he got robbed because he had his backpack on his wheelchair handles like an idiot and he didn't back up his screenplay like an even bigger idiot. The very even specialer episode where Artie got chlamydia, which is at least the funniest of the STDs. The time they inflicted Jane Lynch singing a song from Annie on us. The way they shot on location in New York and somehow still managed to make it look like Vancouver.
And then there's Broadway.
I realize that it's foolish to criticize Glee, of all shows, for a lack of realism, and mostly I don't. That has never once been Glee's goal any more than it's American Horror Story's. I don't care that they never made much of a story about Rachel being in Funny Girl beyond simply telling us "Rachel's in Funny Girl." I don't care what the dressing rooms look like or how understudies work or when the critics come or if eighteen-year-olds read newspapers or how Cyril Figgis randomly got a ticket for opening night or how Rachel was able to skip the opening night party (it's a press event, you bitch).
I do care that they treat Rachel being on Broadway like it's glee club: an extracurricular. This offends me on behalf of everyone who works -- and works hard -- on Broadway and in professional theaters across the country. Rachel staying in school is something I can almost buy. It's impossible, but I get why she would want to. But keeping her waitressing job to gain "life experience" is absurd on a realism level and on a character level. A diva like Rachel would never mingle with hoi polloi. She'd be out of there the second she signed her contract.
It's maddening because these complications served no purpose for the story whatsoever (if they wanted Rachel to do a number at the diner, she could just meet her friends there for coffee, and it's not like she would ever choose school over Funny Girl when that ultimatum came down in a completely tension-free episode), and they took time away from stories they could have been telling about Rachel actually performing in the job we've spent four years watching her dream about and work toward. Worse, they imply that being the lead in a Broadway show is some sort of hobby that one does on the side of her real life and not as a full-time job. Remember when we thought Smash was unrealistic? Remember "I can't, I'm in tech"? Sure, we laughed at Karen Cartwright, but tech is twelve-hour days, sometimes for weeks, and the union lets you work for twelve consecutive days without a day off. There's no school. There's no waitressing. And that is, in fact, what the money is for. Season 5 of Glee makes Smash look like a fucking documentary.
One anomalous episode (notably written by an actual playwright) beautifully portrayed Rachel's frustration at going through the same routine night after night; actually mentioned her contract; and even featured an immensely satisfying scene of Funny Girl's producer dressing her down for not taking her job -- and the people paying money to see her -- seriously. I wanted him to yell at the other writers too! Proving that they can get it right only made it more irritating that 99% of the time they don't. A staff writer did this: why was he not helping in the writers' room? Where were the actors in Glee's cast who've appeared on Broadway multiple times to consult?
Smash got a lot of the feeling of Broadway right, even if its facts were sometimes wrong. Glee, in its early days, captured a lot of what it felt like to be an outcast (and particularly a drama nerd) in high school, albeit wrapped in a package of mild insanity. The show took everything seriously because the characters took it seriously, and they knew that the audience took it seriously (remember how dark it sometimes got?). They cast theatre stars who aren't often seen on TV, and featured show tunes in a way no other TV show ever would or could. Glee also generated a lot of interest in actual musical theater and actual glee clubs and actual funding for school arts programs. That's huge. That's a responsibility. Not to educate teens on the realities of Broadway, not to not be funny, not to not burst into song in Times Square, but to tell a respectful and interesting story, even in a world that's heightened. Glee used to be about celebrating misfits and people who were passionate about art; now it too often feels like it's making fun of them.
It looks like the season finale is headed toward sending Rachel to a TV career, which is certainly possible, and much less likely to send me into weekly fits of rage. And this week's rumor that they're only doing thirteen episodes should help them focus. Even now, I feel like these characters deserve better than this as we say goodbye to them. More importantly, all the wannabe Rachel Berrys watching at home deserve better.