Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The RBI Report: "The Comeback"

I really feel the need to preface this recap with an apology.  I spent most of the episode raging at Ryan Murphy, and I don't want that to translate here.  I want to stay fairly positive, but this is really the closest I've ever been to completely giving up the show.  I know, I know: drama queen, party of one!  But maybe I can explain myself.  To the RBI Report!

"The Comeback," written by Ryan Murphy and directed by Bradley Buecker. 

Honestly, I don't even know what the purpose of this episode was.  We had to sit through forty-five minutes of Finn and Quinn lamely covering up their kiss only to have Sam break up with Quinn anyways.  We had Rachel trying to stage a "comeback" only to discover that she is actually incapable of getting anyone in the school on her side.  We had Sue trying to drive a wedge between Rachel and Mercedes, only to see the forced conflict just fizzled out.  We were going to get a new song from Regionals out of this episode, but instead Rachel's just going to write her own instead.

The only things that really came out of the episode were the Sam-Santana partnering, and Sue's decision to coach Aural Intensity.  Sue's was the only true "comeback," and honestly, it wasn't even really a character comeback - just a plot comeback from the events of two episodes ago.  

So what really happened in this episode?  Ryan Murphy was at the helm, and there were some pretty classic hallmarks of Mr. Murphy tattooed over much of the execution of the storylines.  The main issue I'm going to attempt to tackle tonight is the idea that RM often offers up a pretty package but in actuality his writing choices are not exactly tethered to anything meaningful about the characters.  This usually results in his episodes coming off a bit schmaltzy, like after school specials.  

What, pray, was the point of taking a field trip to the children's hospital?  Yes, it tugged at my heartstrings, but from a storytelling perspective, that moment was completely unearned.  It was emotional manipulation, point blank.  It'd be like making a character walk around with a puppy all the time just to make them likeable.  Nobody hates puppies!  No matter that it makes absolutely no sense that anyone would carry around a puppy all the time!

I realize that by fussing at the inclusion of a touching singalong with terminally-ill children, I'm setting myself up to look like a heartless old cynic.  But I just can't get over how heavy-handed it was.  Was it supposed to make us like Will again?  That scene wasn't about Will, so I vote no.  Was it supposed to make Sue a good guy again?  Even if it was, she still spent the whole episode scheming against the Glee club and throwing students into lockers - and wound up with a master plan to coach Aural Intensity against New Directions.  The Sue Sylvester at the end of the episode was no different than the Sue Sylvester at the beginning, fundamentally.  She just has a target again.

Ryan also suffers the problem of on-the-nose storytelling.  It's gotten to the point where these characters aren't even characters anymore - they're just puppets.  Each of them does exactly what needs to be done to prop up the episode's premise or message, no matter how they've behaved in the past.  Quinn, the girl that came to regret telling a major lie born out of cowardice, pulled the wool over Sam's eyes in the first five minutes.  And Finn, the boy that was hurt so badly by that very lie, was quick to jump in on the ruse.  Why, exactly?  This is grounded in nothing meaningful.

We didn't even get to see them make the choice to cover up their kiss.  We could have maybe seen them feel badly, and choose to lie and protect Sam's feelings.  Maybe we could have felt for them a little bit.  But no - they just didn't want to get caught.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  I don't know why the writers are choosing to execute this storyline this way, but it's some seriously neglectful storytelling.  It's just villainizing Finn and Quinn and making Sam look pathetic.  Seriously, how sad was Sam's voiceover about Quinn being the best thing that happened to him since he transferred to McKinley?  

Furthermore, Will and Sue spent the entire episode spouting dialogue about Glee club that sounds more like it's just the writers delivering messages directly to the audience (and please, forgive me for not citing specific examples here).  The show is not a prop for the showrunner's agenda; it's just not.  This is television.  Tell me a story, and tell it well.  That's all I'm asking.  It's lovely to be socially aware, but you can't build a two-story structure without having a ground floor first.  Bricks fall on your head, guys.

And it'd be different if the show were consistent with its messages.  I'm not going to complain when a television show realizes that it has the capacity to create social change.  But you better be damn sure you're sending all the right messages, then.  And rarely does Glee hit all those marks effectively.  They're putting concrete in the air expecting to build a second level without anything underneath it.

An example of shoddy messaging: the writers seem to be suffering under the delusion that all it takes to get a girl to like you is to sing to her.  The boys on this show spew generalities about how their girls are in a post-Valentine's slump, or how they're unhappy with their boys and something must be done to win them back!  So they all flee to their songbooks, get up and perform, and lo!  It works!  Just like it's worked every other time!  All it takes is a boy singing a song to make the girl troubles go away.  Fight vapidity with vapidity, right?  Boys are rockstars!  Girls love rockstars!

I know they're teenagers; I do.  And I know that I am in fact, not a teenager, but rather a cranky twenty-something who just wants to watch TV in peace without anybody bugging her.  But I am beginning to really loathe the way this show presents its female characters.  Quinn chose Sam over Finn in this episode not because her moral compass kicked in, but because she thought Bieber was a turn-on.  JUSTIN BIEBER IS NOT A VALID REASON FOR CHARACTER CHOICE.  I just can't even fathom that without wanting to throw something out the window; I just can't.  What a way to completely disrespect your characters.

Can they all just have a little more substance, please?  I know it's possible.  The writers are capable of putting their characters in meaningful situations, in an honest way - and the fact that this is indeed true makes it all the more frustrating when it doesn't come to fruition.

I don't expect Glee to be perfect.  I know that my opinions are not necessarily the opinions of other viewers.  But dammit, I know when a story is being told poorly, and what's worse is when I don't know the reasons why.

Things I did like: that Mercedes and Rachel's diva-off ended in an unexpected truce!  I mean, there was zero conflict there, but I stand by the fact that I will never complain when any of these characters are friends.  I also loved the continuation of the Puck and Lauren interaction - he's on his way to touching her boobs, but he risks losing a hand!  And, getting to see Rachel have scenes with her classmates was also a welcome change, even if I'm beginning to suspect that the club's treatment of Rachel is something that will get better and worse again infinitely.  "Sing" was a pretty great musical number, and I'm loving the wardrobe department for cooking up a plaid tracksuit for Sue to wear.  Also, I loved the random - and repeated! - Finn and Tina interaction.  More of that, please.

Unfortunately, these little things were not enough for me to outweigh the episode's negatives, and so I find myself sitting here trying to organize my rantings into something remotely comprehensible.  Thanks for bearing with me.  Here's hoping next week's episode won't make me so grumpy! 

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: B
Dance Numbers: B
Dialogue: B
Plot: D

Characterization: D
Episode MVP: Should I just give this to Lauren again...?



  1. Whew! I was afraid I was the only one who loathed this episode. This was NOT what I needed after dropping a load of money on tour tickets yesterday. :/ I just kept chanting, "I'm in this for the kids...I'm in this for the kids...". Truthfully, it didn't help much.

    I have to say, I've been universally unimpressed with Ryan Murphy of late. What is going on in that man's head? Is he sick of writing the show? Does he hate his characters? Does he hate US, the viewers? Does he think we're dumb and don't keep track of what's going on? I know I shouldn't take everything so personally, but I can't help but feel manipulated and more than a little insulted.

    I totally get you on trying to stay positive. I want to love this show SO BADLY because I love those kids so much. Better luck next week, eh?

    Thank you for another great, timely review! Better you than me...lately, when I think about it too much I just get a headache.

  2. Ha! I too was worried that I was the only viewer absolutely furious over the episode's events. I really had a hard time writing this recap, just because there were so few redeeming qualities in what happened last night. At this point I just don't even know what the writers are trying to do, and trying to figure it out just raises my blood pressure. I definitely am in the same boat as you are.

    I'm sure the tour will be great though - just look forward to that!

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  4. I'm trying to put together a big piece on the show and it's just annoying and exhausting. We'll see if I ever get it done, ha. Thanks!

  5. Oh thank goodness. I've never commented here, primarily because we talk enough offline that you know my feelings about stuff, but I just needed to comment to express my rage. I had a feeling we'd be on the same wavelength on this one, but I was raging so terribly hard at the character assassination, the pointless emotional manipulation, the giant train wreck that was this episode... I need to get it out.

    Agree agree agree with absolutely every thing you said. This episode was painful to watch, painful to listen to. The entire episode seems to have just been a vehicle for Bieber songs and dressing up like Bieber and being heavy handed and manipulative.

    Awful. I know I'm being incoherent, but perhaps it is because of my seething rage. A few more episodes like this, Glee, and it'll be over between us. I've got better things to spend my time on (like watching reruns of 30 Rock. :P)

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  7. Propriety - Oh god thank you for validating me, and be sure not to get me on this topic when we're on the phone, because I will start yelling. It's a violent gut reaction and I cannot stop it. I have never wanted to give up on this show more and I hate that.

    Sarah - no prob!

  8. I am going to call you tonight and we are just going to scream into each others' phones until we both pass out.

    Just scream and scream and scream.

  9. Hi,just found you blog, I'm sure I'll be back here the future.
    Re Sue's rampage:
    Sue would've been fired on the spot, arrested and forced into a mental hospital for slamming Tina into a locker and going and rampaging through McKinley.
    I know it's a show, but we're supposed to believe this show takes place in (some version of) our planet. That's just too unrealistic to be true.
    And why didn't Tina say anything after the fact? Why didn't she threaten to quit 'New Directions' when will brought in Sue? Why didn't Will condemn her for attacking one of his glee clubbers?
    We had a whole multi-episode arc about bullying, but this incident is just swept under the rug for a stupid "let's get Sue in the glee club" plot that'll be thrown out by the end of the episode?

    Plus, it's just silly and out of place for the show and the character. Sue is funny because she's portrayed as a cartoonish villain whipping up diabolical schemes to thwart Will & ND. Assaulting students is beneath her and not the least bit funny.
    I guess her visit to the child cancer ward was supposed to erase the attack from the viewers' minds?

    Didn't work for me.

  10. (meant to say post this in my last comment,sorry)
    During 'Comeback', I mentioned to my wife how sad it is that Mercedes and Tina are original cast members, yet they've been pushed aside for Sam, looks like they could be pushed aside for Blaine after next week's episode.
    Yes,Mercedes was in a "diva-off",but when was the last time she had anything resembling a storyline?

  11. That is an excellent point, J.A. I was thinking about that. You know what? I think it's because the writers /have no idea how to write Mercedes./ She's a great singer, confident, doesn't have love-triangle-dramma. They don't know what to do with her, because the only thing the writers seem to be good at is tossing characters into romantic imbroglios. Any time they have tried to write for Mercedes, it's hamfisted or borderline offensive (the tater-tot plotline, or her mysterious, totally out of left field "you're beautiful no matter what they say" time with Quinn, or the "falling in love with Kurt and smashing his SUV windows"). Have they EVER gotten Mercedes right? Dr. S-Bloggo, can you think of a strong Mercedes character arc? I sure can't.

    Tina... they just neglect Tina. I am also sick of this shit of having characters who NEVER get a chance to sing anyway sing badly for comedy. Last week it was Tina. This week it is Lauren. EVERY PERSON on this show can sing. They told us such. I want the minor characters to have their time to shine! Instead they get used for Chuckles while Finn gets another solo lead. >:(

  12. J.A. - Hello and welcome! You're right; part of Glee's problem has always been walking the line between schmaltz and satire. It has contradicts the way it portrays certain situations - the way Karofsky shoves people into lockers is treated differently than the way Sue shoves people into lockers and then the writers look hypocritical. It's all over the place.

    Sue didn't even really do anything in Glee club, either - it'd be one thing if she actually sang a really great song or had some character development, but no. She just joined, half-heartedly muddled everything up, sang in an ensemble, and then peaced out. How underwhelming. This show really does have Sue problems, unfortunately. She has the capacity to be such a great character, and yet...

    As for Mercedes and Tina, it's a crime that they haven't had any real storylines yet. However, with the characterization massacre the writers are wreaking onscreen, I almost rather they stay background and out of the fracas. As long as they still get solos, though.

    Propriety - nah, Mercedes has only been wielded well as a truthteller. Which sucks almost as much as the recent storylines she's been getting. (I'm close to hating tater tots on principle.)

    And I wish in general that so less was being played for comedy on the show. It never has problems being comedic - it has problems presenting empathetic characters.


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