Monday, March 28, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part Seven

Without a doubt, Rachel Berry is the character with the biggest dreams to leave Lima, Ohio behind.  She's the Glee Club's leader, the one that steals the show, saves the show, and keeps the show going when the curtain threatens to fall on our ragtag choir misfits.  She is a self-proclaimed gold star, and we are not inclined to argue with that title at all.  Rachel Berry is a force.  She knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it.  She latches onto goals with reckless determination, and won't stop until she sees them through to completion.

And, based on the notion that she has been repeatedly discouraged with put-downs, insults, and verbal abuse, it therefore needs to be Rachel Berry that has the brightest glimmer of success awaiting her post-high school.  Rachel, yet again, represents Glee both as a club and as the show’s central message, and if her last episode depicts her in any way other than standing on the brink of opportunity, with a foot on the path to success, then the point of the show is ruined.  Rachel Berry is a dreamer, with the ambition and determination of someone willing to put in the hard work to make it happen.  If the show doesn’t fulfill that, then they’ve missed their pro-underdog message entirely.

 That being said, Glee specifically and intelligently set up a second goal for Rachel’s character: that she be accepted, and feel a sense of belonging with the Glee Club.  And it’s the negotiation of these two goals that cause friction in Rachel’s arc, and make us wonder what her future will be, or can be.

 Can the writers achieve both goals by the end of the series?  Can Rachel Berry graduate with a bright future in front her, and friends on either side as she walks across the stage?  We all certainly hope so.

 Because of this idealization, running these two goals side-by-side, we have another example of Rachel Berry as a combination of two extreme opposites, and the benefits and shortcomings thereof.  Keeping the progression of these two arcs in balance, and paced properly, is no small task, and even if the writers take a few missteps here or there, they largely return to the original constructs in episodes like “Original Song.”

So what should we expect from Rachel Berry through the rest of Season 2 and onward?  Well, it’s difficult to say for certain, but hopefully the writers will continue to keep Rachel’s characterization true to her original intent on the show - maintaining her identity, but at the same time propelling her forward through her arc.  Rachel Berry is not only in the spotlight as a main character and frequent soloist, but also in that she is an isolated character subject to a substantial amount of scrutiny by critics both within the show and those watching at home.  She should be moved gently out of this narrative isolation and into acceptance and belonging, as a part of something special - with as little erosion to her identity as possible.  She is a fixture on Glee, a solid anchor to the show’s emotional and tonal landscape, and when Rachel’s portrayal loses its footing, the entire show - and the audience - does as well.

 I feel confident that by the end of the show, we will see Rachel Berry with friends, and with her dreams right in front of her - but like with many things on Glee, will we hit all the right steps along the way?  "Development" is not a mainstay of the writers' efforts.  If nothing else, this exploration has proven that the characterization of Rachel depends on equilibrium, between the polarities in her personality, and the ways which she is manifested onscreen as both a representation as well as within the narrative.  She is a hugely important character in terms of her role on the show and in the significance that Glee has had in mainstream pop culture and as well in television history.  These are very large character commitments to uphold.  There is no Glee without Rachel Berry, and there is no Rachel Berry without the promise of dreams fulfilled.  And with any luck, this is the future of our girl.

 And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes Rachel Berry Week.  Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned - the goal is to try and squeeze in another Character Week before Glee returns from hiatus...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part Six


We’ve established previously that the purpose of Rachel’s arc is to move her out of isolation and embed her genuinely in a group that appreciates her for herself and not just her singing voice.  But the inherent friction in that arc is that Rachel must negotiate, as a character, between herself, and others.  What does society expect for Rachel and her behavior?  What does Mr. Schuester and the Glee Club?  How does Rachel’s natural drive and ambition interact with external forces?

It’s perhaps this aspect of Rachel Berry’s existence that is the most fascinating and problematic to explore.  How far into social acceptance and popularity can the writers push Rachel before she starts to lose her identity?  Much of what alienates Rachel from her peers contributes to why she’s such a remarkable character, and if she strays too far from herself to please others and gain friendships, does she lose a part of what makes her great?

It is because of this that there are so many shots of Rachel staring at herself in a mirror.  Yes, the character is a bit self-absorbed, and she does look at herself singing into her hairbrush in “Showmance,” “Mash-Up,” and “Silly Love Songs.”  But all in all, the repeated use of mirror shots is a way for this isolated character to study herself, and question her own identity in comparison to others.  She stares herself down in “Mattress,” speaking about how other people will only disappoint her high expectations.  She studies her reflection in “The Power of Madonna,” wondering if she’s ready to lose her virginity to Jesse St. James because he wants her to.  She eyes herself in the mirror in “Hairography,” subjecting herself to Kurt’s makeover because she wants to make herself desirable to Finn.  She cries in the bathroom mirrors, in “The Rhodes Not Taken” and in “Ballad,” as she confronts truths about herself delivered by women who are cautionary tales, representations of what Rachel could become after years of low self-esteem and wasted talent.

Rachel Berry looks at herself in the mirror not to see how great her reflection is, but to look at who she truly is and negotiate the external forces affecting her sense of self - for better or for worse.  Every big decision she makes on the show speaks to the idea that Rachel must determine which choices are good for her character growth, and which choices will take away from her personality in favor of others’ approval.  This deals additionally to the dichotomy of Rachel being selfish and yet also selfless.  What can she give to others without taking away from herself?

Season 2 for Rachel Berry has spoken heavily to the issue of her identity.  After the character issues in “Audition,” Rachel was relegated primarily to mopey storylines with Finn, firstly in the issues of their relationship and then in the aftermath of their breakup.  Fingers pointed all season long at the notion that the real Rachel Berry was gone from our screens, the spark and gumption of Season 1 Rachel buried under a lot of emotional dependence and low self-worth.  But it begs the question: was this an error in writing, or an intended effect of her relationship with Finn and the negative feedback from Mr. Schuester and her peers?

It’s difficult to say, especially considering that the idea that Rachel needed to have a “comeback” was written into the show.  Either the writers realized they goofed, or it was intentional that Rachel was a bit adrift in her characterization.  Either way, I’m not sure I agree with the decision to move Rachel away from her usual behavior.  Doing so without consequence implies that Rachel is losing herself in pursuit of being a part of something special - or worse, in pursuit of being in a relationship, and that sends the wrong message entirely. 

Furthermore, Rachel’s manifestation of a comeback, in “Comeback,” was in a way that had nothing to do with Rachel’s original appeal anyways - when was Rachel ever a trendsetter?  Rachel as a character should not “come back” in the form of a fashion trend, and the idea that Rachel believed that she should disconnected us from empathizing with her, and just made us feel terrible when the result was that Brittany could set a trend with Rachel’s clothes, but Rachel couldn’t.  The message in that was that there’s nothing’s wrong with Rachel’s clothes - it’s Rachel that’s the problem, and that’s heartbreaking.

No, instead of Rachel trying to set trends with her wardrobe, we need to see her embracing the qualities that made her unique and beloved when we first met her, and patiently wait for others to do the same.  Rachel Berry deserves to be valued as a person, and she absolutely should not change who she is in order to achieve that. 

That being said, the struggle to stay true to herself and conform to others’ standards should play out in Rachel’s existence.  She should be negotiating the differences between herself and others, and what she’s willing to compromise - that makes her an interesting character, keeping her relatable, and helping to ground her as self-aware despite her ambition.  But, as with many things in Rachel’s character, there is a delicate balance that the writers must find in order for the execution to be successful.



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part Five


It’s not often on Glee that we are introduced to the characters’ families.  There are a few exceptions, sure - primarily with Kurt and the relationship with his father, Finn’s dynamic with his mother, and Quinn’s boomerang relationship with her own parents.  But for the most part, the Glee clubbers are orphans for the purpose of the narrative - kids whose parents are mentioned offhand, but never really seen. 

Rachel, however, belongs to both these groups.  Technically, she has had a major storyline devoted to her family; and yet we find that, much in the way that Rachel lacks any functional friends, she is also without functional family.  Even though her dads are mentioned in Rachel’s character introduction in the Pilot, we have yet to meet the Fathers Berry, and they are therefore absent from Rachel’s sphere as we know it.

Shelby Corcoran burst onto the scene in the Back 9, and effectively upended Rachel’s existence.  Coach of the rival team, mentor to Rachel’s maybe-spying-maybe-not boyfriend, makeout buddy to Rachel’s teacher, she eventually revealed herself to be Rachel’s own birth mother.  Cue a lot of angst. 

There are two large issues with Shelby’s arc.  Firstly: there was not nearly enough time to develop it.  I do actually commend the writers for handling it well considering the circumstances - it was appropriately touching, heartbreaking, and interesting - however, it unrolled slowly, and self-destructed quickly.  Nine episodes we knew of Shelby’s existence.  Four episodes we knew that Shelby was Rachel’s mom.  And three episodes where Rachel was allowed to interact with Shelby, before she snatched up Beth and was gone forever.

There really was not enough time devoted to it, which leads me to the second issue with Shelby’s arc on the show: it’s terribly tragic for Rachel’s character.  I can’t decide if it’s genius or heartbreaking in how the storyline interacted with one of the core identifiers of Rachel Berry’s emotional development. 

Let’s go with genius for now: here is a character whose arc on the show is about embedding her in a functional group, making her feel special by having her be a part of something special.  What could speak to this notion more than family?  This character is technically adopted, and an only child - she is, on paper, lacking the comfort and solace of a birth-given sense of belonging.  So the show introduces her real mom, and establishes that this character, the daughter, needs a mother in her life.  Here’s the girl’s chance to feel like she belongs - regardless of however much she loves her dads, the show specifically set up the idea that Rachel longs for a mother - for that sense of fitting in, of knowing where she comes from and where she belongs. 

And after four episodes, Shelby basically says she doesn’t really want a relationship with Rachel, but would rather have a new baby to start fresh with.  And she leaves.  Oh goodness, the heartache.  The heartache!  This is in direct violation of Rachel’s character development!  Rachel is being deprived of a family, again!  Rachel is being told she doesn’t belong, again!  And that’s not to say that it’s not a worthwhile storyline to explore, but oh goodness, does it hurt.  This is why I’m tempted to say that it’s genius - because Rachel’s mother actively denying her a relationship falls in step with the notion that Rachel is doomed to isolation in all areas.  She is awash in a sea of functional relationships, repeatedly refused healthy interactions, friendships, and romances.

But at the same time, the payoff was one of pure tragedy.  It’d be one thing if, in an effort to balance the scales, Rachel simultaneously experienced acceptance from her fathers, or from the Glee Club as a whole - but instead, she was left unfulfilled by Shelby, and unfulfilled by the Glee Club.  I mentioned previously that Rachel’s completely removed from the Glee Club’s sense of togetherness by the end of the Back 9 - she didn’t even go with the club to the hospital as they supported Quinn giving birth.  Shelby’s rejection of Rachel didn’t allow for acceptance anywhere else, which is perhaps the true disappointment of the storyline.  It was lovely that Finn told Rachel he loved her in “Journey,” but that moment existed simply for the purpose of the season finale wrap-up, and was framed in the furthering of Finn-and-Rachel, and not in contrast to Shelby’s abandonment in terms of Rachel’s character arc. 

So in some ways, it would make sense to bring Shelby back into the picture at some point, at least for some sort of emotional resolution.  However, it’s difficult to say that just because Rachel’s character arc involves embedding her in appreciation, that Shelby has to come back and be a Good Mother Who’s Involved in Rachel’s Life.  Tying down Idina Menzel is a logistical issue, and probably ill-advised.  But if Shelby’s not going to - and that’s valid - then we need to see Rachel’s dads.  It’s clear that the Elder Berries (hee) adore their daughter, thanks to their Basement Museum-Shrine Hybrid, and that divine portrait in their stairwell - but for the purposes of the show, they are absent from Rachel’s onscreen existence. 

Based on Shelby’s rejection and the sheer invisibility of her fathers, Rachel is almost a stranger in her own families, a character in isolation much in the same way she is in the Glee Club.  And the point of her arc is to give her a true family, whether it be in Glee Club or in her own home - or preferably, both.  If Rachel's family life is going to be developed any further, Ryan Murphy better start looking for Mr. and Mr. Berry  - or at least a happier ending.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part Four


Rachel Berry, over the course of 38 episodes, has set her romantic sights on five different gentlemen: Finn, Puck, Will, Jesse, and Blaine.  She is introduced immediately as someone who wants a strong male lead both in the Glee club, and as well in her life.  But Rachel-in-love causes issues with her characterization - issues that sometimes the writers are able to sidestep, and sometimes issues they just step right in.

The fulfilling part of Rachel-in-love is the notion that Rachel is able to attract a guy’s attention, despite being the School Loser.  That was the original appeal of Finn and Rachel as a couple - that the underdog misfit could turn the head of the star quarterback.  The Pilot establishes that Rachel thinks Finn doesn’t even notice her - it’s a classic construct for a rewarding payoff in getting these two together.  Of course, after having four other quasi-love interests (and also because she’s played by the lovely Lea Michele), it becomes harder for us to see Rachel as someone who couldn’t get a guy.  But originally?  That’s the reward of Rachel having a boyfriend, and a popular one at that.

But the problem with Rachel-in-love is that she is frequently love’s fool.  She falls for the wrong guys, be they gay or her teacher, and falls victim to unfortunate circumstance that causes her relationships to self-destruct.  When Rachel is fortune’s fool, we feel badly for her, but when she is repeatedly love’s fool she experiences failures and loses her spark, and we want desperately for her to get that back. Take, for instance, Suzy Pepper's spot-on insight from "Ballad":

Love is hard for us. We look for boys we know we can never have. Mr. Schue is a perfect target for our self-esteem issues. He can never reciprocate our feelings which only reinforces the conviction that we’re not worthy of being loved. Trust me. I’m a cautionary tale. You need to find some self respect, Rachel. Get that mildly attractive groove back.
Even so, Rachel’s early experiences with love weren't quite as indignifying.  She stood up to Finn when she found out he took advantage of her affections for him in “The Rhodes Not Taken;” she broke up with Puck because she realized they wanted other people; and she apologized to Will for being momentarily but intensely infatuated with him.  She stood up to Finn again in “Hell-O,” knowing exactly what his issues were with their relationship and called him out on them.  For the solid ton of sheer force with which Rachel fell head over heels, she seemed to make up for it by being surprisingly self-aware and self-respecting when pushed to a limit.

But Season 2 Rachel has yet to reach this limit.  In the wake of her breakup with Finn, she circles around him with the doggedness and frail emotions of desperation.  To be fair, the show has identified, through Will’s conversation with Shelby in “Theatricality,” as well as through experience, that Rachel is emotionally fragile - and that’s valid.  But in favor of good storytelling, there comes a point when our main character has to pick herself up by her bootstraps and move forward.  She should be sympathetic, yes - but not to the point of sheer pity.  Suzy Pepper tells us so: Rachel is not meant to be love’s fool.  She has too much gumption in the other aspects of her life, and Rachel even says so herself in “The Rhodes Not Taken” - her dreams are bigger than that.  Rachel-in-love should not mean the sacrifice of that unique blend of forthright ambition and self-awareness, and unfortunately, the writers are having a hard time striking that balance. 

Part of the problem as well is that we rarely bear witness to Rachel happy in a relationship.  We see glimpses here and there, in the background and in our periphery, but the bulk of the screentime given to Rachel’s romances is rather angsty.  Her relationship with Jesse bore the weight of him originally being a rival and imploded unexpectedly over an argument; her infatuation with Will lead us to the conclusion that Rachel’s self-worth is low and sense of fantasy high; her brief fling with Puck ended with him insulting her; and her relationship with Finn manifested itself in a lot of self-esteem issues and petty arguments that ultimately resulted in the romance’s destruction.

It’s hard to want Rachel to be in a relationship when this is the result.  It’s almost as though the writers are attempting to hold up the tragic part of Rachel as a main character, and maneuvering her into relationships that are ultimately unfulfilling of her arc.  And that notion wouldn’t be so bad if Rachel weren’t repeatedly subjected to this - five different love interests!  Five! 

If Rachel’s going to be in love again (and surely she will), the writers need to grace her with the self-respect and maturity that has escaped our dear heroine in Season 2.  It’s imperative to the success of her relationships on the show, and if they try to give Rachel another romance without likewise blessing her with a little dignity, then it’s going to be a struggle to develop the relationship fairly and likeably.

The other main stipulation of a successful Rachel romance hinges on this piece of dialogue from “Ballad,” delivered by none other than Will Schuester in one of his increasingly rare moments of teacherly compassion and wisdom:

I know it’s not always easy for you, Rachel. And I know that there are some things about yourself that you think you’d like to change.  But you should know that there is some boy out there that’s going to like you for everything you are -  including those parts of you that even you don’t like. Those are going to be the things he likes the most.

Oh, goodness.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is the goal.  To find someone for Rachel who will love her for all her faults instead of lashing out at her for them or making her feel guilty about them.  And unfortunately, there really hasn’t been anyone that’s met that criteria entirely and still been a viable option for Rachel in terms of dating (sorry, Will and Blaine). 

While Jesse may have loved and accepted a lot of things about Rachel that others would not, their romance was treated as a relationship doomed to fail.  Jesse-and-Rachel burned bright and flared out over the course of four episodes, completely turned to ash after seven, and was a wisp on the wind after nine.  This is not to say the writers couldn’t successfully bring Jesse back into the picture, however.  We’ll see where the show takes us in that regard. 

As for Puck, his relationship with Rachel has evolved intriguingly and frustratingly since their initial partnering in “Mash-Up.”  The issue there is that the writers designed the characters to be an ill-conceived couple, but portrayed them as rather functionally compatible within the episode.  And then they got caught up in a lot of “bad boy-good girl” ruckus that’s really rather peripheral to the appeal of Puck and Rachel as a couple.  Mostly, the writers insist on portraying “Puckleberry” in antithesis to “Finchel,” as a roll-in-the-hay type of fling composed of two incompatible people, and only dangle the prospect of their coupling as something not to take seriously.  In actuality, Puck seems to genuinely like Rachel, and often seems capable of meeting the criteria in Will’s quote from “Ballad” - if only the writers were to develop it seriously.

In the Finn exploration, I spoke about “The Finchel Construct,” which basically identifies that if Finn and Rachel are to be a successful couple, they need to embody their original purposes on the show: Finn must embrace his love for Rachel as something a part of him, and Rachel needs to be accepted for who she is without losing her identity.  But Season 2 has turned the Finchel Construct into the Finchel Destruct, unfortunately.  The way in which the writers choose to manifest Finn’s and Rachel’s insecurities leave something to be desired in terms of a healthy relationship.  Rachel has been woefully insecure through much of her interaction with Finn, and to see her lose her spark on behalf of a boy is frustrating as a viewer.  It takes away the headlining qualities with which we identify and relate to Rachel, in favor of a poorly-developed high school romance.  Not good.  The balance that is imperative in Rachel’s characterization goes completely out the window, as the writers lay the desperation on thick and remove the element of ambition and self-respect that helped make Rachel relatable to the audience.

While it’s true that Rachel’s insecurities are definitely Rachel’s own issues, the idea that, in effect, they are often exacerbated in a relationship with Finn does not bode well for how fulfilling this romance can be in terms of either of their character arcs. 

This is not to say, of course, that the writers can’t set the dynamic so that it brings out each character’s good qualities.  The point of Finn’s arc is to embrace, and the point of Rachel’s is to be embraced - but the writers are deliberately ignoring this and working against both characters’ development.  So unfortunately, evidence points to the idea that when Rachel is hung up on Finn she is bogged-down with self-doubt, emotional dependence, and an inferiority complex - what can basically be identified as the destruct of Rachel’s core character.  If the Finn-and-Rachel relationship is to be continued - and I wager to say that it’s meant to - this absolutely needs to amended so that Rachel as a character can be true to her original self, and cherished for it.  The Finchel Construct - or any relationship Rachel has, with anyone - is dependent on it.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part Three


Not everybody loves Rachel Berry.  She’s something of a divisive character based on a few of her personality traits, and many people would agree that if they knew Rachel in real life they probably wouldn’t like her.  But, plenty remain fans, and maintain that if there were a Rachel Berry in their school, they’d be best friends.

There’s a reason why the reaction to Rachel is so strong and contradictory.  Rachel has displayed traits that are in direct conflict with one another, and can be argued with equal conviction.  She is both selfish and selfless, self-confident and insecure, bossy and submissive.  Whether or not you like her depends on what traits you’re taking into consideration when evaluating the character.

But perhaps a more worthwhile use of time would be to analyze what creates that dichotomy in character.  When is Rachel selfish, when is she selfless, and what about the situations leads to the different results?  What does this say about her character - and is that a reason to dislike her?

To be fair, the dualities in Rachel’s character and the way she is wielded in the show help to round her out as one of the more successful characters that the show has created and furthered.  She’s complex, with real flaws and real strengths, and it helps support her as the tragicomic lead.  However, this also creates issues with how she is developed in conjunction with her peers, and in nurturing her character arc for the purpose of the show.  

Perhaps the biggest thing about Rachel Berry that gets overlooked is the idea that sometimes she is incredibly selfish and sometimes she is incredibly selfless.  And it all boils down to the idea that Rachel as a character is trying to move herself out of isolation.  She’s reached out repeatedly, to Finn, to Quinn, to Kurt - to people who have ignored her at best and tortured her at worst, in an effort to strike up a friendship. 

Rachel Berry wants to be loved.  She wants to have friends.  She wants to be a valued part of the Glee Club.  But based on the way people treat her, she is under the assumption that the best way to win people over is to sing.  In the Pilot, she tells Will that the only way for people not to hate her is to be great at something.  What is Rachel Berry good at?  Singing.  The very next episode, Finn tells Rachel that he thinks she talks too much and that her obsessiveness unsettles him, but that when she sings, it changes everything.  Puck says early on that Rachel makes him want to light himself on fire, but man, can she sing.

It’s been drilled into Rachel’s head, repeatedly, that the only thing she has to offer is her singing voice.  So she holds onto that identity, and protects that role so she has something to offer.  She knows she can’t always have a solo - Will tells her that in “Showmance.”  And frankly, that’s part of Rachel’s arc.  If she’s going to become a functional part of the Glee club, she needs to be a team player. 

But where the writers went wrong was in the payoff of that idea.  Rachel gave up a solo to Mercedes in “Sectionals,” and it took a whole season thereafter for Rachel to be rewarded, in terms of storytelling, with friends.  She’s displayed team-oriented behavior as early as the F13.  But of course, it doesn’t help that there’s been some backtracking.  Rachel’s likeability always takes a hit when we don’t understand her, as I mentioned in the previous entry, and often it’s a result of the writers mishandling the dichotomies Rachel’s character.

Back to “Audition” for an example - the idea that Rachel was threatened by Sunshine was not unfounded, but the writers were slightly left of target in the reasoning.  It’s not that Sunshine was threatening Rachel’s solos.  She was threatening her position as soloist - because the only place where Rachel is appreciated is on stage, singing into that microphone.  Sunshine inadvertently compromised the only likeable identity that Rachel ever had to offer anyone, and Rachel acted out.  But instead of focusing on the fact that that’s actually rather depressing, the writers chose instead to view Rachel two-dimensionally, and had her simply throw a tantrum over the loss of solos.

This issue of poor writing choice arose again in “Duets.”  Rachel expressed that felt she wasn’t as good a person as Finn and was inspired to be more like him as a result.  This led to her reaching out to both Quinn and Kurt, throwing the competition and extending a hand in friendship - all good outcomes, yes.  But the writers really missed the point there.  The point of Rachel’s arc is not to have her be “more like Finn.”  It’s to include her in the Glee club, and give her friends and acceptance as a result.  She inherently wants to reach out and be kind, based on the notion that it might beget her a friendship.  It has nothing to do with Finn, so the way Rachel’s actions played out in that particular instance were a bit misguided, unfortunately. 

We, as an audience, bear witness to Rachel Berry being kind and compassionate, and yet it gets overlooked by the other characters within the narrative.  Rachel has never been just a singing voice to the audience.  We’ve seen her cry far too many times to write her off as completely insensitive.  Alas, the other characters haven’t.  Rachel cries behind closed doors, where only we can see her.  There is a difference between the way the characters on the show see Rachel, and the way we, as an audience, are meant to see Rachel.  And unfortunately, at many times in Season 2, it's as if the writers are treating Rachel as though they actually attend McKinley High.

Writing Rachel Berry calls for a delicate balance of opposites, and an understanding of when those characteristics arise and lay dormant.  She is embedded in the narrative, and also a construct of it; she is vulnerable, and yet self-confident; she embodies what the Glee Club represents, but she isn’t truly a part of it.  Rachel is defined by a series of polarities, which causes both dynamism and contradiction in the way the character is portrayed onscreen.  When the writers mishandle this balance, we find ourselves trying to negotiate the likeability in a character who is disproportionately hyperbolic and empathetic.



One Year Bloggaversary!

One year ago today, I got up off my computer chair and started this blog.  Okay, more accurately, I sat down in my computer chair and started this blog.  But the action was strong!  I was bored, and had no outlet for writing.  I was spewing television critique to my real life loved ones, who mostly rolled their eyes and tried their best to listen politely.  So I did what any self-respecting, 21st-century nerd did: I took to the Internet. 

I didn't put in much effort or reap the rewards from it until the fall of 2010, but the fact remains that DR SHE BLOGGO's birthday is March 24th.  (Seriously, maybe don't poke around anything before August.  There's so much fluff back there.  And I think everything might even be in a different font... maybe I should fix that.)  

Anyways, I'm very lucky and grateful to have people reading what I write, and so I wanted to put together a Top 10 of Blog Entries I'm Most Proud Of.  Is this an exercise in narcissism?  Perhaps.  But I'm not going to like, write paragraphs about why I like them, so I figure I'm still in the acceptable range of self-centeredness.  I hope.

And before I forget: in honor of this first year in existence, I am now!  I'm moving up in the world!  Update your bookmarks, or however it is that you manage to find your way to me.  The old addresses should still redirect though, so worry not.  The blogspot part will still get you here!

 And without further ado, I'm going to gaze longingly in my hand mirror and wax poetic about the words I've been writing for the past year.  


Alright, this self-absorbedness has gone on too long.  Tune in later tonight for the next installment of Rachel Berry Week!  I hope you're all celebrating it as much as I am!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part Two


The Glee Club exists, as a part of the narrative, to bring characters acceptance and joy.  Glee is there for Finn, and for Puck, and for Quinn, and for Tina and Kurt and Santana and Brittany and all of them - as a place where they can be themselves and be happy because of it.  Incorporating the popular kids into the Glee Club is one of the show’s driving arcs, along with allowing the loser kids to be accepted for who they are - and both of these ideas are fostered by the existence of the club. 

For many of the other characters, Rachel Berry often represents Glee, and therefore allows their development to interact with the notion of acceptance for the purpose of their arc - evidentially this has been the case for Finn, Quinn, and Puck as they work towards embracing their inner loser.  Rachel therefore is a fixture for these characters.  This begs the question: how does this general idea manifest itself in Rachel’s character arc?

What is fascinating about Rachel’s place in the show is that she is a fixture.  She is the Glee club, but functionally speaking she is not a part of it.  She is hovering somewhere above it, acting as a leader and a soloist, but is never really “one of the gang.”  So the idea for Rachel is not necessarily to have her accept her inner loser with pride, but rather to ground her amongst the other characters as a functional member of the Glee group.

This is outlined in the very first episode.  Rachel was almost immediately constructed as an isolated character.  Consider her original solo: “On My Own.”  In one way, the song speaks to Rachel’s lovesick nature, yes; but on the whole it’s a testament to the idea that Rachel is isolated within the narrative, in almost every way.  And not only that, but Rachel’s conversation with Will in the bleachers establishes that she doesn’t want to be isolated.  It’s this scene that identifies where Rachel Berry’s character arc needs to go.  “Being a part of something special makes you special,” she tells Will, and whether or not that’s true, it’s clear that Rachel Berry wholly believes that.   And even though she’s been in Glee Club since Day One, Rachel Berry is not truly a part of Glee. 

The show has mostly made good on the promise that Rachel Berry will be accepted by her peers - but it’s been a bumpy, prolonged, and inconsistent road.  “The Rhodes Not Taken” - the fifth episode - presents us with the idea that Rachel values being friends with her fellow Glee clubbers more than she cares about having a solo, and yet the writers have circled back on that idea and left it unfulfilled on more than one occasion.

In the F13, Rachel didn’t have a real friend in the club, and yet she was still developed as a sympathetic and compassionate person - she reached out to Quinn in “Throwdown,” helped Finn in “Ballad,” and conceded a solo to Mercedes in “Sectionals.”  At the end of “Sectionals,” Rachel could perhaps be considered at the end of her arc - all signs seemed to point to the fact that since she saved the day, had a moment with Quinn, hugged Mercedes, and believed Santana, that she had been incorporated into the club as a friend.

But in the Back 9, the writers rewound the tape and returned Rachel to her position of misfit both in McKinley as well as in the glee club.  The first minute of “Hell-O” showed her having a conversation with Kurt and Mercedes, and we all rejoiced, thinking that perhaps they were actually friends now!  But then, we got slapped in the face with a cold slushie of truth, and the illusion was shattered.  After that, we realized that not much had changed at all.  Finn rejected Rachel in favor of the popular girls, all of whom continued to verbally abuse Rachel as a punchline to one of Glee’s favorite jokes.  

Then, before anything else could happen, the show immediately maneuvered Rachel out of her arc, and chose instead to develop her in conjunction with a love interest from a different school, and the reveal of her mother’s identity.  The Back 9 did little to nothing for incorporating Rachel into the Glee club because the writers didn’t have to - they chose not to.  They isolated her again, removing her from Glee interactions on account of her new boyfriend.  The only moment where Rachel Berry was supported by her peers was after the egging incident in “Funk,” and that was lovely to see.  But other than that?  Not much.  “Journey” fulfilled only the story arcs with Finn, Jesse, and Shelby.  She didn’t even go with the whole club to the hospital for Quinn’s baby - she stayed and watched Vocal Adrenaline, and had a talk with Shelby, because it was what her storyline was about. 

Season 2 further moved Rachel away from incorporating her into the Glee club - at least initially.  “Audition” found her threatened by the existence of a new student capable of upsetting the distribution of leads away from Rachel, and Rachel’s outlandish reaction to that.  You’ll allow me a brief moment of rant, please, when I talk about her actions in “Audition” - because first episodes after hiatus are not always kind to Rachel Berry.

Now, the inherent issue in Rachel’s arc is that she sometimes stands in her own way while trying to be accepted.  The other characters can’t understand her bossiness or ambition, and so they write her off as an irritation.  This isn’t always an issue in the short-term, as long as we, as an audience, understand why Rachel is the way she is.  The writers were fairly reliable in their insistence on letting us in Rachel’s head.  But “Audition” was the first big misstep.  Rachel’s actions in that episode were to send Sunshine to a crackhouse, and we never really understood why.  We knew she was threatened, but we thought it was funny, and annoying.  Sing-off in the bathroom!  Hilarious!  This is Rachel the Glee Clown being used for a joke, right?

Well, no.  Not when the result is Rachel putting another character’s life in danger.  That’s a huge action, and we weren’t given a huge (and therefore empathetic) reason to support it.  We didn’t see Rachel’s moment of choice in that episode - we just got info from Mike and Tina and everybody got all mad at Rachel, and she lied about her motives for doing it.  Really, writers?  The amount of unwarranted hyperbole in Rachel’s actions during “Audition” was really not okay.  It was the first time they took Caricature Rachel Berry and used her for plot device instead of comedy, and that’s a terrible idea. 

To boot, the machinations unfortunately moved her a half-dozen steps back in her character arc as a result.  The last moments of “Audition” show Rachel singing “What I Did For Love,” in complete isolation again.  She literally stands outside the Glee Club classroom, looking in at everyone having fun without her. 

“Audition” presented us with the notion that Rachel Berry will choose herself and her solos over friendship and compassion, which is in direct conflict with previous development the writers gave to her.  It essentially undoes Rachel’s characterization a bit to be able to build it back up to a goal, because the writers aren’t sure how to maneuver a character towards the fulfillment of his or her arc. 

In the Finn epic,  I spoke about Finn’s repeated choice of football vs. Glee, and how his development is stuck on a carousel.  This is Rachel Berry’s carousel - she is brought up to a point where she may play a healthy and functional part to her environment, only to have potential friendships and acceptance yanked away again by a not-entirely-in-character action.  This carousel is a bit more heartbreaking in Rachel’s case, because it denies her the opportunity to be a part of Glee club, and at the expense of positive characterization.  She’s perhaps the only character in the club that gets emotionally excluded from that part of the show’s theme - which is tragically ironic considering she often represents Glee within the narrative.

After “Audition,” Season 2 did bring the possibility of human connection back to Rachel, although I hate to say that it wasn’t really through her relationship with Finn.  Unfortunately, most of their romance manifested itself in drama, arguments, and insecurity, and there were precious few moments when the couple was allowed to be happy - but more on Finn and Rachel later.

The good news in all of this is that Rachel’s kinship with Kurt was kept up, and together with Mercedes, the three of them formed their own little Diva Trifecta Friendship.  That has been one of the true successes of Season 2, although the development of the relationship could frankly have been stronger.  Even so, the result is more than worth it, and the few opportunities where the writers could have created lasting conflict between the three (“Comeback,” and “Blame It On The Alcohol” in particular) were avoided, thankfully.

Furthermore, you can see the development towards acceptance in the variety of leads that Rachel has had in Season 2.  She has not been exclusively a soloist, or a lead in a group number.  She’s had duets with Kurt, Holly, Mercedes, Puck, and Blaine, as well as with Finn.  This has been an important step in Rachel’s arc, and helped to move her through to the second mid-season finale.

Everything in Rachel’s development has led directly to her moments in “Original Song,” and the creation of “Get It Right.”  The bullying, the isolation, the good intentions gone awry by poor decision - everything culminated in “Get It Right,” as her peers finally understood what it’s like to be Rachel Berry.  "Get It Right" is not about Finn.  "Get It Right" is Rachel Berry, boiled down into her very essence and put to music.  The idea that that song, Rachel's Song, helped them win the competition bolsters her purpose within the narrative, and allows her to move forward in her arc towards true friendship with her peers.  The curtain call of that notion is in Rachel’s acceptance speech of Glee Club MVP: she doesn’t care about the gold star trophy she won.  She cares about feeling special.  Finally, after 38 episodes, Rachel Berry is a part of something special.  Group hug!

Now, let’s hope that this will stick when we come back from hiatus, and we won't have to take another spin on the Glee Character Carousel: Rachel Berry Edition.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: Part One


Love her or hate her, Rachel Berry is Glee’s true main character.  She may not be the first character we’re introduced to in the Pilot, but as soon as we see her hopeful little face shine through that burning gold star, we know exactly who’s going to be running the show.

The idea that Rachel Berry is Glee’s main character is part of what makes (or made, originally) the show so great - Rachel Berry is an atypical lead for a mainstream television show.  Take, for instance, the first moment Rachel is on our screen: she is storming down a hallway, and gets a teacher fired for an offense we are not entirely sure he committed.  From very early on, Rachel is presented to the audience as a force, an overwhelming ball of ambition and energy who has trouble connecting to others.  She’s not always likeable, which is a bold (and commendable) move for the showrunners. 

Still, the construct of Rachel Berry as a main character is what provided much of the original verve of the show, identifying it both as a fresh and irreverent satire and a charming exploration of high school misfits.  Combined with Sue Sylvester as Chief Adversary, Rachel Berry drummed out much of the quirky heartbeat which told us that Glee was marching to its own rhythm.  Rachel Berry is, therefore, why Glee works.

Rachel is a personification of the show, an embodiment of what it means to be at the bottom of the high school food chain - a true loser and “Gleek.”  And as an extension of this idea, Glee wields Rachel Berry in an interesting way: she exists both within the narrative and also as a construct of it. 

We, as an audience, are meant to laugh at Rachel, but also cry with her - almost exclusively.  Consider her character intro in the Pilot.  She delivers a cheery, upbeat monologue about her two gay dads and how she’s spoiled and is going to be famous one day, and we’re all chuckling at this character’s gall and naivete - she’s a bit silly.  But then, in an instant, we’re introduced to the idea that not only does this girl get treated terribly by her peers, but that it affects her.  Bullies boldly message her on the computer to tell her to get sterilized - they don’t even hide who they are - and we see that heart-shattering look on Rachel’s face as she reads it.  Rachel Berry knows people hate her - knows exactly which ones, and when she’s completely alone, it completely tears down her bravado.

In this single montage, Rachel Berry is created and defined, for every subsequent episode of the show.  She is the show’s main clown - at one moment tap dancing and shilling for solos with a somewhat unhinged zealousness, but in the next, completely destroyed by her inability to fit in with her cruel environment.

Hardly any other character gets this treatment to such a degree, and it was this original stratagem that gave Glee its voice.  Rachel Berry represented the entire show as its headlining tragicomic, a show choir loser who spouts crazy but emotes genuine - much like Glee itself.  Glee started out as the Rachel Berry of the TV world, a singing and dancing misfit that had a lot of zany dialogue, but that would surprise you with real and honest moments of touching vulnerability. 

Not only that, but Rachel Berry has historically been allowed victory.  She is the show’s main character, and even though we laugh at her folly and cry with her anguish, she is afforded the opportunity to succeed in the sphere of Glee Club, winning us over with her triumphant voice, and sheer stage presence.  In the meantime, however, our hearts ache for her social pitfalls, and we root for her to have the chance to shine for people who refuse to see her as anything but an annoying talent.  We want Rachel to succeed because she is so charming in her self-absorbed eccentricity and reliable insecurity.  And on top of that, if Rachel Berry succeeds, it means that the Glee Club as a whole can succeed, and fosters the message of the show: that just because you’re unpopular doesn’t mean you’re not good at anything, or that you can’t triumph over adversity.  Once again, Rachel is reliably the embodiment of what Glee, as a show, is all about.

Since the show’s inception, Rachel’s role within the narrative has largely been unchanged.  She is steadfast as the show’s main character, a comedic punchline and an emotional anchor. 

Of course, treating Rachel Berry solely as a main character has on occasion become problematic for the successful execution of the show.  Trying to keep Rachel involved in storylines simply so Lea Michele can sing Barbra Streisand or show off her abs has led to moments like “Papa Can You Hear Me” and “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” which unfortunately make little to no sense within the narratives of the episodes. 

This becomes further complicated in that giving Rachel the bulk of the solo opportunities isolates her from the other characters, when she is already a character in isolation.  The show has made little effort towards giving Rachel any friends until the second season, which is unfortunate.  However, this isn’t as much a reflection of Rachel’s character as it is an expression of the shortcomings in writing choice.  We’ll explore that further in the next portions of this epic.

But for now, it’s difficult to argue that anyone other than Rachel Berry could be Glee’s main star.  Rachel is a personification of the show’s main themes, and a huge contributor in carving out the niche that Glee has created for itself in television history and as a pop culture phenomenon.  She remains, arguably, the show’s greatest character creation as a result.



Rachel Berry and the Spotlight: The Kickoff

If you’re familiar with my work here at DR SHE BLOGGO, chances are that you’ve read the large character epics devoted to Quinn Fabray and Finn Hudson.  I hadn’t originally intended to write a novel for each character, but as we all know, I've had issues with Quinn and Finn’s misguided character development and couldn’t help but spew thousands of words on the subject. 

And in doing so, I have been requested to continue the tradition.  So, I’m making my way through the full cast of characters, attempting to devote a solid epic to each one’s development, arc, and representation onscreen.  Expect these on hiatuses only, where we all have time to take a deep breath and reflect on the episodes that Glee has recently given us.

So, without further ado, I announce the kickoff of Rachel Berry Week!  While Finn and Quinn’s weeks were devoted largely to the notion that their character development has gone somewhat off-track, Rachel’s will be centered on the exploration of Ms. Berry as an isolated character, what that means for her arc, and of course, the successes and shortcomings along the way.  Check back every night this week for an update!

Also, Rachel Berry Week will coincide with the 1-year bloggaversary (that’s a thing, right?) of DR SHE BLOGGO.  Double celebrate!



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The RBI Report: "Original Song"

Hello, friends!  It's Regionals time!  This time last year, babies were bein' born, the Glee club was destroyed then re-born, and Jonathan Groff lost two-thirds of his body weight in sweat!  Aw, nostalgia.  Competition episodes always bring out the best in Glee, and this Regionals didn't stray too far from that pattern.

"Original Song," written by Ryan Murphy, directed by Bradley Buecker

This episode had its fair share of successes, most of them directly related to the central notion of the show: that even though this slightly dysfunctional band of misfits gets made fun of and put down, together they can achieve their dreams if they just believe in themselves.  Sure, it's a bit sugary sweet, but who the hell cares?  I defy any of you to watch any of New Directions' performances without the biggest grin on your face.  You can't keep any of these kids down, and it makes me love every single one of them.  They even busted out the foam finger Ls and confetti-slushie, in some mind-boggling self-reference!

Let me deal with Dalton first, though.  Something very interesting happened within the first act of the episode, and no, it wasn't the self-aware shout-out to the fact that Blaine is something of a solo hog, even if unintentionally.  Rather, the bird died!  O Sweet Pavarotti, symbol of Kurt's time at Dalton, keeled over in his designer-cloaked birdcage.  It shook Kurt's foundation a bit, which in turn shook Blaine's.  I must say, it was plain as day during "Blackbird" that Brad Buecker, the show's editor, directed this episode.  Who got more facetime during that performance - Kurt, or Blaine?  It was not about Kurt's performance, but rather Blaine's reaction to it, and seeing Blaine's sweet little face overcome with emotion during that number helped bolster the scenes to come.  Good directing, Mr. Buecker!

"Original Song" will probably go down in Glee history as the Episode Where Kurt and Blaine Finally Kissed and the Peasants Rejoiced.  (Some probably didn't, but that's okay too.)  It was a lovely little payoff to Kurt's character that Blaine made the first move, and it makes me feel all gushy inside that somebody really wants to be with Kurt.  And how lovely was their interaction during Regionals and Pavarotti's funeral?  I love that Blaine forced Kurt into the spotlight, which, in a single action, represents the role that Blaine is playing in Kurt's development as a young gay teenager trying to find acceptance in Middle America.  Kurt should be in the spotlight; he shouldn't be kept down from who he truly is: a lead.  I must commend Ryan Murphy for successfully and naturally keeping Kurt connected to the emotional theme of the New Directions, even on a different team.

Unsurprisingly, but certainly not undeservedly, the rest of that emotional theme was devoted mostly to Rachel Berry, and the fairly consistent ill treatment of her character by her peers.  After having watched thirty-eight episodes of Rachel being generally treated as an irritation, it was tremendously fulfilling to see her not only overcoming those put-downs through self-expression, but also being embraced and recognized for it.  Her MVP acceptance speech damn near made me cry.  Rachel Berry is not an irritation.  Where so many people on that show want to fit in with everyone else, Rachel wants to feel special.  She wants to feel chosen.  She wants to stand out.

"Get it Right" was the most glorious musical embodiment of everything Rachel Berry as a character represents.  She is fundamentally good, with the best intentions, and the empathetic desire to be accepted and treasured as an individual.  If I had to nitpick one thing about the episode, it would be the hinted suggestion that "Get it Right" has anything to do with Finn.  It really doesn't.  And that unfortunately speaks to the writers' inability to do anything with Rachel without relating it back to her boy troubles.  While Quinn told Rachel that she was never going to get it right, "it" being her happy ending, I think we need to understand what that happy ending is.  Because it's not Finn.

It's acceptance by her peers.  The fact of the matter is that Rachel is an individual, wholly and truly, even down to the fact that no one seems to get her, accept her, or stand up for her.  She is isolated from her classmates, no matter how hard she tries to be a part of something - and she tries hard.  "Get it Right" speaks volumes about that struggle.  Rachel Berry, in every way, is her own Original Song.

The third Big Player this episode was, interestingly enough, Quinn Fabray.  It's no secret that I'm extremely protective of this character, and have very strong opinions about how she should be wielded and developed in the storylines.  This episode was sort of a mixed bag for Quinn.  Early on, "Original Song" rather clunkily devoted a large narration to Ms. Fabray wherein she declared her somewhat desperate intentions to claim the title of Prom Queen with Finn on her arm.  I admit, I wanted to vomit a bit at the writers' seemingly complete dismissal of the development they gave this character in episodes previous.  I may have thrown something, I won't lie to you - especially when it was designed that Quinn would seek out Rachel in an effort to keep her away from Finn.  Because, yes!  Fake friends are exactly what Rachel needs!  Scenes with girls where they fight over boys is exactly what should be happening on my screen!

But once "Original Song" delved into the nuts and bolts of Quinn and Rachel's dynamic, we got the episode's most compelling scene.  Now, those of you who have read anything I've written know that the Quinn-Rachel dynamic is perhaps my favorite on the whole show.  There's so much genuine development that could occur for each of those characters simply by interacting with one another, and the fact that the writers have ignored this for 25 episodes makes me endlessly ranty.  But that scene in the auditorium?  Now we're talking.  That scene had so much substance, and for once, the writers allowed Quinn Fabray to let her guard down.  

Quinn and Rachel's dynamic is not that they want the same boy and have to fight over him.  They want the same life.  They share the same ambition.  Dianna Agron turned in an A+ performance in this scene, because of this:

Do you want to know how this story plays out?  I get Finn.  You get heartbroken.  And then Finn and I stay here, and start a family.  I'll become a successful real estate agent, and Finn will take over Kurt's dad's tire shop.  You don't belong here, Rachel.  And you can't hate me for helping to send you on your way.

Lord have mercy.  That is a beautiful piece of dialogue.  It changes everything.  Because it starts rather vicious, much like our current interpretation of Quinn, and then suddenly becomes sad - something we didn't expect.  The pieces fall away from Quinn and as soon as she states her future in Lima, we realize that she does not want that.  It's highly suspect, based on that mini-speech, that Quinn Fabray wants exactly what Rachel Berry wants: to leave this cow town and really make something of herself.  And that, my friends, is compelling.  I really do have to applaud Brad Buecker's careful direction and Dianna Agron's performance there.  Plus, extra points to Buecker for keeping Quinn present throughout the whole episode - there were plenty of pan-over, cut-to, and rack-focus-to moments that allowed us to keep Quinn on our brains in the narrative.  Because she interacts with the episode's theme in an interesting way.

Now, riddle with me for a second as I overanalyze things.  At the beginning of this episode, Pavarotti, O Sweet and Innocent Symbol of Kurt's time at Dalton, dropped dead.  This was no accident.  The writers killed that bird for a reason.  And I thought, "Well, I'll just wait to see why that is," and I waited and waited for a moment of symbolism with Kurt, or Blaine, or even Rachel, that lined up with Pavarotti's death.  And yes, Dalton's run at competition season is over - that's valid.  But I was expecting some deeper meaning in Pavarotti's death, for better or for worse.

And truth be told?  The character easiest to describe as trapped in a cage to the point of death is Quinn Fabray.  Kurt, and Rachel, and all of the Glee clubbers expressed joy in this episode.  They stood in the spotlight, owned their individualism, and claimed their tickets on the First Train out of Lima when they graduate.  You know who's relegating herself to a plastic tiara and a white picket fence and doesn't seem all that happy about it?  Quinn Fabray.  She could easily be that bird, trapped in a cage of what's expected of her, only to die in captivity.  Just a thought.

Presumably, this Quinn-Rachel dynamic will be continued in the coming episodes, and I do hope the writers get their ducks (or canaries) in a row concerning these ladies' similarities.  It'd be lovely to see them relate in ways that don't always have to do with Finn.  I understand that he's a big part of both of their lives and those relationships need to be honored, but there's only so many times the Glee writers can fail the Bechdel Test without getting irksome.

As for the rest of the episode, I must say I unexpectedly enjoyed the original songs put forth by the Glee club ensemble.  It was an intelligent idea to construct songs perfectly suited for the actors' voices, and as a result got songs completely tailored to the vocal sensibilities of Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, and Amber Riley.  Lovely!  And, it allowed for some seriously excellent comedic moments.  "Trouty Mouth," "Big-Ass Heart," and "Hell to the No" had me cracking up.  Plus, we discovered that Brittany's favorite song is the Rachel Berry seminal classic "My Headband," and that is always a valid use of screentime.  (I am not being sarcastic, though.  It is.)

Regionals didn't disappoint, either, with some excellent numbers from Dalton, and some solid comedy from the judges.  I love that the captions were back for each of the washed-up judges, and Sister Mary Constance may be my new favorite character.  She doesn't like being pandered to, guys, and she didn't even when she was a stripper.  Hilarious!  I do think that scene was a bit awash because we didn't get a clear idea of the conflict or any real sense of stakes with what the judges were going to do.  We all knew ND was going to win Regionals, though, so why make a big deal of the drama?  Let's just skip to the trophying so we can all hug each other and cry.

As for Sue, I mostly want to ignore her involvement in this episode, because it denied her the opportunity to be likeable.  Remember last year when she went to the mat for New Directions at Regionals?  Remember how great that was?  Well, this year she lost to them and punched out the Lieutenant Governor's Wife.  Not a good color on Sue, I must say.  The writers really need to find a new outlet for the villainy of Sue Sylvester, and preferably one that does not involve physical violence.

Lastly, I have to give shout-outs for "Original Song" remembering what happened in "Sexy."  We got a picture of what Santana and Brittany's relationship is like in the wake of last week's confession, and we were reminded that Will is indeed dating Holly Holliday, even if he probably shouldn't be on his cell phone in school.  I take this to mean there's more coming from both of these situations!

So, "Original Song" presented us with some pretty great moments that validated our main characters, reminded us why we love all these damn kids in the first place, and surrounded them with a little bit of plot here and there that will hopefully develop into something meaningful and beneficial for the characters involved.  It's perhaps too soon to say, and we unfortunately have to wait four weeks before we get any answers.  In the meantime, revel in the joyousness that is "Trouty Mouth," say a prayer for Dear Departed Pavarotti, and tough out the hiatus.

Oh!  I should also announce that I will be devoting the hiatus to another character study - hopefully two, if all goes well!  So stay tuned.  I'll try to make the break go faster for everyone by writing thousands of words about the characters we're missing so dearly.  See you on the flip side!

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

Characterization: A-
Episode MVP: Rachel Berry

Monday, March 14, 2011

CINEBLOGGO: Jurassic Park

So, if anyone happened to check my Twitter feed last night, you would have definitely caught on to the fact that I was watching Jurassic Park.  In fact, I was very close to live-tweeting the whole thing out of sheer joy, but I refrained because I figured that was a pretty easy way to lose all my followers.

Anyways, the point I'm trying to make here is that Jurassic Park is a damn near perfect movie.  I know it's probably trite to talk about Steven Spielberg being a genius, because really, his name is practically synonymous with genius after the career he's had, but - Steven Spielberg really is a storytelling genius.  And revisiting Jurassic Park only confirmed that.  It doesn't matter what story ol' Spielberg's telling.  It's always told masterfully.

So, without further ado, I'm taking DNA from CINEBLOGGO and crossing it with DNA from 10 Things to bring you a post called "10 TINY STORYTELLING DETAILS ABOUT JURASSIC PARK THAT MAKE IT BRILLIANT."  Hello John!

10. Grant asks, "Are you sure we're safe?"  Ellie replies, "Yes... unless they figure out how to open doors."  Now tell me you didn't get the worst attack of the heebie-jeebies when that velociraptor successfully used that door handle later on, hm?  I guarantee it gave you full-body goosebumps.  Genius setup, genius payoff.

9.  The music.  John Williams is a god.  That's all you need to know.  And past the fact that it's generally brilliant, the way in which it's used is brilliant.  It's used only to build, never to unfold.  When action is unfolding, like in the T-Rex rain scene, it's only diegetic sound (sound that is happening in the world onscreen that the characters can hear), never the score. 

8. There are two times when Dr. Grant expresses disbelief over the dinosaurs bred in the park.  The first is when he first sees the Brachiosaurus and asks about the speed.  He's dismayed that they have a T-Rex, and he stammers over it several times.  The second time, he's holding the hatchling and asks its species - velociraptor - and then makes a point to repeat the doctor's answer in shock.  And hey, which two species of dinosaur take center stage in the film's final act?  That would be the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Velociraptor.  And we know exactly what to expect of them based on Grant's reactions. 

7. Another small detail in set up: when Dr. Grant finds out about the T-Rex, Hammond tells him it clocks in at 32 mph.  And that information is paid off nicely in the "Must go faster!" chase scene, where it's therefore believable that a vehicle could escape from that specific predator.  A tiny moment, but helpful for non-believers who may be taken out of the moment by wondering if that chase scene were even possible.

6. Dr. Grant's character arc.  He's given a lovely little bit of arc where it's set up that he hates kids, and forces him to be Protector to two kids in a truly terrifying setting.  He rises to the occasion swimmingly, and quiet moments like the "I-don't-think-he-saurus" scene give excellent payoff to the early examples of Grant being generally annoyed and intolerant of young people.

5.  Ian Malcom embodies the movie's entire premise.  His character exists simply to tell the audience EXACTLY WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN, and yet we're still surprised when it does.  Plus, Jeff Goldblum's such a kooky charmer, and he gets to wisecrack and talk to himself and hit on Ellie with his weird water droplet game.  Points all around.

4. When Lex gets in the car, the first thing she does is marvel over the interactive CD-ROM (!) and the built-in computer.  I'm sorry, who is it that's going to hack into the mainframe (that's a thing, right?) and solve all the problems in the final act?  That's what I thought.

3.  Speaking of, let's talk about the kids.  They're allowed to be scared, and a little foolish, but they're never stupid.  Tim's actually a really smart kid for his age, and as I just mentioned, Lex ends up saving pretty much everybody's asses.  Nobody in this movie is simply there to be recued.  The kids raise the stakes for Hammond and for Grant, and help complicate the danger because of their lack of knowledge, but they're afforded the opportunity to be actual characters.  I mean, poor Tim!  Tim survives a T-Rex attack, plummets fifty feet in a vehicle, gets electrocuted, and then gets chased by velociraptors.  Little kid's not getting off scot-free, here.

2. When Dr. Grant first gets into the helicopter that will be taking him to Isla Nublar, he realizes that he has matching ends of the same seatbelt, and can't buckle.  So, he knots them together around his waist.  Firstly, this is awesome because it's a tiny little character detail that shows us that Dr. Grant is resourceful, and will clearly be well-equipped to hold his own during the impending danger we all know is coming.  

Secondly, it's a cheeky little nod to the resourcefulness of life that Malcolm preached all movie long.  The dinosaurs in the park are all bred to be female so that they cannot reproduce.  Likewise, Grant's seatbelt consists of two female ends and cannot be buckled.  But in both cases, a solution to the problem is created, and that small little moment in the helicopter mirrors one of the film's main messages.  Genius.

1.  Every single storytelling reveal in Jurassic Park is done through reaction.  It's never, "A dinosaur!  LOOK THERE HE IS!"  Because that is two-dimensional and unsophisticated.  Instead, it's the sound of the rumbling footsteps as the water ripples back and forth in the cupholder.  It's wondering where the goat went and then seeing its bloody leg drop on the sunroof.  It's seeing Tim look at Lex frozen in place, spoonful of Jell-O wobbling in mid-air as she shakes with fear.  It's seeing Dr. Grant's reaction to laying eyes on a living, breathing dinosaur before we ever even see what he's looking at.

Basically, it's genius.  Because the unknown is scarier than the known, and parceling out the information a little at a time freaks us the hell out and makes us want to know more.  We see the footprint and hear the echo before we see what made it, and combined with character reactions, we get a full portrait of how we should be reacting, as an audience.

Ladies and gentlemen, this movie is flawless.  I rest my case - or at the very least, my endless gushing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The RBI Report: "Sexy"

 More often than not, Glee comes through our TV screens every week with a strange yet undeniable mix of Good and Bad, and this week was really no different.  Let's talk about "Sexy," shall we?

"Sexy," written by Brad Falchuk, directed by Ryan Murphy

The thread that held together "Sexy," was, you guessed it - sex.  Sex, and sex education gave birth (ha!) to every plotline in the episode, even though Brittany probably thought it was the stork and Finn would have guessed it was just a hot tub makeout.  On the whole, Glee turned a discussion about sex into some fairly interesting storylines with a solid message, but in general, they stumbled in some of the details.

"Sexy" made good use of Holly Holliday's return, giving Gwyneth Paltrow the chance to show off her comedy chops again with Holly's kooky brand of left-field humor.  Holly is an intriguing fixture in the Glee universe - she breezes into an episode, noses her way into nearly every storyline, and breezes back out as if she'd never been there.  It always makes me wonder if she's really necessary.  This time, though, it looks like perhaps she might stick around for some romance with self-proclaimed Excellent Educator Will Schuester - right on the heels of learning that Emma still has feelings for him.  Hm, how long can this last?  

To be honest, I'm a bit weary of the Will-Emma drama.  The one true drawback of having an episode deal explicitly with sex is simply that only the relationships are touched upon - again.  The Glee writers seem to be unable to create any conflict between characters that isn't to do with romance, and "Sexy" fed into that weakness.  Emma's discomfort with sex felt exaggerated, to quickly break down her marriage to Carl and make her available as soon as Will gets involved with Holly.  

The execution there left a little something to be desired.  Last we saw Emma, she was happily married - with only a single close-up of doubt to indicate to us that she felt otherwise.  Memo to the writers: characters should not experience changes of heart offscreen, with five episodes spanning the in-between.  It makes it difficult to understand them.  We're no longer with them; we have to catch up to them.  

But the Glee showrunners assume that we understand what Emma's feeling based solely on the fact that "Wemma" are "made for each other."  I'm sorry, why does Emma like Will these days?  It would be lovely to see some sort of solid interaction between these two that isn't automatically based on the assumption that they're already in love.  I would like indication that they could be compatible, and happy together before I'm expected to be on board with a romantic reunion.

Sex also worked its way into a nice (if a bit odd) storyline with Puck and Lauren, McKinley High's Most Unexpected Couple.  I'm not really sure why the decision was made for them to make a sex tape - it seemed a bit out of character for Lauren.  But, it did foster the reminder that - heyo! - these characters are underage and - double heyo! - that would be child pornography.  Moreover, it allowed for Puck to demonstrate a lovely bit of character development at episode's end: that he likes wooing Lauren, and he doesn't care if that makes him a nerd.  Puck's getting such nice progress this season, even if it's not front-and-center. 

The concept of sex also worked into Kurt and Blaine's storyline, with the notion that Kurt is completely clueless about sex and would like to stay that way.  Blaine sees this as an unhealthy attitude, and reasons with Burt that he should use his Good Dad Status to help his son be informed so he doesn't get hurt.  All in all, the storyline didn't do much for the characters except set the stage for the idea that assumedly Kurt and Blaine are going to seal the deal eventually.  But, the message is an important one to communicate, and allowed for the true success of the scenario: hearing Burt's philosophy about sex.  We had to muddle through some strange gender stereotypes while waiting for him to get to the point, but it was worth it.  Because Burt told Kurt that he should use sex as a way to connect to another person.  To not throw himself around like he doesn't matter.  Because he matters.  

Seriously, can all Dad of the Year Awards be redirected to Burt Hummel?  No matter the situation, there is never any doubt that he loves his son, wholly and completely.  And the lesson Burt imparted on Kurt in this particular instance?  Lovely.  Everyone should approach love, sex, and relationships with the notion that they matter.  Hell, approach your life like you matter.  Got that?

This notion was also applied nicely to Holly Holliday, who admitted that she doesn't think she's right for relationships.  She called herself damaged goods, guys.  She doesn't think she matters, and I appreciated Glee for giving our guest star some actual depth underneath her Ms. Fix-It hat.  I wish they had focused on that a bit more, honestly.

I'm rounding the corner into easily the best part of the hour: our one and only Santana Lopez.  Burt Hummel may have provided the episode's soul, but Santana - in conjunction with Brittany - was the raw, vulnerable, beating heart.  Seriously, how much did you feel for those two girls?  I couldn't look at either of their heartbroken little faces without wanting to bawl my eyes out.  That speech?  Santana's speech?  Transcendental.  

This is a character who, since Day One, has barely uttered a single word that hasn't been dripping with disdain.  She insults, she wisecracks, she snarks - she is McKinley High's Resident Bitch, and the writers have allowed her to be little else.  She doesn't like feelings, and we are endlessly reminded of that fact.  Naturally, all I have wanted for the past eleven episodes is for Santana to show a little honest-to-goodness vulnerability, and oh, tonight, we got it in spades.  The Santana Emotion Drought quickly turned into a Santana Emotion Flood.  She cried all through Landslide, she cried when she realized she's only a bitch because she's angry and afraid, and she cried when she poured her heart out onto the hallway of McKinley High - only to have it stomped on.  Turns out, Santana hates feelings because she has so many of them.  And for the first time ever, she opened up - and was turned down.  She told her best friend she was in love with her, and wanted to be with her, only to be told that she's unfortunately unavailable.  Ugh, may I please wrap this character into an enormous hug and never let go?

But the only thing I was thinking during this part was, why did it take eleven episodes to get from the brief Santana development in "Duets" until now?  And why, pray, in those eleven episodes, was Santana only used as a device to break up Finn and Rachel, cause trouble with Finn and Quinn, start comedic fights with Lauren, make out with Sam, sob hysterically while drunk, insult people, and get called a bitch by nearly everyone?  I just don't get it.  It is painfully clear to me that the writers have a fantastic opportunity with Santana, both as an individual character, and in conjunction with Brittany, and yet they have been wasting it.

Santana is currently the show's most complex character, but you wouldn't have known it until her Big Speech tonight.  She always says what's on her mind, but never says what's in her heart.  And the show set it up from the very early on that there was a very real possibility that she was in love with her best friend.  They had a unique opportunity to have an amazing, well-rounded, three-dimensional character, with a built-in chance to portray a lesbian relationship on television between two characters who are basically already soulmates, which is more than most other couples on the show can say.

But instead of capitalizing on that opportunity, and letting it unravel over several episodes in an honest, paced, genuine way, they crammed it all into one, where the characters' purposes are born and killed within the span of 44 minutes.  Where a peripheral character comes in to force the hand, and where there is a conveniently-placed, ill-developed relationship standing in the way of one that could be amazing if they just put in the effort.  If Santana, and her relationship with Brittany, were given the proper care and screentime, Naya Rivera would be nominated for an Emmy.  Plain and simple.  It is here where I tend to get truly frustrated with Glee.  They have such great potential, and somehow they manage to flub the execution, time after time. 

Riddle me this: could the character development that happened in this episode have happened without Holly Holliday's involvement?  I think you could make a compelling case for "yes."  And I grow tired of roundabout contrivances to get Kurt involved with the theme even though he's at Dalton - that scene where Sue confronts him the coffee shop?  Pure machination to force Blaine's idea of the Warblers going "sexy" so that Kurt can realize he has the sex appeal of a baby penguin.  Aren't there more natural ways to set up these storylines?  I really have to imagine there are.  

And hey, while we're at it, let's talk about the complete random inclusion of the Finn/Quinn scene.  You want to know how you can tell that it didn't fit in naturally?  Because they busted out a narration for Quinn to deliver.  Oh, sweet hell.  Pro tip: when there's random narration at the end of your episode, you are having some storytelling issues.  And past that, this entire Finn/Quinn scenario is being executed with the precision and likeability of a tornado.  My notes for that moment read, verbatim: "YOU ARE ROBOTS."  

The writers are not giving Finn and Quinn any solid reasons to continue their romance, and certainly not any valid excuse for us to feel any desire for them to do so.  I wager no one empathizes with them right now, and that is a problem.  They are strangers to us, and it's only going to result in more relationship drama, which, as we've established, is the last thing this show needs.  They could be really interesting.  They were going to have a baby together before their relationship went to hell, and then they never spoke again.  The writers could do some interesting stuff there.  But instead, Quinn just shows up to Celibacy Club with a hickey on her neck and we want to punch the writers in the face.  Ugh, just wake me up when they decide to execute that storyline better, please.  

"Sexy," while having some very strong scenes, performances, and development, felt a bit plotted - from Emma's intense prudish resurgence, to Sue's random appearance, to Lauren's weird need to make a sex tape, to Holly's involvement in nearly everything.  The episode could have been much more strongly constructed, and it's a testament to some killer acting skills from Naya Rivera, Heather Morris, and Mike O'Malley that their own storylines still managed to be effective, despite some questionable storytelling. 

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

Characterization: A for Santana, Puck and Burt, C for everybody else
Episode MVP: Santana Lopez, by a - forgive me - landslide.

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