Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Come As You Are" - Project Runway Recap

Friends, TV nerds, reality show junkies... I decided to start blogging along with some lighter fare, just to mix it up here chez bloggo.  (You can tell I'm still classy though, because I just used French.  Fear not!)  And what better fare than Season 9 of Project Runway?

I admit it: I love a good reality show.  But really, my jam tends to be of the variety where contestants have to use their skills to create a product every week - so I'm a big sucker for Project Runway (and not so much interested in The Bachelor).  Sure, I know next to nothing about fashion (or sewing, let's be honest) but to me it's always fascinating to see the creative process at work, and the fact that I couldn't thread a needle to save my life (I have bad eyesight, okay!) means that I'm all the more in awe at what these contestants can bang out in 24 hours.

Season 9 of Project Runway kicked off with a twist: 20 designers were brought to New York City, invited to show pieces of their work to the panel of judges, and immediately narrowed down to 16 before the competition really began.  I actually rather enjoyed this conceit, if only because it gave me a chance to familiarize myself with the designers - their work, their faces, their names - in a real-life introduction, instead of just a talking head.

Not only that, but we got to see the most glorious panel give feedback: Tim Gunn, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and Frau Klum herself!  I won't lie; I would pay good money to witness this foursome in almost any situation.  Maybe a road trip reality show?  Tim would drive, Heidi could ride shotgun and navigate, and Michael and Nina sit in the back, alternating between boredom and colorful commentary - just like teenagers!  I'd totally watch it.  (Shame Saturn went out of business; they could've provided the car.)

But even just perched at a table, the Klum-Kors-Gunn-Garcia quadforce was plenty entertaining for me - mainly Heidi Klum.  I'm pretty sure Heidi Klum could charm me into a pit of alligators and I wouldn't notice until one of my limbs mysteriously went missing.  And I guess Nina Garcia could charm Rafael into a similar situation, given his claim that she was "talking sex" with him, using only her eyes.  (Okay, Rafael.  If you say so.)

Anyways, I liked as well that the designers had to really present themselves in an audition-type format, with an opportunity to interact with the judges outside the runway setting.  The most interesting interaction, to me, was one of the early standouts of this season: Anya, who only taught herself how to sew a mere four months previous.  Well, that's a Project Runway first, isn't it?

Heidi fought hard for Anya to have a chance, and I think it was a wise decision, in terms of quality TV.  We now have an underdog to root for (alongside Bert - more on him later) so every success and every failure is magnified in emotional response.  And I do genuinely think she belongs in the competition - it's not a lack of style that could impede her.  Look at what she sleeps in!  Look at her hairstyle!  Look at her ability to make pants using only common sense!  Anya's kind of a badass!  So yes, I'm definitely interested in seeing her rise to the occasion - and hopefully, she'll deliver. 

Speaking of underdogs, how about ol' Bert?  Or should I say Old Bert?  He's 102!  Not gonna lie; Bert won me over too.  Joking about his age?  Responding to Heidi's praise with a simple danke schoen?  I like this guy, and I liked his design tonight, too.  He listened to the judges, and tried to break out of his box!  That's commendable on this show - too often designers get stuck in a cycle of the same techniques because it's their "thing."  (See: Rami and draping, Season 4; Uli and flowing print dresses, Season 3; or Irina and the color black, Season 6.)  But Bert, as well as Anya, fought hard to prove themselves against the judge's original doubts, and I can't knock that approach at all.

Let's talk challenge, shall we?  The designers' first task was typical design-debut fare, in that it was a simple challenge with rigid rules - that required creativity!  Yes, these guys had to assemble a look using only their own pajamas and one bedsheet as materials.  I don't know about you guys, but my pajamas do not lend themselves to being fashion forward.  And really, whose do?  So that was the true difficulty of this challenge: taking something that is completely utilitarian and mundane in its sartorial existence, and transform it into something sophisticated.  In other words: those runway pieces better not look like jammies.

And for the most part, they didn't.  Although a lot of those looks seemed 70s-inspired.  Are the 70s back or something?  Or is this what happens when people have to make pants out of bedsheets?  I don't know.  Regardless, the majority of the designs were good enough to skate through to next week (although apparently that wasn't enough for Danielle, whose proclamation of "that's not good enough!" is a big indication she'll probably have a meltdown sometime later this season).

Anya was praised for her excellently constructed pants, although I thought for sure Michael Kors would say something about the crotch, as he is wont to do.  But he didn't!  And how many times this season do you think we'll hear Anya use some variation of the phrase "That was my first time making _________!" in her cute little accent?  I'm guessing a lot.  But she's a damn good first-timer, and I have to hand it to her for not letting the competition psych her out.

Bert's design and Anthony Ryan's design also got the thumbs-up.  I quite liked both, but I think overall I preferred Bert's.  The cute little pattern on the boxer shorts!  The two-toned gray fabrics!  The little bow!  It was a charming mix of whimsical and dour, and it's always lovely to see an idea like that behind a design - not just a manifestation of cute or pretty or oh, I'd wear that, but oh, that's smart. 

Anthony Ryan seemed to understand more than most that the best approach to this challenge was to make the pajamas completely unrecognizable, and despite his fears that his model's ass cheeks would make their runway debut, the look went over well.  And hey, according to Michael Kors, this is a man who "actually understands the business of getting women dressed," which I don't think quite sounds exactly how he meant it. 

As for the bottom three... well, honestly, I think the judges' dislike for Josh's outfit was a little overexaggerated.  It's not that it was horribly constructed, or terribly ugly, it just... still looked kind of like pajamas.  Downfall, your table's ready!  And unfortunately, Josh was not prepared for the awful feeling of the judges staring into your soul and seeing every shortcoming, and the poor guy damn near unraveled.  I felt bad for him; I really don't think his design was as bad as Rafael's.  Rafael's was terrible!  "Flintstone disco pouch" really was the only way to describe what was hanging around his model's neck, and yet again Michael Kors reminds us why he earns every penny he makes for his commentary.  And bless Christina Ricci; I love when the guest judges come on and don't want to be too insulting to these contestants - and Christina Ricci was definitely one of these kind souls.  To her, Rafael's pants were merely "off-putting," and she went out of her way to compliment him on the craftsmanship of the shirt.  

And, as for Julie... well, at least she knew her design was bad - although I can't figure out why you wouldn't try and do something to masquerade that god-awful pink pajama pant she wore.  How do you make kitschy PJs fashion-forward?  (And for the record, I don't think it worked for Fallene either - I liked her overall design, but that rainbow-puking clown did nothing for me.)

But at the end of the day, Rafael was the one to get the boot - which is a shame, not only because he seemed like a congenial guy, but also because I was looking forward to him trying to talk sex with Nina Garcia's eyes again.  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

So!  As of right now, I am a fan of this episode's top three - Anya, Bert, and Anthony Ryan - as well as Joshua M. (not to be confused with Joshua C., with his barely-transformed PJ look) and Danielle.  Oh, and I want Kimberly to stick around simply for the laugh factor - apparently she's the one in the workroom mostly likely to drop the phrase "nut juice," and also most likely to want a cheddar biscuit from Red Lobster at 6 in the morning. 

Alright, gang.  Until next week!  Hopefully I'll get better at recapping - but I'm excited about taking a season-long journey with you guys.  Oh, and it feels very weird to plug this, but the Project Runway website is actually rather tricked out with multi-angle views of all the designs - and fan favorite voting going on all season long!  So check it out if you are so inclined.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Glee Fan's Lament

It has become increasingly apparent to me, over the past two years, that there is perhaps no pop culture fanbase more collectively obsessed than the Glee fans.  But I also have to profess that there is perhaps no more miserable fan existence than that of a "Gleek."

In 2009, Glee took to the stage, with every glimmer of potential on our TV screens, and a phenomenon was born.  Anyone who ever felt like a misfit in high school (read: nearly everyone) took notice, and went about devoting their attention to this Little Show That Could.  What's not to like?  It's a classic underdog story, with singing and dancing - equal parts snark, and heart.  This is all rounded out with a talented cast bringing to life characters we all can relate to, and voilĂ Glee had a bright beginning, and Glee fans fell head over heels.

But this love affair has unfortunately turned sour, as time has worn on and Glee's existence as a television-show-turned-pop-culture-phenomenon has grated - and degraded.  Many hallmarks of the original episodes have trickled away, and in its stead we've gotten an influx of themed episodes, inflated musical numbers, poorly-written storylines, and a complete and utter disregard for any continuity in developing the characters we fell in love with.

Glee fans have turned bitter in the wake of this breakup, upset at dropped plotlines, ignored friendships, ill-devised romantic relationships, and the general wealth of potential that's been completely squandered as episodes have come and gone.  And so, we complain.  Everyone knows that Glee fans love to complain - because there's a lot to complain about.

But at the same time, we can't stop watching.

It'd be one thing if we all recognized the sharp decline in quality, the chilly feel of an old friend's closed heart, and simply gave it up.  Just walked away, with as much of our dignity as we could muster.  But we can't.  We want so badly to be in love with the show we once knew that we tune in every Tuesday night in hopes we'll be greeted by our old friend - only to have our hopes dashed, yet again.  Over, and over again.  

And the only thing to get us through it is shared grumbling, and uncovering the tiniest moments to make us happy - only further fueling our obsessions by forcing us to focus on the inconsequent minutiae.  When we all know, truthfully, that mere particulars do not a quality television show make.  But it's all we have.

In short: we are a sad, masochistic bunch.  Because not only do we stand by a show that resembles only a shadow of its original distinction, but we still shell out our money for the soundtracks, the merchandise, the concert tickets, and the movie tickets to see the same concert in 3D.  Not only do we keep giving Ryan Murphy and Fox the ratings they want to see, but we also open up our wallets and hand over our cash as a thank you for breaking our hearts every week.  

Meanwhile, we're all complaining about how the show has sold out, starting reality competitions and covering Ke$ha and Rebecca Black for no apparent reason.  We gripe about the apparent inability for the writers to pen any storyline in a remotely sophisticated way, and ask ourselves the bitter questions every Glee fan poses at least once.  What happened to Quinn's baby?  Shouldn't she talk about it at some point?  Why did Matt Rutherford move away?  Why didn't he have any lines?  Who's this Blaine guy, and why does he have more solos than Tina and Quinn?  Are Mike and Tina only together because they're Asian?  And, while we're at it, why do Mike, Tina, and Mercedes not get any storylines, huh?  Do the writers know they're being both a little bit sexist and a little bit racist?  Why does Rachel keep going back to Finn after countless heartbreaks?  Is Quinn supposed to act like a lesbian?  Are the writers aware that Mr. Schuester is a terrible teacher and maybe also a terrible human being?  Can't they give Sue something else to do other than try to destroy the glee club?  I love Chris Colfer, but why is Kurt's character so much more developed than the others?  Why did we ever spend time at Dalton when there was not a single storyline there?  Why the hell was Charice ever there in the first place?  Why have we never met Rachel's gay dads?  Is it too much to ask for Mercedes to have a boyfriend?  Why does Artie suddenly and inexplicably act like an asshole?  How many times can Finn choose football over glee club before it gets frustrating?  Can anyone accomplish anything at that school without resorting to blackmail?  

And we go crazy.  We weep over the wasted potential, and hand over cash to buy everything Glee in our sights.  We tune in every Tuesday and somehow are hopeful every time, even though we know better.  So you see, our fan existence is miserable.  The Glee fan's lament is a mournful, self-loathing song, a naive and desperate plea for the good old days, a bitter hymn of broken promises and misplaced trust, and, most unfortunately, the death knell for our own sanity and self-preservation.

One day, we'll stop watching this show.  When we don't love the cast so much, or after we stop trying to build ourselves a bubble to live in, with episodes like "Preggers," and "Wheels."  But until then, we will mope through the rest of Glee because we can't find a way to quit this show.  It buried itself in our hearts at the start, and until the finish, it will remain there, even if it completely destroys us in the process. 

So maybe we'll just stop watching when we die.  And you know that somehow, somewhere, Ryan Murphy is laughing triumphantly at that thought.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Retro RBI Report: "Pilot"

As promised, ladies and gentlemen - although, perhaps not in a timely manner - we are indeed retroactively reviewing Season 1 of Glee!  It occurs to me now that if I want to bang these out before S3 starts I'm going to have to pick up the pace.  So I'll do that.  In the meantime...

"Pilot," written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan; directed by Ryan Murphy

Confession: I'm fascinated by television pilots.  They're little christenings of shows, breaking a champagne bottle against a New Idea and pushing it off into the open seas of possibility.  But - there are rules!  Worlds have to be established, characters introduced, stakes set - and all the while piquing (and holding) the interest of the audience.  Successful pilots are like little baby unicorns to me: they might be a little wobbly on their feet, but the fact that they exist is like a little miracle and I am basically transfixed by each and every one.

The pilot is a foundation, a bedrock on which all future episodes are constructed - and if the pilot doesn't fundamentally work, very rarely will the show itself work.  With a show like Glee, which has suffered its fair share of continuity issues and haphazardly deviated storytelling, it always is helpful to return to the original episode, the pilot, and see where it all began.  And to be honest: the Glee pilot is pretty magical.

In the span of 45 minutes, Ryan Murphy and Co. successfully constructed an entire world inside the halls of McKinley High - one in which we are intrinsically familiar due to the fact that it's, well, high school, and yet it's still a world which keeps us guessing.  It's as if the showrunners are saying, "Here's this environment you think you know, but we're going to keep throwing you curveballs!" 

Let's look at character introduction for a minute: almost every character introduced in the pilot is done so first with a quick glance that only reveals a stereotype.  Puck is tossing Kurt into the trash, and Kurt complains about his designer jacket.  Finn's a dumb guy who falls asleep in school.  We get a split second of Quinn cheerleading in slow motion, and the first glimpse of Rachel is when she spies on Sandy Ryerson and his chosen soloist with an infuriated, and, let's face it, half-deranged expression.  The show puts forth their characters first with the expectation that we'll think we have them figured out, only to turn it back around on us later.

Two characters specifically get this treatment in the pilot: Rachel, and Finn.  Each of them get a narrated portion of the first episode, devoted to revealing their backstory and rounding them out as real people.  We get a glimpse into Finn's past that he's almost forgotten, a past where he loved to sing and hang out with his single mom and her boyfriend from Emerald Dreams (until he left her for that girl he met at Pick N' Save).  We get the idea that Finn's not just a dumb jock, and by the end of the episode, it's clear that he's going to be a key player in the show.

As for Rachel, her segment comes on the heels of the glee club auditions, and it is a thing of beauty.  It begins with a very put-together narration about her ambitions and future stardom, and references the fact that she got a teacher fired with a bout of dramatics (because she didn't get her solo, no less).  We learn about her two gay dads, and we see a young Rachel tap-dancing with a slightly unhinged zeal as she alienates everyone around her.  And we think she doesn't care!  She has all the self-confidence in the world, with the way she stomps through the halls, speaks rather highly of herself, and intones every syllable of her narration with a very enunciated precision.

But we also learn that Rachel Berry is not as put-together as we thought.  As messages saying "please get sterilized" come in response to her MySpace videos, we realize that Rachel is supremely affected by the bullies at school, and at the exact moment that Lea Michele hits that glorious high note in "On My Own," she's slapped in the face with a slushie.

This sequence is perhaps my favorite thing the show has ever done.  It's so heartbreaking in its tone, and the way it's constructed is simplistic and genius.  It starts with wonder, as Rachel steps into focus in front of the sign-up sheet, as we're meant to understand that this girl is special.  The entire episode seems to slow down so it can pay attention to this force, and as Rachel yammers on, it transitions to annoyance, "On My Own" slowly fading out as until the MySpace regimen begins.  And then it slams completely into tragedy as we witness Rachel's verbal abuse and the affect it has on her.  All of a sudden we realize that she reeled us in with her crazy monologue, only to break our hearts with her crushed expression.  And then the slushie.  The slushie!  The episode screeches to a halt as we drown in this ridiculous heartache.

I remember watching the commentary for this episode and Ryan Murphy claimed that he re-edited the Puck slushie into the "On My Own" sequence because he got annoyed at Rachel Berry being so talented.  I think he was joking.  I hope he was joking.  Because it's that slushie that hurts the most; just as the song reaches its triumphant apex, it's drowned out in a wash of wet ice.  If the look on Rachel Berry's face as she read those comments weren't heart-shattering enough, it's that slushie - and the placement of that edit is the perfect cap on a sequence defined by unexpected realities.

Basically, as soon as Rachel is introduced, a sort of shift happens in the narrative, and suddenly this crazy girl is our emotional anchor.  It's a bold and intelligent move, and anyone who tells me Rachel Berry is not the main character of this show will find me pointing directly at this moment with a stern look on my face.  (I will peer at you over small pince nez glasses as if to say, "Bitch, please.")

The main strength of Glee's pilot really does hinge on one of its own quotes: "There's nothing ironic about show choir!"  Well, actually, there's a lot that's ironic about show choir, and the pilot is very quick to poke at those ironies.  There's a lot of dialogue and story quirks that are included with a wry smile, as the audience is clued in on a joke that the characters don't get.  We laugh at Puck believing that Finn's mom is having her prostate removed, and we laugh at the quick rack focus to the sign in Will's office that says "PRIORITY #1: HELP THE KIDS" as he's blackmailing Finn to join glee.  Howard thinks dyslexia affects his sheet-folding problems, and Terri finds it exhausting to have to go home and cook for herself.

Beyond that, the show mines a lot of material from the fact that they are setting a musical comedy in smalltown Ohio.  How great is Darren from Emerald Dreams?  And how much do I love that when he breaks up with Carole, she throws a jug of milk at his truck?  But even though she's standing in the middle of the street wearing a denim vest and mom jeans, crying over a man with a mullet who picks up chicks at the Pick N' Save, I can't help but feel for her.  There's something so delightfully oddball about grounding this show in Lima, Ohio and still managing to find an unaffected heart underneath the slightly mocking exterior.

It's this use of irony and heart that ties directly into the way Glee originally built its world - by subverting expectation.  It takes two concepts - like Rachel Berry's high note and a slushie to the face - and mixes them, creating a very specific cocktail of emotions.  We laugh at these characters, but will eventually cry with them.  It's a difficult ruse to divise.

I actually want to give a brief shout-out as well to the editing in the pilot, which is rather sharp from beginning to end.  It keeps the pace quick and snappy, in rhythm with the dialogue, and allows for smaller, quieter moments when needed.  More than anything, it's there to help the plot along and keep things interesting.  The plot of the pilot is actually rather straightforward, and somewhat standard in terms of stakes and obstacles.  The editing helps with some of this, not letting the episode sink into its own devices and instead matches it more to the dialogue and tone - a bit more peppy, and sharp.

For example: Will's visit to Sue, where she breaks down the high school caste system, is intercut with Will's visit to Emma, who suggests trying to lure some of the popular kids into the club as Will cleans gum off the bottom of her shoe.  Both scenes, independent of one another, are rather expository and could bog down the pace of the show when left to play out individually.  But instead, they are cut together, and help the exposition stay quick so we can get to the good character stuff.

 And yes, the plot is a bit standard, and knowing where the show goes after this initial episode, it's easy to see that many same constructions are still in place - for better or for worse.  Glee club always needs funding and is in danger of being shut down.  Finn has to decide between popularity and glee club.  Will is trying to get his life in order.  Sue's trying to take down the glee kids and keep the unpopular students in their place.  Rachel is trying to be a part of something special, where people think she's special.  But, in this first episode, everything works because it's the beginning.  We don't know what this ragtag ensemble of misfits is capable of, but we're excited to go on the journey with them.

What's great about Glee's pilot is not necessarily anything to do with the individual stories or even song choices, but rather the fact that it was practically radiant with potential.  The best word I can think to describe this original shove into Glee's universe is verve.  It was sharp, quick-witted, and still managed to find some real emotions underneath the irony.  And in combining this tone with a classic underdog story, it's hard to watch the closing number - "Don't Stop Believing" and not feel a sense of magic.  It's arguable that this magic has leaked away since then, but I defy anyone to watch those six misfit kids come together and claim the stage and not think it's the beginning of something extraordinary.

The RBI Report Card...
Musical Numbers: A
Dance Numbers: C
Dialogue: A+
Plot: B
Characterization: A
Episode MVP: Rachel Berry

Friday, July 15, 2011

GQ and Sexism: Oops, They Did It Again!

Well, here we are again.  GQ has once again skyrocketed to the top of my "Sexism Shit List," this time with the spread titled, "Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs Did This Lesbian Scene for Us."

Why you gotta be like this, GQ?  You're a men's lifestyle and fashion magazine!  I don't get it.  Because frankly, yet again, this photo is offensive.  And not everyone understands why.

It's not Alison Brie or Gillian Jacobs.  It's not, "It's such a shame to see young actresses whoring themselves out for publicity these days."  That's rude, and slut-shaming, and it frustrates me to see people understand that this spread is not right but are left of center on why.  This is not Alison Brie's or Gillian Jacobs' issue.  This is a societal issue.  This is a gender issue.  This is a sexuality issue.  This is a race issue.

The problem with this takes us right back to the male gaze.  Let me ask you: how many men do you see in this photo?  Zero, right?  Wrong.  The answer is one.  There is one man in the photo and he is the one who is looking at it.  Thanks, GQ, for reminding us that the male gaze is alive and well!  

There should be no man in this photo.  But this photo was designed by men, shot by a man, and published for men.  The women in this photo are not subjects; they are objects.  They are fetishized and presented simply as a girl-on-girl scenario.  

Which leads me to another complaint: the title clearly says that this is "going lesbian."  Um, GQ, this is not "going lesbian."  This is going "girl-on-girl for the sake of a dude," which, frankly, is only ever designed by dudes.  "For us!"  It's right there in the title!  This is for dudes!  But girls don't "go lesbian" for dudes.  Girls "go lesbian" for, well, women, and marginalizing the validity of that by turning it into a sexualized and objectified peep show is just disrespectful.  

Gentlemen of the world: we ladies are not here for you.  This may be tough to hear, but we are not here to be objects to your subject, or accessories in your fantasies about lesbians or dominatrices or schoolgirls.  It would be helpful if the media would take note of this and stop perpetuating the male gaze in its creative endeavors.

Because, again, everything is a choice.  This photoshoot was a choice, and those choices reflect the fact that the objectification of women is still defended as a "style" in creative media.  Sexism is not a style.  Sexism is ingrained into almost every societal construct and its pursuits - the media especially - and it needs to be removed.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that there are three female cast members on Community: Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, and Yvette Nicole Brown.  So what, did Yvette Nicole Brown's invitation to this photoshoot just get lost in the mail, or do I really have to wonder about this nasty little suggestion that America is unable to find anything other than white and/or thin sexy?

The worst thing in all of this is the idea that it somehow relates back to comedy.  If Yvette Nicole Brown were included, would this photoshoot therefore become more ironically comedic, as though she couldn't possibly be sexualized in a non-funny way?  With Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs, it's clear that "sexiness" is trumping "funniness," but if you include their size-larger-than-4, African-American castmate, does that therefore change the tone of the shoot?  Oh, the fact that these questions are both disgusting and yet valid is not okay.  This is just further indication that the media's perception of beauty and the female form is screwed up beyond the telling of it - and it's because the standard being set ties inextricably back to the male's perspective: the male gaze.

It's unfortunate.  I wish GQ wouldn't publish photos like this, and I wish there weren't an audience for them, because clearly, they wouldn't be published if they weren't popular.  At some point, the misrepresentations of gender, race, and sexuality have to be righted, and GQ - and the media in general - has enough power to start those changes.  It's all in the power of choice.  But right now, they're making the wrong choices.

Author's Note: I'm also annoyed that the article missed a semi-colon.  But that's not the important thing to focus on here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wicked, and Glinda: the Musical's Best Character

Before I begin spouting the wonders of Wicked's Glinda, dear readers, first let me apologize!  This blog has been a certifiable wasteland the past few weeks, a fact I am neither proud of nor happy about.  I hereby promise to not be so damn neglectful in future.

Now.  Yesterday, as I made myself dinner (and also as I may or may not have baked a rather large batch of peanut butter cookies) I cranked up the Wicked Original Broadway Soundtrack and sang my little heart out.  And in doing so, I realized, not for the first time, that Glinda has permanent living space in said little heart.

Proposal: G(a)linda is actually the best character in Wicked, the stage play.

Hear me out.  I don't deny that Elphaba is a wonderful creation, one who deserves her place as main character and as an individual that almost any audience member can relate to.  Elphaba is an icon, an embodiment of what it means to be different and yet determined to achieve greater things, despite the people trying to keep you down.  She deserves to be the anchor of this story.  

But that's just it: Elphaba is the anchor, the emerald center of this tale that spins around her as she slowly descends into the wickedness always presumed of her.   And even though Wicked, the stage version in particular, touts the partnership of Glinda and Elphaba as the highlight of the story, it's still Elphaba's story.  Hell, it's Glinda telling Elphaba's story - the show opens with "No One Mourns the Wicked," as Glinda gives the back story of Elphaba's birth to the citizens of Oz.  

And it's perhaps this construct that helps make Glinda the best character in the ensemble.  Wicked's true genius is not necessarily in Elphaba's story, or even in Glinda and Elphaba's story, but rather in how Glinda interacts with Elphaba's story.  The entire musical is framed by Glinda relating Elphaba's story to us, intuitively suggesting that we should examine the characters in such a light as well.  Looking at Elphaba's story without looking at Glinda's would be an oversight.

Without Glinda's involvement, frankly, Elphaba's story is somewhat standard.  Again, she's the anchor.  Like so many traditional heroes, she was born different, unaccepted by her family, and discovered she had extraordinary power inside her.  She fights for a cause, strives to do the right thing, and we learn of her true parentage - and how it affected her entire life.  This is all fairly straightforward character information, hallmarks of a Hero's Tale.  

From a purely narrative perspective, what sets Wicked apart is the conceit that this is a story we think we know - and do know, to some extent.  We know how it ends, and the show cashes in on that knowledge, turning everything on its ear in a droll and sometimes tragic way.  Dramatic irony rules every moment on that stage.

But from a character perspective, the addition of Glinda allows Elphaba's story to transcend its classic hero structure and become something else entirely.  This was a choice made specifically for the stage musical - Glinda is absent for countless pages of the original book by Gregory Maguire.  But in adapting the novel to the stage, it was increasingly apparent that the spark necessary to ignite the page characters into reality was Galinda Upland - and more of her.

Galinda is the character that changes.  It's all wrapped up, right there in her name.  She starts out as Galinda, a snotty brat who cares too much about appearances, and ends up Glinda, a battered soul who still cares enough about appearances to never let us see how much pain she's experienced.  And the changes she undergoes make her a better person and simultaneously ruin her life.  Let's look at Wicked, Elphaba's story, through Glinda's perspective.

Galinda Upland arrives at Shiz fully expecting to be special, and treated that way.  She is self-centered in a way that makes her naive.  She doesn't grasp the grave political situation in Oz, and completely trusts that the people in charge are all good guys.  She's also self-centered in a way that makes her inconsiderate of others - she manipulates Boq, throws herself at Fiyero, and makes fun of Elphaba.  Everything she does skates obnoxiously at the surface (and part of the genius is that much of the show's humor comes from Galinda in these moments - Galinda is the Clown of the First Act, keeping her antics likeable and not bitchy).

Galinda, more than anything, wants to be chosen to study witchcraft with Madame Morrible on account of natural talent.  But that doesn't happen.  Galinda actually has very little natural talent when it comes to witchcraft, which is something I find terribly tragic.  Turns out Elphaba, the peculiar green girl, and Galinda's roommate, has it in spades.  But Galinda never acts out against Elphaba on that count - technically, Galinda should have an inferiority complex, but it never fully manifests.  It sneaks into the narrative with Fiyero, who also chooses Elphaba over Gllinda, and we get the tiniest taste of sadness and tables turned, as Glinda sings a reprise Elphaba's song - "I'm Not That Girl."  The roles reversed, and Glinda gets another dose of reality.

Essentially, examining Glinda's part in Elphaba's story yields a conclusion that is entirely in keeping with her character.  Glinda realizes that the reality she has built for herself isn't reality at all, and that the world really can be a cruel place.  But what's heartbreaking, and the quintessential Glinda of it all is that we never really see her succumb fully to heartbreak.  It is not something she shares with the audience in any real way.  Elphaba sings "The Wizard and I," and "Defying Gravity," and "No Good Deed," all anthems of her existence that explode before the audience in a very magnified way.

Glinda, however, has quiet moments of crumble.  She sings 52 seconds of ironic heartbreak with "I'm Not That Girl," and a minute-long interlude of sadness and regret in "Thank Goodness," before she affixes that smile back on her face and continues to force herself to want what she has.  Glinda has no anthem in Wicked; if anything, she gives us "Popular," which simply informs us that Glinda cares too much about appearances, and therefore will not be singing us an anthem in Wicked.  It's not her style.

But how beautiful are characters who quietly break down without ever letting anyone know?  Especially the girl who threw a tantrum when her rooming arrangement wasn't how she wanted it?  

And here we are, again, at Glinda's change.  The Glinda at the end of Wicked is very different from the Glinda at the beginning, and yet no one really noticed because she hid it all behind a fake smile and the opportunity to be beloved by the public.  Which leads me to my next topic: Glinda's choice.

"Defying Gravity," while certainly having its merits as an anthem of noncompliance and self-empowerment, is actually most powerful in that it delineates a choice.  "Defying Gravity," solidly and purposefully placed at the end of the first act, signifies the moment where Glinda and Elphaba make their choices.  Glinda can choose to go with Elphaba, embracing the changes in her life, and fully expressing this new person Glinda could be.  Or, she can take the somewhat cowardly option of staying behind and keeping her good name with the Wizard.

Both Elphaba and Glinda make choices that bring a gavel down on the rest of their lives.  Elphaba's choice makes her forever an outcast, an enemy of the government, and the receiving end of hate from angry villagers.  Knowing that Elphaba began her journey as an idealistic and well-intentioned young woman makes this supremely tragic.  But at the end of the day, we, as an audience, know that Elphaba made the right choice, because she chose to defy gravity.  Elphaba may have taken the hard road, but it was the right road - and in the musical, she was rewarded for that, because (surprise!) she doesn't actually die when Dorothy throws the water on her.  Instead, she emerges from a trapdoor, a happy life in hand with Fiyero, finally free of her rather cruel circumstances.

But Glinda?  Glinda chooses the easy road because she doesn't think she's brave enough to go with Elphaba.  She's not done changing yet, and she falls back on the security of her old dreams.  She chooses to be in with the good guys, aligned with the majority - popular.  Glinda chose the wrong path, and is stuck on it for the long haul.  She's rewarded with the empty security of public approval, and is set to live the rest of life thinking the one person who changed it is dead.  Glinda's last notes in Wicked are in mourning, a lament for Elphaba, who can never let Glinda know she's still singing in harmony with her.

To me, the sum of these parts makes Glinda a stronger character than Elphaba.  She changes.  She makes the wrong choice.  She quietly breaks down underneath a cockeyed grin.  And she lives her life dealing with the consequences of her change and her choice, without the only friend that ever mattered.  Beyond that, the structure of the play is completely defined by her.  She frames the story at beginning and end, and her involvement in the narrative defines both acts.  Act I is largely defined by Galinda's humor and kook, and Act II, shaped by the choices from "Defying Gravity," is charred with the the tragedy of Glinda's circumstances, taking her humor from Act I and subverting it into heartbreak.

While it is Elphaba's story that anchors Wicked, it is actually Glinda's involvement in the narrative that provides most of the storytelling intrigue, and helps shape what makes this musical unique, likeable, and tragic.  It's true that without Elphaba, there would be no Glinda.  But without Glinda, there would be no Wicked.
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