Review: Archie Meets Glee

(Spoilers lurk below.)

So… this exists:

Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are.

Yes, an Archie/Glee crossover comic. On the one hand, it kinda makes sense. The bizarre situations and broad characterization of Glee would seem to lend themselves well to the comic book format, and Archie and Glee are both centered on various high school shenanigans and relationship drama. On the other hand, Glee is so focussed on music that one wonders how the feeling of the show could possibly be captured in a medium that is entirely visual. But looming disaster never stopped Glee from doing anything before, so let’s see how they did.

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Thoughts on the death of Cory Monteith, part 2: where does Glee go from here?

Many people are still mourning the death of Cory Monteith: his family, his friends, his fans, his former co-workers and employers. It’s these final two for whom things are going to get so much worse before they get better, because they have to figure out how to continue Glee without Monteith, and how to write him out of the show. Ryan Murphy reportedly allowed Lea Michele, Monteith’s girlfriend, to decide the future of Glee, telling her that if she wanted off the show or even if she wanted it to end, he would stand by her decision. Michele gamely decided that they should push forward and get back to work. Glee‘s fifth season premiere is being delayed by a week, but they are going ahead with filming. Their plan is for the first two episodes, which have been long-planned, to be Beatles tributes, slightly re-written to remove Finn. The third episode, leading into the hiatus for baseball programming, will deal with Finn’s death.

Other shows have dealt with the death of an actor, and it’s been handled many different ways. Glee‘s plan echoes what 8 Simple Rules (John Ritter), News Radio (Phil Hartman), Dallas (Larry Hagman), and The West Wing (John Spencer) did, by taking an episode to deal with the death of the character before moving on. Barney Miller took an interesting route when Jack Soo died, airing a retrospective episode that allowed the actors to be out of character and talk about both the actor and the character who had been lost. Not all shows choose to make a big deal of it. After Freddy Prinze’s suicide, Chico and the Man wrote Chico out by saying he was vacationing in Mexico, otherwise continuing as normal. When Nicholas Colasanto died, Cheers had Coach die as well, but the characters mourned mostly offscreen. Only a line or two was dedicated to the subject of Coach’s passing, though it was done in such a way that it was clear that the characters were hurting.

Glee‘s approach, of course, will be to make Finn’s death something larger than life (because Glee), but real-life concerns are going to play a big role here. Murphy has said that he doesn’t want the actors to have to “recreate” what they went through when they got the news that Monteith had died. That might not only be a lot to ask the actors to go through, but would create something very heavy by Glee‘s standards. Glee has tackled death before (“Funeral“) and even attempted suicide (“On My Way“), but never so directly and never with a man cast member. Even the very heavy school-shooting episode (“Shooting Star“) ending up not going with the heaviness, but rather undermining it. They can’t do that with Finn’s death, and I’m positive that they won’t. Murphy wants Finn’s tribute episode to be “upbeat” in some way, but, with the death of one of their own and very real feelings involved, I think that they will manage to avoid farce while still allowing there to be a foundation of happiness. The characters can look back on how much Finn gave them, how much he positively affected each one of their lives, and what a wonderful legacy he left behind. The theme can be how lucky they were that he lived, not how horrible it is that he died.

How will Finn die? Having him OD may be a bit too close to home, and it would be easy to just have him get killed by a drunk driver or something. It also could easily violate Murphy’s wish to avoid having the actors recreate reactions, as Rachel could easily blame herself for not recognizing Finn’s addiction, as Michele no doubt feels some modicum of (undeserved) guilt for not understanding the extent to which Monteith was still addicted. On the other hand, as I’ve said, Monteith never shied away from putting himself into Finn, and if someone like Cory Monteith could succumb to addiction, it makes it all that much easier to believe that Finn could. Finn also found out in season three that his father, far from dying in the Gulf War, was actually dishonorably discharged from the Army and died of drug addiction.

Murphy would like for there to be some kind of teaching point in Finn’s tribute, something to learn, something positive for the audience to take away from this whole tragic affair. Having Finn’s story parallel Monteith’s would allow for a lesson about the power of addiction. It’s all too easy for us, as a society, to dismiss addicts as weak or irresponsible or simply as incurable criminals. I’ve been guilty of that myself, on more occasions than I’d care to think about. Cory Monteith’s death from drugs was a major shock to me because I didn’t think that he was anything like the kind of person to whom that would happen. I knew he had struggled with addiction in his youth, but I thought he was past it. Even when he bowed out of season four early to enter rehab, I just assumed it wasn’t that serious: I figured it was painkillers or something relatively benign, certainly not heroin.

We can fall into the trap of thinking of drugs as the scourge of the poor and the lower classes, not relevant to us. But human suffering is relevant to all of us, and addiction is an awful, terrible thing. Cory Montieth was not poor, or depressed, or unemployed, or friendless, or homeless, or mentally unstable. He was a happy, successful, wealthy, popular, well-liked, apparently well-adjusted person with an unspeakable affliction. He wanted to get better. From all accounts, he tried as hard as he could to get better, for over ten years. And in the end, it still got him. No matter how much he wanted to escape, no matter how much he tried, in the end, it got him. He signed his own death certificate when he started taking drugs at thirteen years of age. Echoing many similar sentiments, Demi Lovato said “He didn’t choose to die. It was the disease.” Is addiction literally a disease? Of course not. But it’s much deadlier and more insidious than many “real” diseases, and in many ways it makes sense to think of it as one.

If Glee can capture something like that, get one iota of that message across, make even one person understand that addiction is not a choice and that it kills people who deserve much better… Part of me wants to see them try, even knowing their track record with such things, because it’s so close to home, it’s so important, and I think that Monteith might want to reach out and try to help people one last time.

At the same time, I understand if it would just be too hard for them to face.

Thoughts on the death of Cory Monteith

What a way to start the morning, finding out that a young man whose work I respected, just a little older than I am, has died, suddenly, unexpectedly, and, so far, without explanation (and I will refrain from pointlessly speculating). Now I will continue, keep right on getting older, while Cory Monteith will be forever frozen at 31 years old, and remembered as playing a confused but earnest kid. Finn had yet to really find peace. I’m not sure if Monteith did or not, though I know he struggled. But he’s at peace now, one way or the other.

From the beginning of Glee, much of it was centered around Finn (see Why do I like Glee anyway?, in which I discuss how “Pilot” is about Finn and Will more than anything else), and Monteith’s performance was a big part of what made both the show and the character of Finn work. Finn’s awkwardness was believable because it was Monteith’s — he was famously an uncoordinated dancer, a struggle that was written into the show. Finn’s reluctance to sing was Monteith’s as well — he did not sing on his original audition tape, and had to be cajoled into it by the producers. He was not a great singer, and if his numbers were a bit abused by autotune in the first two seasons, he made up for it with his fearless performances, and he had some fantastic numbers, including the best number of season three and, of course (with the ensemble), the best number of the series. Monteith’s weak singing was eventually written into the show as well, as Finn in season three struggled with his own lack of star power, realizing that his voice might be able to take them to a national championship in high school, but would never take him to a professional career.

Monteith almost built Finn out of his own weaknesses, his own fears, his own awkwardness, never shying away from putting himself into a character who was not always appealing. Even if he didn’t have always have star power, he had that essential part of the soul of an actor.

Glee will go on without him, but there will be a time to talk about that and what it may entail later. For now… RIP Cory Monteith, an actor as earnest as Finn Hudson.

Shipping and Storytelling

Let’s talk about shipping. I’m a member of two fandoms that have very active shipping communities: one is Glee, of course, and the other is Homestuck (and I’m not going to talk about Homestuck here, but it definitely belongs on anyone’s shipping resumé because god damn). “Shipping,” from what I can tell, is the act of theorizing and promoting romantic relationships between certain characters (“shipping” comes from “relationshipping”), whether or not such relationships are canonical or even really make sense in-universe. In Glee terms, Finn/Rachel (or “Finchel”) is a ship that is supported by canon, while Puck/Artie (or “Partie”) is a ship that is not (and I came up with that just now as an example of something completely off-the-wall, but a quick Google search confirms that Partie shippers do exist).

The most obvious symptom of shipping is the portmanteaus, as demonstrated above: what my friends and I used to call “celebrity couple names” in the style of “Brangelina.” Some sound stupid, like “Furt.” Some sound awesome, like “Quinntana” or “Puckleberry.” Yet, all are pretty silly, and I tend to avoid using them in favor of “name/name” (which has an entirely different connotation, but I have to refer to couples as something). I’ll go ahead and use the portmanteaus in this post, though, since it is about shipping after all.

I’ve never been what you’d call a shipper (possibly excepting Homestuck‘s Rosemary), and I never even really understood shipping as a fandom activity. I mean, either two characters will get together or they won’t, and I’m not going to get all bent out of shape if things don’t turn our the way I predict or hope. It’s especially weird to me when it’s some really out-there pairing, like Partie or Faberry (Fabray/Berry) or Schuevester. I would even have considered Quinntana to be one of the out-there pairings prior to “I Do.” Why even theorize about pairings that are almost guaranteed to never happen? And even if they do, like with Quinntana, it doesn’t mean you’re awesome at reading between the lines, it just means you got lucky.

And that’s one of my issues with shipping. The story can go anywhere, and characters can change at any time for any number of unforeseeable reasons. When you get seriously into shipping a certain pairing, you start to lose sight of any actual realism involved thereunto. The key to good literary criticism is that interpretations have to be backed up with textual evidence. While shippers will pretend to do this (and may even actually do it in the odd case where their ship is canonical), their main interest is not in interpretation: it’s in wish fulfillment. If their OTP can get together, who cares if it would be the least logical, most nonsensical thing that could possibly happen?

I’ll admit to thinking about fiction this way sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s inevitable, with good fiction, that you have some degree of investment in the characters and care what happens to them. Naturally, you want to see your favorite characters happy, and many people see happiness in terms of finding one true love. And many TV shows are heavily centered on relationships anyway, Glee most certainly included. So fans start pairing off characters in their minds, seeking happiness for their fictional friends.

In addition, people tend to identify with characters, putting themselves in their place and thinking about what they would want. I think that’s why so many people were upset at the end of The Wonder Years, when it was revealed that Kevin and Winnie did not get married. Who doesn’t remember that one person from their youth that they dreamed of being with forever, but left behind? In the ultimate fate of Kevin and Winnie, we got truth when what many people wanted was fantasy. I left my high school love behind, one may say, but why did Kevin? It’s fiction! Make up a satisfying ending!

Of course, thinking like that is contrary to the true nature of fiction. Good fiction is not meant to allow the viewer to live out fantasies: that’s what daydreaming is for. Good fiction is not intrinsically interested in what’s best for the characters: after all, they don’t really exist. Good fiction is meant to tell a story and develop characters in a fictional universe that abides by internal rules. Authors have to be loyal to the world they created, not the viewers/readers or even to themselves. They have to go where the story wants to go. Betraying that for the sake of wish fulfillment or anything else is a bad thing. Was I sad when Brittany and Santana broke up? Yes. However, the situation made sense, it was true to the characters, and the writing respected everything that had come before. It was a logical event within a fictional universe. Getting legitimately upset about something like that would be like getting upset at the laws of physics.

Then again, people do have regrets about things in real life that they couldn’t help. People are funny creatures.

Anyway, the next time you’re upset about your OTP breaking up or not getting together, be glad that you’re watching or reading something that respects storytelling more than wish fulfillment. Unless it’s shitty fiction anyway, in which case fuck it.

Five songs that Glee should do, but probably won’t

You can say whatever you want about the story and characters on Glee, but, in the end, it’s the music that sells this thing. Without the music, this would be a pretty mundane high school comedy/drama, and I probably wouldn’t give a shit about it. So amidst all the speculation about where season four is going to take us and how the graduates are going to be worked into the show, what I’m really thinking about it what songs I’d like to see them do. So, in that vein, I’ve come up with a list of five songs that I’d like to see done in Glee but, for various reasons, probably will not be. So here we go.

1.

Song: “You Don’t Know Me” by Ben Folds and Regina Spektor

Give it to: Rachel and Finn

It’s weird how Rachel and Finn haven’t gotten a lot of good male/female duets. “Don’t Go Breaking my Heart” from “Duets” (heavy autotune aside) was terrific, and of course “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” from “Nationals” was beyond fantastic. They also had great thematic resonance, with both of them celebrating the intensity of their current relationship while subtly foreshadowing its end. “You Don’t Know Me” would continue that tradition, being a song that could suggest the very real reasons for the end of their relationship, something that Finn has accepted by the end of “Goodbye,” but which Rachel has not. As their high school years draw to a close, they’ve become different people, and they just don’t know each other anymore. The lighthearted tone would also allow for a suggestion that their relationship could continue in some capacity, and would suggest a beginning to a new relationship based on friendship and mutual understanding rather than blind love.

Why they’ll never use it: Not only is it a bit outside Glee‘s wheelhouse in terms of artist and style, but I think we all know that Rachel and Finn are going to get back together somehow.

2.

Song: “The Thrill is Gone” by BB King

Give it to: Mercedes

The blues as a genre has been sadly overlooked on Glee, despite having singers who could handle it. I could see both Naya Rivera and Amber Riley pulling off a terrific blues number, as they have wonderful soulful voices and the ability to put a ton of feeling into a song. I’d like to see this particular number given to Mercedes for a couple of reasons. First, I like the idea of gender-swapping it. Second, I think it would be a fantastic way to communicate an end to her relationship with Sam (such as it is) while suggesting a reason. I think you could reasonably argue that “the thrill” has been gone from their relationship for the entirety of season three. We never saw any smoldering passion out of them, just the motions of it. One could argue that that was because of poor writing, but it could also be that they were simply fooling themselves. Maybe after that one summer fling, it was just all gone. Maybe there isn’t anything else there, and they need to admit that to themselves. I could easily see “The Thrill is Gone” being used for that purpose.

Why they’ll never use it: Aside from, once again, being outside of Glee‘s wheelhouse, it’s probably too heavy on instrumentation relative to vocals for Glee. Plus, to really do it right, you have to let it have a slow burn. That would eat up a lot of screen time, which is probably going to be at a premium in season four with so many plot threads running loose.

3.

Song: “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” by Meat Loaf

Give it to: Puck

Yeah they already did Meat Loaf in “Nationals,” and it was amazing, but there is so much more Loaf to do. This particular one is my favorite Meat Loaf song, for its sad wistful message on top of a bit of silliness in the title and refrain. This kind of marriage of the serious and silly is something that Meat Loaf does tremendously well, and it’s something that Glee should both embrace and look to for inspiration, because they try to do it a lot too and they’re so bad at it (though to be fair Glee leans more towards the silly side while Meat Loaf leans more towards the serious side). Puck hasn’t gotten a lot of big solos, which is a shame because Mark Salling has a fine voice and good screen presence. “Sweet Caroline” was one of the smaller highlights of season one. I’d really like to see what he can do with a powerful song like “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and I could easily see it being used as Puck’s way of ending some relationship he’s gotten himself into. He’s such an incurable hound dog that the situation almost writes itself.

Why they’ll never use it: For some reason, the show has never wanted to give any big numbers to Puck. Add that to the fact that he’s probably going to be a tertiary character or worse in season four, and I doubt it happens. There’s a chance they could use it with some other character, but it would just be so perfect for Puck.

4.

Song: “It’s a Great Day to be Alive” by Travis Tritt

Give it to: Sam

Glee has given the slightest amount of lip service to country as a genre, mainly from Sam and Shannon, but, with the partial exception of “Last Name” in season one, they’ve never really gone big with it. “It’s a Great Day to be Alive” is a fantastic number, and it fits well both with Sam’s general upbeat nature and all the shit he’s been through. I have to admit that I kinda like the idea of Shannon doing it as well, but on the whole I think that Sam would be a better choice. I think it would be a great way to say goodbye to his character, if such a thing is going to happen, by emphasizing his optimism and hope for the future in the face of anything.

Why they’ll never use it: Honestly, I don’t even know if Chord Overstreet is coming back. This song is also well outside of Glee‘s normal focus, especially in terms of the genre. They tend to go for contemporary country, “Jolene” being a notable exception.

5.

Song: “Kim” by Eminem

Give it to: Will

This was facetiously suggested by J., my co-host on our podcast, when I mentioned that I was going to be writing about songs that “would never be used on Glee.” I laughed at the outrageousness of the suggestion for a moment and then I realized… the character shown doing the most rapping has been Will, and he had a terrible marriage with his high school sweetheart that could have ended much more tragically if Will didn’t have a lot more self control. Watch the scene from “Mattress” in which Will finds out that Terri has been faking her pregnancy and try to tell me that, somewhere in the back of his mind, he doesn’t want to kill her. Yes, that’s how dark Glee used to get. Of course he never would have done it, but Eminem didn’t really kill Kim either, he just thought about it, and in that way “Kim” is a song that would actually have a lot of resonance with Will. Thematically, I could see this song being used by Will to express his darkest, most deeply buried feelings, if Terri comes back into the picture and does something particularly “Terri.” It would be a pretty amazing way to revisit the darkness of season one as a whole and of Will in particular.

Why they’ll never use it: Do I even have to say anything?

How many characters are on Glee, anyway?

In the first episode of the TV podcast that my friend J. and I started (shameless plug), we spent some time talking about Glee. While discussing the pilot, we agreed that a major issue with it was “all the other characters,” and I got to thinking: how many characters does Glee have, anyway? There were a ton introduced in the pilot alone, and almost all of those are still with us, plus a lot more. An early first season episode made the mistake of establishing that to be competition-legal, a glee club has to have at least twelve members. Just consider that for a moment: there have to be twelve students in the cast. Imagine if there were twelve sweathogs in Welcome Back, Kotter, or twelve members of the study group on Community, or twelve doctors on House (well, there was the fourth season). Not all of them have to take the forefront obviously, but that is a lot of fucking characters. And that’s not even counting the adults or incidental characters. I think we accept this from Glee because it was sprung on us fairly slowly. After all, the show originally spent a lot more time on Will and his home life, and there were originally only six student members of the club who didn’t get a lot of focus. Then the show switched its focus to the kids just as the size of the club grew to a competition-legal size. And we were left with this multi-headed beast of a cast that can never be slain.

Seriously, I want to list all these characters. It’s been a while since I’ve done a list, so cut me some slack. This will be done from memory, in no particular order, and it refers to the current cast as of “Choke.”

Students:
1. Rachel
2. Finn
3. Kurt
4. Puck
5. Mercedes
6. Blaine
7. Sam
8. Quinn
9. Joe
10. Rory
11. Sugar
12. Santana
13. Brittany
14. Tina
15. Mike
16. Artie

Adults:
17. Will
18. Emma
19. Sue
20. Roz
21. Shannon

I could have stretched the list to include people like Burt, Becky, and Figgins, but I’m only including characters that had significant screen time in season three and are at least semi-regular.

So, good God. That’s over 20 characters. No wonder people just look at me quizzically when I try to talk about specific characters or relationships on the show (well, that, and I’m trying to talk to them about Glee). None of them are what you would call background characters either. Almost all of them have had at least one story. How can a show possibly expect to do justice to this huge a character list? I don’t think it’s possible, and I think it’s a big part of the reason that multi-episode arcs are coming, going, disappearing, and reappearing so randomly this season. They’re doing things with so many characters that you can’t keep up with all of them, especially when they spend so much time on Rachel and Finn alone and when so much of every episode has to be taken up by musical numbers.

Funniest of all is that Tina, a character who has been with the show ever since the very beginning, still isn’t fully established! In 62 episodes, she hasn’t had a single storyline of her own! Sure, she’s played relatively significant roles in episodes like “Wheels,” “Theatricality,” and, most recently, “Asian F,” but all those stories were about someone or something else, with her as a supporting character. We already know more about Wade than we know about Tina, for God’s sake. This show just has no idea how to handle this many characters. I don’t think any show would.

And you know what’s even worse? If season four really creates a show split between New York and the kids back in Lima, the cast will grow even more.

What they really should do is write the graduating seniors out of the show for real, and pare down the season four cast into one that has a core group of main characters that we can concentrate on. Unfortunately, that won’t happen because Glee is a runaway train at this point, and it’s going to stay on this track until it crashes.

(I keep predicting the demise of this show, despite the fact that I love it. I have a strange relationship with Glee.)