Four Reasons to be Worried About Glee

Unapologetically, unflinchingly, unfailingly, I’m a Glee fan.

don't stop believin' that glee can be just as good as it was last year

don't stop believin' that glee can be just as good as it was last year

It was the best and funniest new show of the last television season, featured the most impressive pilot episode of any show in years and did it all by introducing relative newcomers to the TV landscape.

It’s one of the most brutally honest — for better or worse — depictions of the high school social hierarchy, it never flinches from uncomfortable but relatable real-life situations and forces open discussion about the controversial topics it covers despite being wrapped in a hysterical package one one-liners and well-crafted humor.

Even though Tuesday’s second-season premiere gave concrete evidence the show will be just as strong this year as it was last year, it’s impossible to avoid the warning signals we’ve been seeing in the show’s direction.

If you’re a fan of the show, and you’re not worried about the future, here are four reasons you might want to start worrying:

The Ryan Murphy Danger Zone

Murphy, the show’s creator, doesn’t have much of a track record, but Glee is so easily comparable to his first two shows — Popular and Nip/Tuck — that it’s almost impossible not to compare the body of work.”

Popular lasted just two years and 41 episodes on The WB before it was canceled.

sorry, anna lynn, but you were part of nip/tuck's problem.

sorry, anna lynn, but you were part of nip/tuck's problem.

Nip/Tuck lasted for six years, but it was burnt toast on a stick after the incredible, Golden-Globe winning second season and 29 episodes. After that, Murphy stuffed it with so much ludicrous camp it was almost embarrassing to admit you watched it.

Glee premiered with its 23rd episode on Tuesday. We’ll just go ahead and dub that “The Ryan Murphy Danger Zone.”

Guest stars a-plenty

Call it the Will and Grace factor.

A parade of famous guest stars is a lazy TV tactic to get cheap ratings and might as well be the equivalent of the show’s writers throwing up their hands and saying, “I’ve got nothing.”

Glee’s first season was fraught with gimmick guests — Olivia Newton-John, Josh Groban, Neil Patrick Harris (who will be back this year) — all of which seemed forced. Now that the show’s become something of a cultural phenomenon, the guest stars are lining up. John Stamos and Gweneth Paltrow both will be appearing, and we could forgive those choices.

But … Britney Spears?

Did I miss something and we all fell into some alternate dimension where it’s still 2003? For a show that aspires to be squarely on top of the cultural zeitgeist, that reeks of stunt casting.

It’s not that much of a hit in the first place

In the yearly ratings for the 2009-10 TV season, Glee ranked 33rd in total viewers and didn’t even average 10 million viewers per week. That was behind snoozefests like “CSI: NY,” a dozen reality shows and two shows that got canceled.

That doesn’t matter that much, since the show is aimed at the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic. But even there it ranked 15th last year, coming in behind the supposedly played-out titles like Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives.

Tuesday’s season premiere netted more than 12 million viewers, so maybe it was a matter of catching on in the mainstream. But for a show that wasn’t an outright ratings runaway hit, didn’t it feel like we were all being berated with “Glee” commercials, news reports and cast appearances?

You know the last time this happened with a TV show?

Heroes.

Uh oh.

Questionable music selections

The first season started out with recognizable, catchy, always nostalgic tunes that made viewers bop their heads Roxbury Boys style and more importantly, always advanced the story.

Then came the season finale’s renditions of the older-than-dirt To Sir with Love and Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which led to self-congratulatory, self-indulgent scenes that didn’t seem to have much place in the narrative of the show other than to say, “Hey, we like each other, and we can sing! Check us out!”

This year started out OK — Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes and Telephone by Lady Gaga and Beyonce — but sent millions of fans to Google trying to figure out what the heck that last shoe-horned-in song Rachel sang was (What I Did for Love from the Broadway play A Chorus Line, fyi).

I won’t even go into the fact that the show has picked a couple songs already rightly claimed by other movies and TV shows, therefore making them off limits to use in the pop culture world from here on in (Don’t Stop Believin‘ in the pilot, and Bohemian Rhapsody in last season’s finale).

no more rapping now, i mean it! anybody want a peanut?

no more rapping now, i mean it! anybody want a peanut?

The good news is the show went out of its way to make fun of itself during the season 2 premiere Tuesday, with the school’s resident blogger/reporter (ah-hem) Jacob Ben Israel grilling the principles about some of the more obvious fan complaints, like asking Will Schuester, “”Did you know there’s a forum on my blog that’s begging you to stop rapping?” as Mr. Schue looks at the camera, stunned. Yeah, there actually is one of those. That gives us three major insights into the inner workings of Glee and the people behind it:

1. They’re funny. But we already knew that.

2. They read websites, fan comments and media reports and reviews about the show. Everyone does, but some people try to take the “Oh, I don’t even read that stuff anymore, the media is so negative, I just do it for the fans, not the media” stance. Nope. Don’t believe that. At least the Glee people admit they know what’s going on outside their lot.

3. They’re aware of the criticisms. The show is never going to please everyone, no show will. But if they’re aware of what people say is wrong, maybe instead of just dismissing it as “Who cares what some 14-year-old with an iPhone in Iowa thinks, we’re right” maybe they can take it as legitimate criticism and perhaps make it better. They’ve already gone one episode without Mr. Schue rapping, so they’re on the right track.

BETTER WITH YOU (8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC): I think I’ve developed an allergic reaction to laugh-tracks. I’m not kidding. As soon as I hear them in some sitcom, I get freaked out and I think I actually break out in hives. And it’s not just new shows — it’s old ones too. Maybe it’s because laugh tracks are amplified in hi-def like crazy, making them more distracting than they already are. Or maybe they’re just hideously antiquated since I don’t need to be told when to laugh. I know when something is funny. I’ve truly morphed into Andy Kauffman in Man on the Moon. “You don’t know why it’s there, but it’s there. And it’s dead people laughing. Those people are dead!” Then again, maybe it has something to do with the quality of show. Maybe laugh tracks are there to mask something deeper, like the jokes not being funny. I’m not sure which is true about Better with You — I just know I didn’t laugh that much. The show seems out of place in between the family pieces The Middle and Modern Family. ABC renewed both shows in January, giving them four months to find a funny, family-oriented family sitcom pilot to fit between the two shows as a common bridge. This is what they come up with? A Knocked Up ripoff about the aftermath of a one-night-stand-turned marriage? It doesn’t help that the two leads they cast as sisters have about as much chemistry as my college course load (none). Their boyfriend/husband combo were the only thing that made me laugh, but it wasn’t enough to get me past the buzzkill that was this show sitting between two of my favorite finds from last year. Don’t get too attached to this one. GRADE: D+. KEEP WATCHING?: Not during baseball season, for sure.

RUNNING WILDE (9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox): It sucks watching shows in fear. You’ve built it up before you’ve seen it so much that you just know it can’t possibly fulfill your hopes. I watched Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town and this last season of Friday Night Lights that way this year. I’m happy to report they both delivered. Then comes Running Wilde, which I knew wouldn’t be as good as Arrested Development (where most of the production team and star Will Arnett graduated from), but didn’t think it could misfire as badly as critics said it did. I’m in the minority on this one, but I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. It all stems from Arnett, whose pushing his way into the category of “one of the funniest guys on TV.” He’s in his complete comfort zone of “entitled —-head” that he’d done in AD and 30 Rock perfectly, so why not hit the well again before it’s dry? Obviously, it’s not dry yet because I’m still amused. The AD-type sight gags are pretty funny, and the show doesn’t rely on them to make with the comedy. They’re just bonuses. The weak link is Keri Russell, who someone obviously thought would be funny as the girl Arnett is pining for. Someone was obviously wrong, although it’s easy to see why she’d be given the female lead in a sitcom since she’s had so much comedy experience, like … two forgettable episodes of Scrubs? That’s it? There are funny women out there dying for a chance to get on a show like this. Off the top of my head, Judy Greer would have been perfect, and she even had a recurring role on AD. Whoever they got, it probably would have been better than Russell, whose not even attractive enough anymore to get the “at least she’s hot” pass. GRADE: B. KEEP WATCHING? Yes.

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