Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Thursday, November 19, 2009


-- television -- glee and its "ballad" vexations

Did you ever run across one teeny tiny small thing in an episode or something that just bugged you so much you wanted to smack the people responsible? And you know it's tiny, and you know it's not meant the way they said it, and you still want to smack them?

In last night's episode of Glee, they made the students pair up with each other to sing ballads to each other, as it would be required at sectionals. Fine and dandy. And the students were paired randomly by picking names out of a hat, which allowed for people to be paired in hi-larious ways. The club has an interesting yet very Hollywood mix of apparent ethnicities -- a black boy and girl, Matt and Mercedes, and an Asian boy and girl, Tina and .... They have, interestingly enough, resisted the temptation to pair everyone up romantically along ethnic lines. So far, so good. For last night's episode, the black guy, Matt, was supposedly out sick, leaving Mr Schuester, the teacher, to pair off with the student who he discovered had a crush on him. Larf riot! And then Tina pulled a piece of paper out of the hat, and she said: "Other Asian."




Here's the thing: Glee club only has 12 students. They've been going for several weeks in the show's time. Mr Schu is practically neurotic about trying to be a good mentor to his students. You're telling me that after all this time, he wouldn't know the student's name? Moreover, he wouldn't know how humiliating it would be for that student to have it stated in public that the teacher couldn't remember the guy's name? Mind, it's also possible -- perhaps even probable -- that Tina said that on her own, as an insult to someone who might well have been one of her persecutors. Which ... OK, but in that case, the teacher should have said something. It shouldn't have passed unnoticed. And in either case, quite honestly, it feels vaguely like the powers that be were trying to avoid giving him a name because once he has a name, he'd actually maybe get lines, and the speaking cast is quite crowded already.

I suppose I shouldn't be terribly surprised. They screwed the pooch rather badly the last time they brought up anything like ethnic issues played for comedy, in the episode "Throwdown", but that was easier to get past, since they were trying to make a point -- albeit badly, and the point was actually quite quite wrong -- and the good intentions were practically glittering on their sleeves. (And, in fact, in light of later revelations about Sue Sylvester, the episode makes a great deal more sense ... though the point Schu makes is still quite quite wrong.) In "Ballad", this was just a small moment played straight up for comedy ... and they should have known better. Anyone thinking about it for a tenth of a second would have known better. It's not true to the characters as they've built them, it's not true to the situation, and it's wrong on its face. Plus, it's just plain not funny.

To be sure, last night's episode was wildly uneven. One thing they did right was showing other parents, finally, and how they react to the news that their children are going to have an untimely baby, which the entire school including faculty already knew. Finn's mother was hurt, but supportive; Quinn's parents threw her out. There's also the gay kid Kurt with a crush on Finn, and Finn having the brains of a flea (and, to be fair, being a teenager) has not the slightest idea how to handle it. And the actual crush plot with the teacher and student was handled fairly well, and done in one, which is good. And we will not speak of Mercedes' advice to Puck, which was not only wrongheaded, but possibly also wrong for the character as we've seen her built to date. (She seems to have very firm ideas about what's right and wrong, and to tell someone that they should just shut up about what's right in order to make life easier for someone else doesn't seem in character.) It wasn't, overall, a bad episode, and it had some very good moments in it.

But that "Other Asian" crack ... it still nags, for some reason. It's a tiny, small thing. I know this, I absolutely know it. It just ... vexes me.

It vexes me, you hear?

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Commendations? Brickbats?

Posted by iain at 04:21 PM in category television