This morning's episode of Glee was some parts good, one part terrible, and one part better than I would ever have expected.
First off, I want to explain what my problem with the show was in the first place. It definitely wasn't any one line or event. It was just that certain characters were not written morally. And when I talk about writing morally, I don't mean the characters need to be nice; I mean the writer needs to think about the characters the way people should think about other people in real life. Realizing that everyone is complicated, everyone has reasons for what they do, no one thinks of themselves as a villain or comic relief. The thing about writing morally is that it's the same thing as writing well. So for me, when Glee is offensive and when it's a low-quality show, it's both of those things at the same time.
The opposite goes for Mad Men. It's a really high-quality show and it also never offends me. Characters do offensive things, but I never get the impression that this reflects the writers' ignorance. And more importantly, characters who in lesser shows might be reduced to villains or comic relief, or something else less than human, are treated with respect. While we might sometimes see them as funny or villainous, we also see that they take themselves seriously and are doing what they think they have to do.
Anyway. Aspects of Glee from worst to best:
1. Sue Sylvester lets a girl with Down's Syndrome on the Cheerios and is mean to her. Will thinks Sue is being mean, but Sue says she's treating the girl like everyone else. Will wonders why Sue would do something so un-Sue-ish. Then we find out that Sue has a sister with Down's Syndrome who she's very close with.
This was a pretty good example of how the people who write Glee decide to take on issues that they have absolutely no knowledge of and aren't interested in learning about. The characters with Down's Syndrome behave like four-year-olds; Becky, the teenager, walks around holding hands with her friend and is manipulated into buying a cupcake. (Why couldn't Becky just decide to buy a cupcake because it's a nice thing to do?) Sue's sister, a middle-aged woman, enjoys having Sue read Little Red Riding Hood to her. Also, she apparently spends all her time in bed at a place that I think is a hospital, and this is portrayed as normal. If Sue's sister has a significant disability, which I guess she does, I would expect her to live in a group home with other disabled people--not just lie in bed waiting for her sister.
Becky is a perfect example of a character being used as a device instead of being human. Becky has almost no lines and we know nothing about her except that she wants to be a cheerleader. Also, the actress who plays her is terrible (at least I'm pretty sure she is; she has so little to do that it's hard to figure out what she should be doing). There's also the fact that she is in no way qualified to be a cheerleader. Why couldn't Becky have been a good, or even decent, cheerleader? Why did she have to be so clumsy that Sue's letting her on the squad must be interpreted as an act of pity?
I was actually excited when I found out that someone with Down's Syndrome was going to be on the show, but this ended up being by far the worst aspect of the episode.
2. Rachel is told she will get to sing "Defying Gravity," but Kurt wants to sing it instead. He complains to his dad, who is very macho and doesn't understand Kurt's interests, but is supportive of him nonetheless. His dad threatens the school, saying it's homophobic and sexist to not give Kurt a chance to sing the song. So Kurt and Rachel each get to perform the song, and the glee club will vote on who sings it better. Kurt can sing just as high as Rachel, but at the last minute he intentionally screws up, because someone called his dad and said "your son's a fag." Kurt explains to his dad that he is used to homophobia, but his dad isn't, and he doesn't want to be so visibly gay that his dad will have to experience harassment.
This was really good; I like Kurt. He's very stereotypical, but it doesn't bother me because he is human. I feel the same way about Tara from True Blood (maybe I'll post about her another time). I liked that we saw how being gay affects Kurt, and how even though he's really feminine, he can actually be stronger than a masculine guy like his dad.
3. ARTIE!!! This was fantastic. Will says they should have a bake sale to afford an accessible bus, but all the other people in glee club say that Artie doesn't mind being driven to things by his dad. In fact, Artie does mind, but doesn't want to make a fuss. Will sees how hurt Artie feels, and inexplicably has enough money to buy wheelchairs for the whole glee club which he makes them use for three hours every day. He also makes them dance in the wheelchairs. When the other kids have to deal with how inaccessible the school is, how people don't look at them, and how hard it is to dance in a wheelchair, they respect Artie more and work hard on the bake sale. When they end up raising the money, Artie says they should use it to make the school accessible instead, because that will help future disabled students, instead of just helping him.
Also, Artie and Tina obviously have a crush on each other, and two or three times during the episode, Tina tells Artie how much she admires him. Each time, Artie replies, "Oh, well, you have a stutter, so you understand having to overcome something." The last time this happens (after they've just kissed for the first time), Tina tells Artie that she doesn't really have a stutter, and has just been faking it for years because she's shy and it makes people leave her alone. She says that now she's become more confident and wants to stop pretending to stutter. Artie gets really mad at her for faking, and says something like, "You get to be normal now but I'm stuck in this chair for the rest of my life."
I loved, loved, loved this. Artie has never been developed at all, but now that they've finally developed him, they did a really good job. He's very kind and mature for his age, but also justifiably angry about the way people treat him. I think it's common sometimes for people who are minorities to go with the flow and appear unruffled by things, but actually be really angry on another level that they don't show to most people because it's not practical. This is probably especially the case for people who have disabilities that require support; we don't want to offend anyone in case we end up having to ask that person for help. Artie saw Tina as being on another level from other people, someone who could understand, and I think it's because of that that he feels so betrayed and expresses really negative emotions about being in a wheelchair, which I'm not sure he would express to most other people.
Maybe some people would find Artie's negativity offensive, but I didn't. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how social-model the show was about the whole thing. When I heard that the episode would involve the kids using wheelchairs to "see what it's like for Artie," I thought it would be all about how soul-crushingly miserable it is not to be able to walk, but really, we were shown a montage of the kids getting hit in the face by people who didn't see them, having to deal with things that were too high up to reach, etc. And when Artie expressed bitterness at the end, it seemed to be more about looking weird and being cut off from other people.
I just really love Kevin McHale. Even though I think a disabled actor should have been cast, he is really adorable, talented, and great. The best scene in the episode was when Tina kissed him and he put his face in his hands like he was too happy to look her in the eye. He was on True Blood by the way! He was the coroner's assistant who gets blown up.