Glee = South Park

Glee has been compared to so many shows – American Idol, Community, Fame, some Sid & Marty Krofft thing (well, I haven’t heard the comparison yet, but I should; it’s a show with a lot of singing that doesn’t make much sense). After watching last night, trying to figure out why I like this show in spite of its almost total lack of regard for story and character logic, I thought of the craziest comparison yet: Glee is the South Park of hour-long live-action television.

The point of comparison was that both shows share a complete lack of interest in anything resembling subtlety. Most TV is not subtle, but writers usually try and disguise their themes, or find some oblique way to present them; they’re not subtle, but they don’t want to be thought of as unsubtle. Trey Parker and Matt Stone don’t care. Anything that is on their mind, they will tell us directly. Characters don’t reveal their feelings through subtext, but tell us what’s on their mind at all times, like old comic book characters. Glee has a similar contempt for subtext. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character spent most of last night making everything into text: the authors’ message of the week (both about cyber-bullying and the problem of people saying mean things about their show), and, at the end, simply explaining every single plot point so they can wrap her whole storyline up in two minutes.

Glee also resembles a cartoon like South Park in the way it changes character motivations and relationships from week to week, while still maintaining that it has some sort of history and continuity. (Which makes it different from a show where the characters have no past and nothing that happened will be referred to again.) Sue Sylvester or Eric Cartman can be villains one week, sort of good guys the next week. Characters can take on completely new personalities for about 20 minutes and then snap back with little explanation. Whatever a character needs to be for the purpose of the story, he or she is; yet the writers can still refer to character history on Glee in order to propel a story, just like South Park can randomly bring back previous plot points when it feels like it.

I don’t want to go too far with the comparison; I just make it because I think it helps illustrate what Glee is doing. It’s a ramshackle show that almost seems to proceed from its three writers’ stream of consciousness; I called it “scattershot drama” in an earlier post, and I think the term still fits. All normal rules of good storytelling or consistent characterization are thrown out the window if the writers need to deliver a message or throw in something fun.

I like it still, because I think a lot of the fun stuff actually is fun, and because some of the things it doesn’t do are not that important to me personally. Because nobody behaves consistently, Glee makes it very difficult to guess what’s going to happen next week, or discuss whether this event is foreshadowing another event down the road. That’s true of other shows, but they want to look like they have a plan; Glee rubs our noses in the fact that much of what happens in a TV show is dictated by the random whims of the writers. That makes it not a whole lot like a serious drama, but quite a bit like a low-budget cartoon where the same people write every episode.

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