Monthly Archives: June 2010

On Glee

About 2 months ago, I received a request from some old friends/current readers for a comment on Glee, the FOX musical dramedy.  As of then, I hadn’t seen a single episode.  Thanks to the combined magic of iTunes and hulu, I’ve now seen a handful of them, including the final 6 or 7 of the season, and a smattering of episodes from the pre-mid-season break era (said to be the high point of the series).

So, basically it’s like this: Glee, for me, is sort of just good enough.  There tends to be a bare minimum in terms of musical/writing/acting quality in a given episode to keep me coming back.  But not much more.  I don’t think the show ever really figured out the tone of the show.  The writing is the main problem; it comes across as very glib much of the time, and what was an especially serious subject matter one week is really just glossed over the next week.  The sort of “logic” behind the characters’ various motivations and interactions is dubious at best.

Some of the acting is quite good – Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester is really about as good as it gets.  To me, she’s about the only thing that keeps the show grounded.  The two male leads, Matthew Morrison as Glee Club leader Will Schuester and Cory Monteith as Finn Hudson, are just so much milquetoast.  It’s just so network television that the leader of the glee club would also have to be the quarterback of the football team, and white, tall, vaguely handsome and like 10 years older than any high school student.

[Speaking of which, isn’t casting people in their mid-20’s as high school students so like 90210?  Couldn’t they get someone even passably younger?  Hunter Parrish how about?]

I think that the “Puck” character is pretty great too, and the rest of the assorted p.c. cast are up and down.  Kurt, the gay boy character is definitely a talented kid, and special props go his performance of “Single Ladies”, even though he didn’t really do all the moves exactly like in the video, but then again, who can, aside from Beyoncé and those men?  [And yes, those are men in the Beyoncé video, it says so on no less reliable a source than WikiAnswers, and not JUST the darker-skinned one either!]

The big problem for me is that the musical numbers are always too popified (even for me!), too auto-tuned, too over-produced.  For me, the best of the musical numbers have been: Kurt’s “Single Ladies” dance, followed by the whole football team doing it (which, despite its incredibly obvious set-up was still hilariously funny), Kristen Chenoweth’s performance of “Home” from the “first all-white production of The Wiz” (p.s. mad props for using the original orchestration), and… that’s really about it.  The Lady Gaga performances were pretty lousy, but then again, I’m not really a fan anyway.

Speaking of Chenoweth, I think her character is another high point in the series – are there any Strangers with Candy fans out there?  Doesn’t the Chenoweth character just reek of Amy Sedaris’ Jerri Blank?

One thing that I will give the show points for: there are always actual human beings (high school students/that weird piano guy) playing backup instruments whenever singing is happening.  Yes, the orchestrations often become quite enriched beyond the visible musicians, but they tend to be pretty self-aware of the absurdity when that happens.  So, that’s good.

Things that were particularly cringe-worthy were: “The Lady is a Tramp” and Idina Menzel.

I’ll probably give Glee another shot when it returns next season, but I’ll likely not devote myself to the series and just wait to find out from other people which episodes featured particular highlights.

On the Road

I’ve arrived in Maine for L’École Monteux 2010, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been greeted by warm people and warm weather!  Along the way, I stopped at the Eastman School of Music, which is BEA-UTIFUL, esp. their gorgeous concert call and the great cafe/sandwich shop that’s right on the same street.

I also stopped in Lawrence, MA, birthplace and first home of one Leonard Bernstein.  My goal was to find the house in which Jennie Resnick Bernstein (Lennyz Mom) lived and reared young Leonard.  First stop, the Lawrence Historical Society:

also known as the “Immigrant City Archives”.  And “Immigrant City” is definitely an appropriate name.  I felt like I was in Havana or someplace in this town, or at least in the Sharks’ turf.  When Lenny was a bambino there, however, it was mainly composed of Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Ukranian, etc. immigrants.

As a newly minted member of the Lawrence Historical Society, I was afforded to access to the town’s complete archives, and the wonderfully helpful archivist (who I think really did not know what to make of me… [above]) brought me just about everything that the town had collected re: Lenny.  The Bernsteins lived in Lawrence only briefly, relocating to other Boston suburbs soon after Lennyz birth.  So, most of the LB file focuses on Lennyz 1983 return to the town of his birth to celebrate his 65th birthday.  Here’s the headline announcing his visit in the local paper:

After a little sleuthing, I was able to find the address of Lennyz house: 24 Juniper Street.  Here is Lennyz hood (and I do mean hood):

and here is Lennyz House:

which, all things considered, is looking pretty, pretty good.  Pretty good.  Many of the other houses on the block have wooden boards up over the windows.  It’s entirely unclear if the current residents have any idea of the historical significance of their house, or if they would even know who Leonard Bernstein was if I mentioned his name.  Although, the town does boast proudly of her son along the road into town (signage and all).

Aside from this great chance to add another stop to my collection of Bernstein locations (which includes the music school buildings at IU, I’ll have you know!), the other thing that I really enjoyed on this long drive was the chance to listen to Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid over and over and over again.  This is SUCH a great album.  It’s got a little something for everybody, and a lot of everything for me.  The styles include a mix of Motown, funk, electro-folk (think Simon and Garfunkel but good), hip-hop, 70’s-, 80’s- and 90’s-style pop, straight ahead rock, jazz and a healthy dose of classical.  It’s got two overtures for God’s sake!!

Jane can do just about anything with her voice, sometimes inflecting a 1940’s-ish pop tinge, other times sounding like the child Michael Jackson at his Jackson 5 prime, and even channeling artists as diverse as Sade and Santi White.  Several of the tracks resemble “The Wiz”, and the whole album has a heavy theatrico-cinematic flare to it, the concept of the album being linked to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  Monáe’s band of collaborators are known as the Wondaland Arts Society and include the producers Nate Wonder, Chuck Lightning, and the composer/arranger Roman GianArthur.  It’s a dizzying blend of talents and well, well worth the listen.  The biggest hit so far is the infectious, brilliantly arranged dance track, “Tightrope”:

Rue the day

Unfortunately, it’s time for a Rue McClanahan tribute.  When Bea Arthur died, I mentioned her character Dorothy was really the heart of the show.  Well, if that’s the case, then Blanche was the show’s libido, the backdrop for the vital sexual essence that made “The Golden Girls” so very risque and continues to do so.  In that post, I provided a list of what I considered to be the top 3 “Dorothy” episodes of The Golden Girls, so here is my list of the top 3 “Blanche” episodes:

End of the Curse [1] [2] [3]

Many of the “Blanche” story lines center around Blanche’s obsession with preserving her looks and sex appeal into old age.  She considers plastic surgery, dates younger men, and wrestles with her past as a beautiful Southern Belle.  In this episode, the first of the second season, she deals with the onset of menopause.

Blanche’s Little Girl [1] [2] [3]

“The Golden Girls” invariably portrays Blanche’s relationship with her own children as fraught: she relied heavily on a nanny to raise them and feels emotionally distant from them.  One daughter (back in the 80’s, there were rarely consistent storylines on sitcoms – Blanche’s children come into existence on a writer’s whim and disappear just as easily) birthed a child through artificial insemination, leading to a mini-story arch within the show.  However, I have chosen this particular episode to represent Blanche’s parental redemption, in which Blanche’s daughter “Rebecca” returns from being a model in Paris, no longer slim and beautiful, but now grossly overweight.  Joey Regalbuto of “Murphy Brown” fame plays Rebecca’s abusive fiancé.

Journey to the Center of Attention [1] [2] [3]

In this episode, Blanche tries to expand Dorothy’s social horizons by taking her out to the Rusty Anchor.  At first awkward, Dorothy ends up becoming the favorite of the bar’s patrons, winning them over with her manly baritone.  This late episode reveals a great deal about the complicated Blanche-Dorothy relationship.  One might consider this episode a “Dorothy” episode, in that it allowed Bea Arthur a golden opportunity to show off her musical theater chops.  However it also allowed Rue a unique opportunity (in the entire series) to show off her amazing talents as a physical comedienne.  “The Golden Girls” is a show that is pervaded with the spirit of “I Love Lucy”, and I think it is no stretch to say that Rue was the most Lucy-esque of the four actresses.  The singing revenge scene ranks right up with the best of Lucy’s disastrous night club turns at the Tropicana (it starts around 7 minutes into the second clip.)

In closing, here are two of Rue’s finest moments from the entire series, neither of which come from the above listed episodes: