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April 22, 2010

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Ben Owen

Man, there's a lot here. I think you're absolutely right about the kind of shift in narrative pleasure that a musical number in a serial provides. The viewer has to be ready to stop and listen and enjoy. For a very long time I found that transition, almost impossible. To begin with there was my resistance to the very conceit of musicals--that people stop and sing. This is pretty common, but was decisively ended for me by South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (though my sister's endless looping of The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid probably laid the groundwork). But even now I ostensibly enjoy musicals, in the serial context it's still hard. It requires some kind of work, almost, or at least a willingness to be in sympathy with the show. I think half the reason I enjoyed the pilot of Treme so much is that David Simon (to say nothing of Steve Zahn and Wendell Pierce) simply has so much credit with me that I was prepared to make the shift. The frustrating thing with the two episodes of Glee since the restart is that I make the effort, but have so far found the songs kind of disappointing. Initially I think Glee beguiled me--it's songs seemed so cleverly placed and so energetically eager to please that I welcomed the interruption to the high school on Venus plot. But now the plot has, as you say, embraced a kind of stasis and the songs seem less interested in seducing me (sorry, I've been watching a lot of those interspecies sex clips with Isabella Rossellini) across the divide. Specifically with regards to Glee I can't help but feel that the imposed stasis represents a certain kinds of artistic failure by the show's creators, although I understand that by advancing the plot so rapidly they face the threat constant with all serial narratives, of fucking up that thing that made the show appealing in the first place. It just seems to make it like Matt Groening's least favorite episode of The Simpsons, "The Principal and the Pauper," which ends with the judge decreeing that nobody ever talk about the events of the episode ever again. But the risk is real: everybody seems in rough agreement that The Office got worse once Jim and Pam got together. Anyway, my feeling is that a good musical number ought generally to provide some kind of insight into the plot that isn't immediately apparent, particularly an emotional insight. Like Rachel and Finn singing to each other in the most recent episode of Glee, which reconfirms their desire for one another (except maybe more interesting than that, since the narrative had already made it abundantly obvious).

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