Friday, April 20, 2012

As David Sang

I find it fascinating how people talk about the Psalms in ways that suggest they haven't read them. Everyone knows Psalm 23, but most psalms don't read like that. There are feelings and ideas that many religious people would seem to be shocked by. But that's reality, and THAT's the way David and others talked to God. No filter, just throw it out there, and sing about it. Sometimes, for others to sing too. Would it surprise you to learn that the Psalms say God is angry all the time (psalm 7:11) or that David longs to bathe his feet in the blood of his enemies?

When I was in middle school, we were assigned to each write a psalm. Only two of us really did, with everyone else simply writing bad poems. But mine was a cry of despair about the faculty, so I was given a bad grade and forced to rewrite it and make them look good. I stand by my original words; that's how David wrote. It doesn't matter whether he was right or not to hate his enemies "with a righteous hatred" (and remember, this likely included Saul, the king of Israel); that is how he felt and expressed it.

I've recenty discovered a band called Red. They are essentially Christian metal. I like "Let It Burn" particularly, as I consider it much more a psalm as David would sing than the kind of things sung in churches these days. To me, most of today's Christian music is poorly written, and certainly shies away from the realities of pain. I appreciate a band that writes something like this.

And just for the other side of the equation, here's Red's answer with their song "Not Alone".

Friday, April 13, 2012

If I Wrote For "Glee"

Glee returned from its brief hiatus this week and started it's stretch of episodes before the season finale. Unfortunately, after the previous cliffhanger they took the easy way out and didn't pick up this episode with the immediate aftermath. I hate when TV doesn't deal honestly with what just happened, and instead jumps ahead in time. We don't get to see how the gang found out about Quinn or anything else, we're just quickly filled in with a five-minute exposition scene. That bothered me, but it was evidentiary of the sometimes lazy and uneven writing I'm finding the show slump into (and I say this as a writer so lazy he ended that clause with a preposition). So I started thinking what kinds of things I would do if I were on the writing staff for Glee.

1. Remember the pilot -- The first episode was such a hit not just because of the music, but because it had a great sardonic wit. That wit carried over for the next few episodes, and the series felt a lot like Popular used to feel. Popular was a prior series from the same creators on the WB, that had a bit of a bite to it for people who didn't watch Dawson's Creek. Sometimes there were sweet moments, but it didn't forget what it was. Sometimes Glee doesn't know what it is anymore and lets itself get too silly in its humor, too unrealistic, too preachy, or too "musical". It's gotten into a rut, which they sometimes self-consciously comment on, but I always appreciate it more when the writing has that satire to it. I find also that there seem to be chunks of episodes that focus on one idea, then it's totally forgotten about for the next chunk of episodes. Like the seasons are written in three or four blocks with little thought to integrating them over a whole year. But mostly, I just liked the feel of the pilot, and it hasn't often felt that way in awhile.

2. The band doesn't know the song -- I know this show wants to follow the illogic of being a musical, and with that come certain conventions that we just accept. For instance, in any Gene Kelly movie, you know that he'll suddenly start tapping at some point, even though his shoes have no taps on them for the rest of the scene. The series used to straddle this line better when it had more fantasy sequences or had characters bring in sheet music. But for some reason now there always seem to be enough musicians in the room (even sometimes playing random instruments just for that one song) and they ALWAYS know how to play and how to play it perfectly. Nobody ever criticizes them. So I think it would be great if there were a moment in some episode where one of the kids says he doesn't know the song and can't play it. Or someone else plays a wrong note somewhere. They can still play it right for the album, but it would not only lend a little more reality to the show, it would also make for a witty commentary on the series to date.

3. A band-centered episode -- And while we're at it, I'd like to see a special episode that focuses exclusively on these band kids who are forced to stay in the background. Star Trek: The Next Generation once did an episode called "Lower Decks" that was about a group of junior officers on the ship and what life was like for them. It was insightful and interesting, and only marginally featured the main cast. I think it would be an interesting experiment to explore some of these other people that we see all the time, but don't get to hear about.

4. 4-week run with no soapbox -- A big part of Glee has always been about acceptance and tolerance of everyone and that of course has included the gay community. However, the series has gotten bogged down in making characters gay, in exploring its gay characters, and in parading them sometimes for no reason, or worse to make some preachy statement. This was especially harmful in season 2, which began by exploring Kurt beyond his sexuality and into his thoughts on religion and his relationship with his father. But then they started the bullying storyline, and Kurt has been mainly "the gay one" again. I'm not saying they shouldn't have gay characters or write storylines for them or give them love interests. But I think it would be healthy for the series to take 4 consecutive episodes and not touch on it at all. This goes for doing heavy-handed "message" episodes as well. Ryan Murphy has gotten so used to using his show as a forum (the recent valentine's episode felt like it was written solely as a response to Victoria Jackson) that it sometimes seems that he's forgotten that his characters are people first. Consider the way they write Artie. He's there, but they don't always focus on the wheelchair. They do every now and then, but it doesn't come up all the time. The constant focus on Kurt and Blaine and now Santana is becoming repetitive, makes them one-note characters, and takes focus away from other cast members. They've found ways to take Quinn away from being the stereotypical cheerleader (sadly, they've put Brittany more in that dumb blonde category), and I think it only right that they take Kurt away from being a stereotypical gay character. Every now and then they make real progress, but they constantly seem to slide back. Especially now that they have Blaine.

5. Stop adding characters!!! -- Another reason they can't service all their actors is that there are just too many characters now. This is another reason that storylines keep getting started and dropped; they can't keep that many balls in the air.

6. Do a Beach Boys episode -- Glee has surprisingly done comparatively little music from the 1960s. The Beach Boys have a decade-spanning career. Granted, this same point could be made for a number of other artists and it also comes down to what songs they can get. But I'd love to hear an a capella version of "Good Vibrations."

7. Focus on '90s music -- The series has done a lot of music from the '70s. It's done a lot with classic rock, as well as funk and there's an upcoming disco number. This is all music from before the kids' time. On the other end of the spectrum, there has been a lot of contemporary music (sometimes too much); Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, Avril Lavigne. But that one piece that they've really avoided is the sound of the 1990s. For these kids, the 1990s is just as foreign as the 1970s. It weirds me out to think of it, but high school students today are people who weren't born when Lion King first came out. Some '90s songs would be the soundtrack of their childhoods, others they might know through bands still popular like Green Day. But up until now the series has almost exclusively avoided this decade. Usually, songs of this period are Broadway showtunes or hits from the careers of '80s icons like Michael Jackson or Madonna. I think it would be just as beneficial to focus on some of that '90s indie rock sound as it is to do funk or disco.

9. Return to the internal logic of competing -- In the first season, or at least the first 13 episodes, there was a sense that the glee club was choosing songs and rehearsing them for competition. But as the series went on, they got more and more away from that to the point where they never seem to do the same song twice (except "Don't Stop Believin'") and worse, go to competition without a final set list. In the early episodes, there were requirements for types of songs to be sung. Now that seems like it's all out the window. It's making the show a joke. Yes, they've undone some of that damage by commenting on it this season, but until we actually see things done differently, it still feels false.

10. Educate the writing staff about musical theater -- Every single time the series puts on a musical, it follows the movie version even when that is vastly different. It happened in the first season when Rachel was doing Cabaret and she was rehearsing dialog from the movie and doing a song written for the film (it was later put in some revivals). It happened in season 2 when they put on Rocky Horror, but it was really a love letter to the movie. And it happened this season with West Side Story, when they performed the movie version of "America". There was a lot wrong with the way they did West Side in those episodes (particularly the casting of Kurt). But my point is that they don't seem to really know anything about the shows themselves. Or about the realities of high school productions. Musical theater gleeks make up a large portion of their audience, and they do themselves a disservice when they don't write it properly.

That's just my two cents. I know I haven't done anymore of my episode reviews for this season. I just haven't had the time. Perhaps I'll have more to say on some of this if I get to them eventually.