Now that we’ve settled into season 2 of "Glee," with the shock of a naughty, edgy musical juggernaut no longer knocking us off-balance, a new perspective emerges:
This show is all over the place.
A dizzying array of themes, tones and guests have rendered the show dangerously erratic – in fact, it's been that way dating back to the much-beloved Madonna episode, which felt at the time like a departure.
Now it just seems like a monster, created.
“Has any show ever been as simultaneously exciting and annoying as ‘Glee?’” ask Televisionwithoutpity.com video bloggers Beth Dover and Valerie Hurt.
"We're getting teen-sex romp mixed with Liza Minnelli tributes and several unresolved serious plot lines,” Dover told TheWrap. “Most of the adults seem to have major psychological disorders that we have abandoned completely in this season, one of the cheerleaders was attempting to traffic her baby, and almost every student alludes to a niche sexual fetish that we never get to actually see. ‘Glee’ has turned into the classic high school prude backseat tease."
So how can a show so self-assured – so deeply burrowed into the zeitgest – turn out to be so consistently … erratic?
TheWrap finds five factors that are throwing “Glee” around like a scrawny nerd in the locker room:
1. WHO'S THE BOSS?
While everyone agrees that “Glee” is Ryan Murphy’s baby, the truth is that as with any TV show, it would be humanly impossible for one person to write every episode. Enter co-creators Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuck, who take the principal writing credits in a nearly even rotation with Murphy and, according to the New York Times, have very different sensibilities.
Brennan — who writes all of Sue Sylvester’s lines — is known for painting “Glee’s” mean streak; Falchuck tends to lean toward the more emotional material; Murphy chooses the music and zany storylines. Murphy and Falchuck also occasionally direct (Murphy tends to helm the episodes he writes, including those with Madonna and Britney Spears) in a merry-go-round of outsiders that include regulars “Nip/Tuck” alumnus Elodie Keene and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (2nd unit director for Murphy’s “Eat Pray Love”); and one-timers like Joss Whedon (the “Dream On” episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris) and Eric Stoltz (last week’s “Duets.”).
It’s all standard operating procedure for a weekly TV show, but given the strong inclinations of each writer and director, it’s easy to understand the wild vascillations in tone.
2. WATCH THE SHOW, BUY THE ALBUM …
When your soundtrack has the potential to be a number-one iTunes hit from week to week, chances are those music choices are considered beyond the usual “how will this serve the scene?”
Not to mention all the singles hawked on iTunes, there are already eight "Glee" albums available, including the original cast album from Tuesday night's "Rocky Horror Show" parody — which came out a full week before the show aired. And, naturally, coming in mid-November: a "Glee"Christmas album.
Throw in a national live tour, an apparel line and the very real possibility of a Broadway show … not even the most focused creative force could keep all these balls in the air while keeping the train on the tracks at all times.
3. "GRILLED CHEESUS"
“Glee” is not subtle, but it uses the heaviest hand when introducing – and then executing – its inevitable weekly theme.
With fare both weighty (religion in “Grilled Cheesus”; fulfillment in “Dream On”), or light (Madonna, Britney Spears), the show has committed to a formula of formulas – pick a topic, introduce it right off the bat, and stick with it for an hour, across all storylines.
Oh, and then wrap it up by the end. By compartmentalizing its episodes into neat packages, “Glee” struggles to make its longer, more dramatic arcs fit naturally with the flavor of the week.
Everyone wants to sit with the cool kids, and to listen to the Hollywood tabloid machine tell it, everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Pope Benedict XVI has been begging for a guest spot on “Glee.”
Trouble is, too many have been granted an audience. From short, stealthy stints (Harris, Britney, Olivia Newton-Johni) to longer, more high-profile residences (Kristen Chenoweth, Molly Shannon), your average episode of “Glee” has more stunt casting than a full season of “The Fall Guy.”
Worse, especially ths season, the cameos aren't fitting the storylines. The Britney spot, written and directed by Murphy, was little more than a love letter to the singer, and the Harris spot served, well, no purpose at all except to spotlight TV's flavor of the month.
5. SUE SYLVESTER
The greatest strength of “Glee” – its devilish, razor-witted antagonist – is also an enemy of continuity. Credit to Murphy and Co. for trying to give Jane Lynch’s Emmy-nominated character some depth, but she's developed far too many soft edges this season.
And the storyline with the handicapped younger sister is a severe left turn, confusing and undermining Sue's motivations for being so consistently wicked.
What are we to think when the most deliciously mean character turns out to be a better person than ourselves? Cognitive dissonance, that’s what.
Follow Josh Dickey on Twitter at @JoshDickey.