The Song Remains the Same: The Glee Pilot, Five Years Later

I was recently writing something about Faking It, the new MTV show about best friends mistaken for lesbians who run with it, and was thinking about the programs it reminded me of. Awkward, its time-slot companion, is the obvious comparison. I also thought of Gilmore Girls, especially the first two years. But the more I thought of it, the more I realized the show made me feel as charmed and inspired as I once was by a very different show, one I abandoned long ago.

That show was Glee. Messy, nonsensical Glee.

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Smash

NBC takes a musical gamble with ‘Smash’

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: NBC takes a musical gamble with ‘Smash’ – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Smash

Photo Credit: YouTube | NBC

The Super Bowl may be over, but for hosting network NBC, their big gamble happens tonight. At 10/9 central, the struggling fourth-place network will air the pilot for “Smash,” a new musical drama that has been in development for several years. Starring Debra Messing of “Will and Grace” fame, as well as “American Idol” runner-up Katharine McPhee and grand dame of cinema Anjelica Huston, the show is attracting a lot of buzz for being a very different kind of project for NBC.

The pilot has been available on NBC.com and iTunes for some time now, and after watching it, I can say with absolute certainty that “Smash” is pretty terrible. Yes, the music is fun, and it certainly has its moments, but make no mistake, it’s really rather bad on the whole.

Here’s the issue, though: It’s still more ambitious and interesting than half of what’s on network television today. So should “Smash” be applauded as a risk or bashed for what it really is, a flop?

Let’s start with a quick diagnosis of why “Smash” fails. First, the good news: the musical moments are actually pretty great. While one might wonder why McPhee suddenly can’t sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” her breakout song on “American Idol,” the other members of the ensemble, particularly Megan Hilty, are accomplished. Hilty is the only one who can act and sing in equal measure. The other principal performers, especially Messing and Huston, are hit-and-miss. Almost anyone who isn’t already a star in his or her own right on the show is borderline awful. Messing’s family might as well be played by pieces of plywood for all of their range.

Even the best actors are saddled with bad dialogue – Messing has to convincingly deliver a filibuster about revivals on Broadway rather than new material in the first five minutes of the episode, and the whole thing just arrives with a crash. Huston is chewing the scenery all over the place, which is a shame, because her wonderfully understated work in “50/50” was a highlight of the last year in cinema.

But the biggest problem with “Smash” is also one of its strengths: It is fully immersed in the theater world. Not the biggest fan of Broadway? “Smash” doesn’t really care about appeasing you – it’s going to continue talking about insider stuff, and expects you to keep up. That level of apathy for audience capability is rare to find on network television, but this isn’t exactly a cop show. If you live outside of New York City, some of this is gonna be flying over your head.

The nature of “Smash” is something more shows should try. So often, television series are weighed down by exposition to the point of never recovering fully – or they never catch up their audience. By the end of the episode, I already felt better about the show’s abilities to remain insider-focused but also attainable. The last song of the episode, “Let Me Be Your Star,” is an absolute home run, too. The finale was the only time I felt “Smash” could be a hit. But that was the end of the episode. It was just because of this column that I kept watching. Other viewers don’t have to stay tuned.

NBC was smart to release the pilot early – any fans that make it through the whole episode will be likely to stick around. As always, you can never count out musical theater nerds as an audience. After all, they’re the ones who keep “Glee” alive. But the next episodes just need to be better or else the show will never succeed.

Making such an ambitious, rare show is admirable on NBC’s part. However, the network just isn’t in the place to be taking such risks. More chances like this should be taken by CBS, the first-place network, because they can afford it. As far as “Smash” goes, it looks like NBC’s gamble just isn’t going to pay off.

It Gets Better logo

It Gets Better might be making it worse

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: ‘It Gets Better’ might be making it worse – Los Angeles Loyolan.

It Gets Better logo

Photo Credit: It Gets Better Project

“Shut up.” That’s my knee-jerk reaction whenever I read an article where a heterosexual person tells the LGBT community what to do or what they’re doing wrong. And every so often, after I’ve actually read the full article and listened to his or her point, my reaction hasn’t changed.

But after reading “Are Adults Also To Blame For Gay Teen Suicides? Yes.,” an article written by right-wing activist Kathleen McKinley on Nov. 1 on the Chron.com blog “TexasSparkle,” I have to admit I was left contemplating her argument a little more than I typically would. Not because she’s any great shakes as a writer – in fact, she comes off as a bit of a half-wit – but because buried underneath the mediocre verbiage, she makes a few good points.

McKinley’s argument is, in essence, that adults who urge gay teens to come out of the closet at an early age are endangering them and preparing them for an unrealistic world. Her targets are the It Gets Better Project, the television show “Glee” and other media outlets she perceives as portraying a false world to gay teens.

The blog Gawker.com, along with a few other web outlets, have blasted McKinley for, in effect, telling gay kids to stay in the closet and blaming their parents rather than blaming the bullies who are really at fault. McKinley does seem less interested in admonishing the hateful bigots than she should – instead, she focuses her anger primarily on, as she puts it, “the idiotic adults who force our adult views on kids, and pull them into our adult world long before they are mature enough to handle it.”

While I’d love to say that she’s wrong and that adults are completely aware of the difficulties of being so young and dealing with the process of discovering your sexual identity in today’s world, she’s actually making a good point. The media world is hypersexualized today and so focused on figuring out your identity that it’s nigh impossible to come to an understanding of your sexual identity independently.

The It Gets Better Project, established last year by columnist Dan Savage during the last rash of gay teen suicides, gained notoriety quickly as a source of support for LGBT youth. Hundreds of YouTube users, both famous and obscure, uploaded videos communicating their sympathies to bullied gay youth. The movement became an overnight sensation with mainstream media.

Fast forward a year and America is once again in the middle of a multitude of gay teens committing suicide, with Canadian teen Jamie Hubley as the most recent victim. It’s not a stretch to say that the It Gets Better Project has failed as a campaign, especially when considering that one of the bullied teens who eventually commited suicide, 14-year- old Jamey Rodemeyer, actually made an It Gets Better video during the first string of suicides.

McKinley’s critique of the It Gets Better Project and other adults who emphasize being who you are, rather than coming out at the right time, is on-point. LGBT teens need a way to express themselves and work out their feelings and curiosities. However, waving a rainbow flag and setting their social studies presentations to Lady Gaga songs isn’t the answer. It may be a generalization, but teenagers are jerks. They’re still discovering who they are and tend to take out their insecurities in hateful ways. High school is not the best place to freely express who you are, no matter who that may be. It’s not fair, but then again, very little in this world is fair.

Parents should be open and honest with their children, giving them safe environments to express their sexual identity in a healthy manner. They should also be honest with them about being confident in themselves but also being safe. By the same coin, LGBT teens should be proud and confident in their sexual identity without exposing themselves to bullying. They should acknowledge their circumstances and respond appropriately to their situation. If a gay youth doesn’t feel safe and is without a strong support system that can be there in the worst of times, it’s not a good idea to push gay youth to come out.

I disagree with McKinley’s approach and her stances on most other issues. I also wish she would learn how to write properly so she didn’t make an otherwise strong point so insufferable to read. None of that, however, takes away from the fact that her argument is valid and needs to be heard.

The It Gets Better Project and movements like it have their hearts in the right place. But, they aren’t quite working and it’s time to acknowledge that rather than crucifying those like McKinley who are willing to say so.