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In Praise of Burt Hummel and Glee

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Let it never be said that I do not give credit where credit is due.  I have complained on more than one occasion that Glee has failed to create characters and storylines that I care about, that for me, on a weekly basis, the show lives and dies by the songs that are sung.  If the songs aren’t ones that I like, I find the episode disappointing, if they’re ones I enjoy, I’m really happy with what we’ve been given. 

I’d now like to add an addendum to that idea.

There is in fact a character on the show that I really do care about, a character who I think needs way more screen time, is well-written, Photo Credit:  Michael Yarish/FOXbeautifully acted, and perhaps the best part of the show.  The unfortunate thing is, this character isn’t one of the stars nor one of the regulars, he is merely a recurring part of the series.  The character in question is none other than Burt Hummel (portrayed by Mike O’Malley).

In a television series which is full of over-the-top performances and an incredible amount of foolishness (I’m not knocking that stuff, but let’s be clear about what Glee is), Burt represents a breath of fresh air and a rare three-dimensional, real person.  Quite possibly, he’s the only such figure on the show (although Kurt isn’t far off). 

Let’s look at Burt for a moment – here’s a guy, whether he’s right or wrong, who has this view of reality, of the world, and then realizes that his son doesn’t fit into that view.   Burt doesn’t try to change his son, molding Kurt into something that works into Burt’s view of how things are.  No, Burt does something which is personally much more difficult – Burt does his best to change who he himself is; to accept a new point of view—one which doesn’t in any way match his own experiences—and find a way to still connect with Kurt.  Burt doesn’t always succeed, but in a show which is full of absentee parents or ones that don’t seem to get or to care to try to get their kids, Burt repeatedly goes out of his way and well out of his comfort zone to be close to his son.

Last night, that “well out of his comfort zone” went so far as to have a birds and the bees talk with Kurt.  Burt picked up pamphlets to give to Kurt and even went on to try to explain to his son what sex is about and what it should be about.  Burt sat there and had a conversation in which he not only gave Kurt his own viewpoint of things, but actually attempted to see things from his son’s viewpoint and to give advice from that perspective.

I am not trying to suggest that Burt is always in the right or that his initial notion of the world and the people in it is something he should have had, just that if ever there was a caring, considerate parent on television, it is Burt Hummel.  Mike O’Malley and the writers manage to infuse the character with this aw-shucks sort of charm on the surface and a profound depth and intelligence underneath.

Burt’s a guy who makes me both happy and sad with Glee.  He is an example of how real and great the characters on the show can be and also a stark reminder that the rest of them are not nearly as deep.  Maybe his character is at an advantage as he’s on the side of things rather than being in the middle, but he’s definitely someone I hope is there every week and whom I’d like to see more of as the show continues.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://kirstencoachman.com Kirsten Coachman

    I have to agree! The scene between Burt and Kurt last night was one of the best scenes of this past season, in my opinion. I really like that Glee has continued to show the growing father-son relationship between these two.

  • Houseguest

    I couldn’t agree more. Burt and Kurt have the best father-son relationship on tv, present or past. The birds-and-bees scene was just one of many such humane, realistic, loving scenes between the two, and for me was the best part of the episode (Aids from a cucumber, notwithstanding). Thanks for bringing attention to this marvelously written and acted character.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Excellent profile on Burt. He is one of my favorites, too.

    Burt actually is a main character, as of this season. He was recurring in season one His name does appear with the stars at the beginning. His main character contract only promises 6 episodes per season, though. Which is sad, because agree he needs more screen time. Perhaps they will up the epi count for next year.