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When Series Break Genre

Glee shocked many this week, when, in the middle of another goofy choir room scene, shots broke out in the halls of McKinley. For a full 10-minute act, students cowered and cried, terrified for their lives, not sure if they would soon be dead. They made videos to say goodbye to their loved ones, and a teacher even risked his life to save some students.

The fact that it was a false alarm, and no one was hurt, is incidental. For those minutes, viewers sat on the edge of their seats, deeply worried and upset.

This is an excellent hour of television; I am not arguing that. With school shootings and gun violence such a timely issue, Glee spoke to us about a political view that needed to be expressed and heard. It was very well handled, no one had to act out of character, and the resolution was believable.

Yet, as I consider what to write for my forthcoming review of the episode, which will soon be posted on this site, I can’t decide whether to congratulate or lambast the show. Glee is a comedy, first and foremost. There is some drama from time to time, a teen pregnancy, a car wreck, but nothing even comes close on the scale to this week’s episode. I don’t believe it was a stunt done for ratings, not even airing during sweeps. But it does completely break the tone of the series.

Sure, there was a warning at the beginning of the episode, saying there would be disturbing violence. Yet, no hint of any appeared for the first half hour, as the show went on with the light-hearted story lines, and so it was with great surprise that events unfolded.

But as good as the installment was on its own, should Glee have broken out of its mold so completely and so startlingly? Parents may let their children watch Glee, and then be surprised when something so dark suddenly happens. Regular viewers may have been looking forward to a bit of fun, only to be shocked into stunned silence.

Glee is far from the first show to do such a departure from their normal storytelling. I remember watching the beginning of an episode of All in the Family on the morning of September 11th, 2001 in which Edith was raped. I never got to see how it ended, for obvious reasons, but you get the point. This is a long tradition in the television world.

I applaud series that take risks and do something big. Grey’s Anatomy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scrubs are among the shows that have done a musical episode in the past decade or so. Angel had puppets. Community has done both of those and much more.

Yet, sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. Felicity may have broken new ground for college dramas when the series made the last five episodes full of magical time travel, being an almost completely typical series before that. But those episodes didn’t match the rest of the show, and that can be troubling.

It’s one thing for a show like M*A*S*H to go dark, as very early in its run it began dropping in serious subject matter amid the comedy. As the years went by, it naturally grew more dramatic, and became a more serious show. Plus, it was always about war. But it’s quite another for Glee to bring gun violence into a series about singing teenagers.

Now, one can argue that school shootings are tragic and horrible and almost always happen with little warning, unexpectedly rocking a world that doesn’t deserve or expect to be rocked. That is a valid point, and makes Glee‘s entry realistic. However, it also shook me to the core and, two days later, I can’t stop thinking about it.

About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Tori

    I also can’t seem to get this episode out of my head, but for me, that’s further proof of how well it was done. As for whether or not it’s right for the show, I’ve got to say that it absolutely is right.

    You mention some of the topics Glee’s addressed in the past. They’re all things that real kids face every day. Of all the issues teens must deal with, the possibility of a school shooting is the most terrifying. Remember the Cold War & “Duck & Cover?” Well just like the kids who knew sitting under their desk wouldn’t protect them from a

  • Tori

    (Cont’d –tiny keyboard tripped me up)

    Just like baby boomers knew desks wouldn’t shield them from nukes, today’s kids know bullets can go through windows & locked doors. Yet they still have several lockdown drills a year. The drills are necessary, but by highlighting the possibility that a tragedy could happen they also contribute to students’ fears. I’ve even heard kids describe peers as “Most Likely to Pull A Columbine.” All American high schoolers deal with this issue & Glee is a show about an American high school. I think it was necessary for them to address this topic.

    As for what it will do to (or for) the show, I think this episode will further the story in several ways. The most obvious thing is how it allowed some character growth–especially in Kitty–and allowed more bonding between characters. There’s also much to be resolved for Sue & Becky & I’m especially interested to see what happens with the latter.

    I also see an opportunity for Glee to perform more original songs. Marley’s confession of her journal of songs is a far more natural explanation for how a glee club could get their very own music than season 2′s “Let’s sit around & write our own songs 2 days before a big competition.”

    Finally, I don’t think Ryan Murphy & co should have waited to do this episode. Sandy Hook was an unthinkable tragedy but it came just five months after the unthinkable tragedy in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. If we try to wait for a so-called decent interval, we’ll never be able to understand why these things happen. Sadly, the next tragedy too often comes before we’ve come to terms with the last.