Hate on Glee.

I cut off my cable more than a year ago. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, for a few reasons. One, the times that most people watch television — in the morning before work and in the evening after work — I spent listening to music, reading, and writing. Two, because I had very, very basic cable, there was rarely anything on worth watching. Three, when I did watch, it was often mostly Sunday afternoon Hannah Montana and This Old House marathons. But about six months ago, I got Verizon Fios internet, and my world changed. I discovered Tudou and Hulu and it’s all been downhill from there. Recently, I realized that I have a roster of shows to watch regularly: Fringe, Dollhouse, The Daily Show, Gossip Girl, and Glee all made the list. The last of these, however, has caused me a little bit of consternation.

There are a lot of reasons why I should like Glee. It has musical numbers, and I am a girl who loves musicals; from Gigi to Jesus Christ Superstar, I can get behind a movie with plenty of singing and dancing. It’s in the classic high school setting, and since I grew up just as teen movies and TV shows had a resurgence in the late nineties, I have a lot of loyalty to the genre. Plus, it really is a funny show.

And when Glee premiered on Hulu in May, I thought it was pretty entertaining, all the way up until the point when a loud, large black girl announced, with no small amount of neck-rolling and hand-waving, that she ain’t no Kelly Rowland, she’s a BEYONCE. While I enjoyed the rest of the premiere, that moment left a bitter taste in my mouth. When the show came back for the full fall season, I didn’t start watching it right away, but since a few people I know were really enjoying it — particularly culture blogger and friend Alyssa Rosenberg — I gave it another shot. And I laughed. A lot. Watching unlikely characters perform some New Jack Swing is always a winning moment. But as the weeks have gone on, the jokes that were funny because they’re shocking (particularly lines delivered quite skillfully by Jane Lynch) have become both less funny and less shocking. The show writers don’t seem to be skewering stereotypes, so much as reinforcing them. But even more problematic than that, the female characters really, really bother me.

Sadie at Jez writes:

Yes, everyone’s a cardboard cliche – it’s supposed to be “playing with” stock types – but I think things get nefarious where the dames are concerned. We’ve got Shrewish, Lying Wife; Sweet Perky Neurotic; Bitchy Cheerleader; Tracy Flick-esque Nerd; Strong Black Woman. Sure, Lynch’s over-the-top psycho-coach is watchable, but only because she is, not because there’s any more nuance to her. And all of whom orbit around Main Guy, who is apparently perfect, and a saint. Also saintly: football QB. Both are being manipulated by women in their lives while worshipful Perfect Women wait in the wings to ease their burdens.

The main men, teacher Will Shuster, and Finn the quarterback are dopey but lovable. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when juxtaposed with some truly neurotic, unlikeable, and often downright evil women, it made me wonder if creator Ryan Murphy has a problem with women. And then I remembered he created Nip/Tuck, a show that has a similar vibe — two men who get themselves into trouble, but whose foibles don’t compare to those of the insane, scheming, manipulative women around them. There was a recent scene in which the married Will’s school crush, Emma, the school’s counselor with severe mysophobia (Sadie calls her “Sweet Perky Neurotic”), accepted a proposal of marriage from the football coach. And by ‘accepted,’ I mean she agreed to a “secret marriage” in which she wouldn’t change her name, wouldn’t live with him, and wouldn’t tell anyone about the marriage, all because she doesn’t want to die alone. Coach Tanaka’s gratefulness for this was palpable, and I’m not sure how sweet that is.

Alyssa counters Sadie’s analysis by noting some improvements in stereotyping from the latest episode:

Mercedes (the African-American girl) is a dentist’s daughter. Rachel (the diva) is capable of helping other people, even putting her mad storming out skills to the use of others. Sue may be impossible, but she does love teaching. Glee is smart enough to be playing a long game, even underneath the candy coating. I hope Sadie, and other haters so thoroughly demolished by Mercedes, stick around to see that game to completion.

I’ll definitely stick around to watch the show, because I do appreciate the fact that Mercedes has gotten more play, and has also stepped out of the loud black girl role a bit — she had some sweet moments recently with the Kurt, the gay kid. But I still find that Glee leans really heavily on the “inherent comedy” of stereotypes. This is thrown into sharp relief by a similarly satirical show which debuted this season on NBC: Community.

Community features a diverse cast with a twist on the high school setting — the show is set at a community college. There’s the plus-size black woman, but she isn’t loud or much of a neck-roller: she’s sweet and goodhearted with a little bite. There’s the black kid, who isn’t hood or a smartass, he’s a dumb jock, former prom king who’s adrift after leaving high school. There’s the foreign kid whose problem is less that he’s first-generation Pakistani and more that he’s just plain weird. There’s even an analogue to the Rachel character in Glee — a driven, type-A girl who’s not in a 4-year school because she had a “little problem with pills,” but she’s surprisingly not grating. There’s the silver-haired Chevy Chase, who proves to be much less annoying than memory served. Jeff, the main character, is a lovable jerk, but his life isn’t being turned around by magical characters of color who are helping him find himself — he has agency, and so do they. And then there’s Senor Chang. Oh, Senor Chang:

All of the things Community does to poke holes into stereotypes (in the first episode, Jeff, the lead, turns to a black lunch lady in the cafeteria with his romantic problems, and when he gets the side-eye, as he would in real life, he backtracks quickly, explaining that he was raised on television and it taught him that black women are comforting cosmic mother figures), are things I wish Glee would try to do. There’s a sweetness to Community underneath its tart shell, whereas Glee is the opposite.

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  • Bingo. Absolutely. Plus, has the kid in the wheelchair on Glee gotten a storyline yet? Has he ever had more than two lines in a scene?

    I’m more than a little skeptical of the “loveable cad wears the strong woman down” thing on Community, but you’re right — in every other way, it’s more textured and more surprising than Glee, and I would not have predicted that after watching the pilots.

  • interesting

  • I’m not keen on musicals so I don’t think I would like Glee to begin with but I’ve heard nothing but great things about Community. I’m going to have to add it to the list of shows I already have no time to watch.

  • Glee def lost me after the first episode. The Black girl was just too stereotypical. I haven’t gone back to check it out and I probably won’t.

    I was def afraid the Black woman on community was going to be stereotype-ish, especially after learning that the woman who plays that character is best friends with Sherri Shepard.

    Have you watched Parks and Recreation on NBC? Last night’s episode was really over the line as far as race is concerned.

  • ladyfresh

    Thank you i may switch to Community from Glee because of this and esp because of that clip you just showed.

  • Zesi

    Bonus: Community is HEELAREEEOUS

  • I get the hate. I watched the last two episodes back to back and the adult women characters and their extremes were too much. I liked the pilot, but aside from the singing and the youth storylines, I’m not that interested.

  • lsn

    I’m still watching Glee for now, mostly because the Kurt episode was so good and I’m hoping that the other characters will be moved forward similarly. I think there is some movement, but yes, I would like to see Mercedes being the focus of an episode, or Artie, Tina, or any of the characters who get two lines and then background sing for the rest of it. Anything to get off the fake pregnancy storyline.

    I’ll keep a look out for Community – no one’s picked it up here yet that I’m aware of (I would prefer to watch it legally if possible, which I can’t do via Hulu.)

  • Zier

    I think Glee is starting to improve – at least, it looks promising from what happened in the latest episode. I’ve heard Artie will get an episode, so hopefully the other minor characters will as well! The obsession with the Rachel and Finn as the lead singers has been particularly bugging me, so I hope it changes. (Yes, they are great singers, but so are the others!)

    I agree on the points about Community – it’s clever, and very well done! I love how they’re really playing around with stereotypes (at first I thought Glee would be more like that, though I guess it’s still possible).

  • mordzook

    I feel like “Glee” makes everyone look ridiculous, but the girl with the “stutter.” My god, that couldn’t be more force or embarrassing for her, seeing as how she’s terrible at pretending. But, um, at least they do some saweet rocking on occasion.


  • I watch because it’s my form of TV candy – it’s the only show I follow from week to week aside from Mad Men. I watch it because it doesn’t require much of me. I can’t resist musicals and I also can’t resist teen shows (see also my appreciation of Degrassi). I too want to see storylines for people other than Quinn, Finn and Rachel and more shine for all the other kids in general. If that can happen I will be happier with the show.

    I have a lot of fun zoning out and watching it but the parts with Will’s wife and his marriage really irk me, His wife is a caricature and on occasion something happens between them that is funny but for the most part it’s just way too broad. In the other parts of the show Will’s kind of sappy earnestness works but not in the way their interaction is written. He hasn’t felt her stomach? He never seriously loses his temper? He doesn’t see what a bitch she is? And while we are on that topic, why does she have to be so ridiculously two-dimensional? We don’t get to know anything about his wife’s motivations or thoughts…I think we’re supposed to think she doesn’t have any. That definitely bothers me.

    Now that I know about “Community” I’ll give it a spin too thought – good looking out.

    P.S. Joss Whedon is supposed to direct one of the remaining eps this season. You’ll at least watch that maybe?