Glee is losing me.
Once upon a time, Fox Network's musical take on a high school show choir was funny and poignant. Now, as its third season winds up, it has evolved into a string of Sunday sermons accompanied by the voices of Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and others.
Apparently, many viewers feel as I do. Last year, the show captured 10.1 million of them, according to the website TV By The Numbers; this year, only 6 million.
Glee brings to life the social stuff that high school kids have always fretted over: rivalries, relationships and ruckus at home. These days, however, its story lines are built around what adults think high school kids should be talking about.
As in: Don't text and drive at the same time, you could end up in a wheelchair like blonde beauty Quinn. Don't blow off homework, you might not graduate and as a result spend your life cleaning pools like mohawked, tattooed Puck. Don't make light of domestic violence, you could get punched in the eye by your boyfriend like football coach Beiste did. (This latter episode included Beiste and two cheerleading coaches sitting several girls down and lecturing them about domestic violence over what seemed like an eternity.)
Could our hypercritical political conversation be bleeding into popular culture? Lauren, 23, who works for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., thinks so. She says,
It's like someone is sitting in the Glee office with an agenda. It's not fun anymore
Glee used to handle controversial topics with grace. Quinn's unplanned pregnancy was one such subject; a young gay man coming out to his father, another. In the latter, junior Kurt Hummel told his father, a mechanic, that he was gay, only to find that Burt Hummel had suspected as much and although not happy, could accept it. Their discussion, which helped Mike O'Malley win an Emmy nomination as Burt, was incredibly moving partly because it was low-key.
What I liked most about the show's first two seasons was its focus on music and the significant, stabilizing role it can play in a teenager's life. Like Rachel, Mercedes, Brittany and the other Glee girls, I never fit into the popular cliques in junior high or high school. It was in glee clubs and choirs where I found friends who shared my passion for singing.
Music enabled us to put into words, as nothing else did, our anxieties and dreams. The lucky among us had music directors who, like Glee's Will Schuester, encouraged us to go deep within ourselves to sing our hearts out, to learn the power of our voices and talent. I don't remember any of my music directors lecturing me about risky behavior. I just know that after rehearsals and shows, I felt calmer, stronger, smarter, and better able to handle whatever disaster I might encounter.
To be fair, shows like Glee, unlike programs about lawyers or doctors, are centered on a singular interest. They have a limited number of stories to tell and almost always have difficulty sustaining high audience numbers over time.
One example is NBC's Friday Night Lights, the highly acclaimed drama about a small town football team. Its first three seasons were amazing; the last two, not so much. This year's NBC's new show Smash, about a play and cast headed for Broadway, may run into the same problem next season.
I don't envy Glee's production team. Only so much happens in high school. I do, however, have one piece of advice for next season, courtesy of mother-to-be Quinn who sang the title song of the pregnancy episode: "Papa, Don't Preach."
Listen to Glee's "Papa, Don't Preach":