Apr 25, 2012

The Episode Glee Needs to Make

I used to watch Glee.  I even wrote a review of it on this very blog.  Over time, I have become quite disgusted with the show.  Part of it is that the showrunners and I have different political views.  They have an agenda and push it regularly.  I don’t appreciate that.  And, yes, that is part of the reason I started to drift away from the show.  The other big reason is that I think the storylines, acting, and writing is abysmal.  It used to be much better.  Now everything revolves around pushing agendas, finding ways to cram popular songs into stories, and creatively coming up with ways to make Darren Criss stay appealing to straight teen girls while he is playing a gay character.  

All that being said, Glee has positioned itself as the show most willing and able to actually address important issues with young people.  The shows on Disney and Nick are just fluffy entertainment and training grounds for the next generation of teenaged singing actresses.  Glee, for all its flaws and faults, is not afraid to address tough teen topics like bullying, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, teen sexuality, texting while driving, and becoming a male stripper.  But there is one issue that they have never addressed.  The sad thing is, it affects more teens than most of the other issues they have sung about.  And Glee is the perfect show to actually broach this issue.  So why haven’t they?

I am talking about teen domestic violence.  A study by the University of Florida in 2007 reported that 25 percent of teens who have been in a serious relationship acknowledged that they had been hit, slapped, or pushed in their dating relationships.  Read that again.  TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT.  That means one out of every four teens are getting smacked around during their dating years.  Another study puts that number at 33 percent.  And another has the number as high as 50 percent!  Forty percent of teen girls know of friends who have been abused.  Compare those numbers to some of the other issues I mentioned earlier.  I guarantee they are as high or higher.  So why hasn’t Glee even come close to dealing with this?

I understand the basic challenge of attempting to deal with this issue - and probably the reason why Glee hasn’t gone there.  The person who becomes violent will instantly become one of the most hated characters on television.  It is a throwaway role - not something that could be attributed to one of their series regulars.  But, for the storyline to be effective, it can’t just be one of those high school quickie romances.  It really needs to be that the character is introduced, incorporated into the group with the expressed plan to turn them into the bad guy.  This isn’t someone that is just easily going to be redeemed three episodes later.  I don’t think they can even pull a redemptive arc like they did with Max Adler’s Karofsky.  In addition, there is a stigma that will follow that actor/character.  The fans of the show will probably have trouble separating the two.  I know it took me two years of watching Burn Notice before I didn’t think of Jeffrey Donovan saying, “This is what I’m about.  Power suit, power tie, power steering,” as the d-bag from Hitch.  And I’m a grownup who knows better.

If you want to get right down to it, has there really EVER been a show that dealt with a domestic violence story arc?  You have your usual procedural shows that will dabble in it from week to week - things like Law and Order SVU, Blue Bloods, CSI.  And there are some news magazines that have focused on it.  Of course, Lifetime made so many movies about the topic that Jim Gaffigan once joked that you can’t turn that station on without seeing a woman getting hit by a rod - a strange pull for a station targeted to women.  But I can’t remember many series actually having a character involved in an abusive relationship.  Roseanne dealt with it in season five, where her sister became a victim of abuse.  But I am having trouble remembering other shows - especially ones about teens.

So it is a challenge, to be sure.  However, if Glee wants to market itself as a show that pushes the boundaries and deals with the tough topics, then it should address this topic boldly.  I know that the Glee showrunners don’t need my advice, but here is some anyway.  Next year is going to be one of upheaval.  At least half of the original cast is graduating, which means that they will need to have new characters brought in.  One of those new guys needs to be the guy.  He can either make a play for one of the new girls coming in, or target one of the girls who are sticking around (not Brittany, too easy to write off as a flighty thing).  At first, he will be charming and attentive.  But he will start to be controlling and rough.  It shouldn’t just be isolated to one episode, either.  He will become increasingly disturbed.  The girl should start withdrawing and having unexplained marks.  Then they can have the “big episode” where everything comes to its head.

Now, I know Glee can’t do a “message” episode without suitable music.  I even have figured that out.  Of course, the obvious one would be Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” as a powerful song between the couple.  The girl can dip into the country world with Faith Hill’s “A Man’s Home is His Castle” or Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angel” or Shania Twain’s “Black Eyes, Blue Tears.”  And there are other choices by Alice Cooper, Nickelback, Dixie Chicks, and Xtina.  It wouldn’t be a hard episode to write.  You can imagine the ways different people respond.  Mr. Schue would get his serious face on and try to encourage the girl to be strong and to sing about it.  Emma would have some helpful pamphlets.  One of the guys would fly off the handle and go after the abusive guy.  It really could be a powerful episode - and one that could open some eyes to the reality of abuse in the average high school.  Even I would come back from my self-imposed exile to catch that one.  

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