Essay: Glee is Not Gonzo

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Just a hat, cigarette holder, and lots of narcotics away from being Hunter Thompson

Like most people who watch it, I’d say I have a pretty complicated relationship with Glee. Fox’s hit show is one of those things where I understand all the usual criticisms and even agree with them, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the show.

For instance, I realize that the show’s characters are wildly inconsistent, with many of them seemingly having personally transplants from week to week. I know Glee regularly brings up story lines and characters and then suddenly forgets about them, frequently features plots that are nonsensical and idiotic, and long ago exhausted the usefulness of Jane Lynch’s villain character.

The show for some reason thinks that the high school students in 2012 are intimately familiar with such ’70s pop culture touchstones as “Saturday Night Fever” and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. And the show seems to have absolutely no idea that its hero, teacher Will Schuester, is kind of loathsome. But more on him later.

And yet, when I watch the show none of that bothers me all that much. And that’s because I love the songs, and most of the performers, and the show can really stage a show-stopping musical number. Take this rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” which, despite being one of the pop rock canon’s most overcovered songs,  is in my opinion the best thing the show has ever done:

Chris Colfer, in particular, is doing absolutely groundbreaking work on this show. Naya Rivera and Heather Morris are amazing singers and dancers. Lea Michele’s character, meanwhile, is a specific type who I’ve known throughout my life- the theatrically-inclined Jewish girl who’s maddeningly insecure about both her looks and talent- despite having both in spades- and thus vacillates between narcissism and self-hatred.

In general, I’m usually in favor of more singing and dancing in the culture than less, and I’m sort of glad that a highly-rated TV show exists in which a Neil Patrick Harris or a Kristin Chenowith or an Idina Menzel can make a guest appearance and belt out a couple of songs.

I also enjoy the semi-annual cable news freakouts about Glee‘s gay content, with my personal favorite moment being this CNN split screen of Victoria Jackson whining about a gay kiss on the show, juxtaposed with the kiss itself on an endless loop. And Todd VanDerWerff’s recaps at the AV Club, most weeks, are as entertaining as the show itself.

But on this week’s episode, which aired Tuesday, the show crossed a line for which I don’t know I can ever forgive it. In a scene in which choir teacher Will Schuester (Matt Morrison) is with his fiancé Emma (Jayma Mays), she notices that he’s drinking champagne. “Champagne….on a Tuesday? ,” she says. “You’re going all Hunter S. Thompson on me.”

No. Just, no. Leave aside that Hunter S. Thompson, heavy drinker that he was, was never especially associated with champagne. If you Google “Hunter S. Thompson” and “Champagne,” nearly the entire first page of results is references to the “Glee” quote.

The reason that quote rankles is because I don’t know that I can think of any fictional character in the history of American dramaturgy who’s had less in common with Hunter S. Thompson than Will Schuester. Schuester is a high school choir teacher in suburban Ohio. He sings and sometimes raps. He has a full head of hair, often laden with product. He doesn’t do drugs, has never been associated with guns, and isn’t a journalist, gonzo or otherwise.

Did no one associated with the show, or the network, hear that and think it sounded fishy? It’s probably the worst flub of its kind since 2 Broke Girls made a joke that implied hipsters are fans of Coldplay. 

 To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen, I knew about Hunter S. Thompson, I read Hunter S. Thompson. Schuester, you are no Hunter S. Thompson.

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  • Sam

    Okay, as someone who has devoured just about every instance in which Hunter S strung two or more words together and was kind enough to commit them to paper, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I thought your comments about Glee in general were very accurate – it’s a strange case of every criticism being spot on and also entirely irrelevant. My house mate and I, watching that episode and hearing that line, cracked up. It is precisely because, as you say, it is difficult to imagine a character less like Thompson and that champagne on a Tuesday is so incredibly mild a variation from societal norms (compared with Thompson’s fairly standard practice of taking a few bumps of hard amphetamine just to meet routine deadlines) that the quip was hilarious. I’d go as far as to say it was surprisingly witty for Glee.