Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Television Tuesday: Glee (Again) and Hardcore Pawn.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt and Love
Those who have been reading the blog for at least awhile should remember I have talked about "Glee" before, around the end of its last season (although episodes air in such random spurts with long breaks it can be hard to know what season we technically are in now). I have not yet talked about but also regularly watch "Hardcore Pawn", which seems to have a season finale followed a season premiere with a month of each other so that's another one I cannot say for sure what season we are in. Both shows have fun moments, dramatic bits of yelling, and both tend to go a little over-the-top. With "Glee" I'll discuss my thoughts on this new season in general while also sharing my opinion on the, "Shooting Star" episode because everyone else is too. "Hardcore Pawn" has so many episodes that just sort of blend into one immense tale I'll give my thoughts about the series so far as a whole. Let's get this show on the road then!

Glee Season 4 (apparently) and the "Shooting Star" Episode
Ever since the other students graduated/left the school at the end of last season I was truly excited by the prospect of getting new students and never seeing the character of Rachel Berry again. Sadly, of all the "graduated" characters the show chose to follow closely, Lea Michele's got the screen-time. One consolation is we still get to see Kurt, and eventually during the season Finn showed up. Still, while we have some old characters still around such as Tina (who cares?) and Brittany (meh) it is the new cast members who've truly kept me from giving up on the show.
Just. Go. Away.
Why would I give up on "Glee"? As I've said before, I started watching the show more out of the desire to be a good boyfriend than any interest in the program, but over time I grew to genuinely like the show even if I was in the minority of people who could do without the singing 90% of the time (the 10% is when they do a rare song I actually like). When the new season started though and ol' annoying Rachel Berry was thrust to the front of the episodes (as always) I was perturbed. Plus, that whole fiasco with the show ripping off Johnathan Coulton was upsetting.

Then the new students came in such as Marley (a sweet kid), Jake (a half-brother of Puckerman who is just as hot-headed but has a kind heart), Kitty (a huge bitch), and my personal favorite, Ryder (more on him in a minute). These new characters not only were interesting, but unlike some of the duller and older members of "Glee" this batch of folk feel fresh. We've never seen them, they have new problems, new dreams, and don't just whine all the time like Tina. Plus, dear God can they act.

Everyone on Glee sings great, but while all are fine actors only a few have ever made me really "feel" when watching the show. Season 3's finale where Finn sends Rachel to New York? I actually really felt the sadness and despair Finn was showing even if I despise his love interest. That episode where Kurt and Blaine break-up? My heart was giving me the same sensation those characters felt. When certain people on the show are given a chance sometimes they really shine in regards to their acting. That makes it all the more of a wonderful surprise how well the new "students" do at making me care about them. Marley has had a rough life but is such a wonderful person, Jake isn't sure where he fits in but is making his way in the world, and Ryder, man is he awesome.

Best new character on the show, no question.
 Ryder is portrayed by Blake Jenner, the winner of the last "Glee Project". It is no surprise he won because the whole time he was on the show he displayed not only a great singing ability like everyone else on that show, but the creators of the "Project" kept marveling at how amazing he was when asked to act. Jenner portrays Ryder with deft skill as a football player who seems to be perfect, but hid a secret disability from everyone to avoid being mocked (he's dyslexic). Now, he's being "cat-fished" AKA tricked into thinking he is internet-dating someone he's not--and once he found out how that was happening the way Jenner made Ryder seem both outraged and hurt really made you want him to find out who was doing such a cruel thing. Trust me, this Blake Jenner kid is going places.

All the numerous plots and characters "Glee" constantly juggles make for a very busy show. This made it all the more jarring when everything seemed to screech to a halt in the sudden swerve the show took last episode. Everything was going like a normal "Glee" episode with jokes, drama, et al. Then suddenly out of nowhere shots ring out and shit gets real. I didn't have any clue this was going to be a "school shooting" episode of "Glee" but that little disclaimer about how the episode dealt with school violence at the beginning should have tipped me off.

Once the shots ring out, lights are turned off, and everyone hides, the show turns from a dramedy to feeling like a horror flick. The super-serious nature of the characters crying in fear truly put my girlfriend and I on the edge of our seats. Then "Glee" decides to have its cake and not only eat it too, but just straight cop-out. We learn there was no school-shooter, it was an accident that happened when one of Sue Sylvester's students brought a gun to school and accidentally fired it--with Jane Lynch's character covering for them. Really? I mean REALLY? You want to impart a message to us about school violence, "Glee," but don't even have the balls to actually have there be an incident of actual school violence? Again, having its cake and eating it too.

The all-time best character thanks to the amazing Jane Lynch; you deserved a better exit!
For my money, if you want a movie that truly feels like it is chronicling an average day of school that then turns into a horrific nightmare just watch Gus Van Sant's, "Elephant." It portrays school violence with an uncomfortably unflinching eye, but it should be uncomfortable because when violence happens in a place we feel is supposed to be safe it is upsetting. We need to talk about school violence and face that it is a very real problem, but what "Glee" does is make it seem like the conversation is going there before it suddenly goes, "gotcha!" and pulls the rug out from under our feet. This feels less like an episode with an important message and more like an excuse to write Jane Lynch out of the show (which, if she truly is gone I'm sad as she has always been the best part of the program).

"Shooting Star" is a perfect illustration of why I both really enjoy and also sometimes just hate "Glee". For every moment of great acting there is a crappy song. For every important message there is a silly plot development. It is like the show takes two steps forward and one step back. Cast members actually graduate and leave the show--two steps forward, but then a bunch of them are still on the show--one step back. The episode brings up the very real issue of school violence--two steps forward, but chooses to make it little more than cheap plot device instead of encouraging conversation or imparting much of a message--one step back, and it goes on like this forever.
Flaws and all, you're still pretty snazzy, "Glee".

"Glee" is a good show, I just wish when it had the chance to be even better it would take advantage of such opportunities instead of acting wimpy and reliant on old ways. I'm still going to be watching, but mainly because I love the new characters and crave those occasional moments "Glee" really makes me feel something. The singing and majority of plots I could take or leave.
"Shooting Star": 2.5 out of 5 stars.
"Glee" Season 4 in General (so far): 4 out of 5 stars.
When it is on: 9PM Eastern, on Thursdays

Hardcore Pawn AKA A Modern Greek Tragedy for Our Times
You may read my sub-heading and think I'm joking when I say "Hardcore Pawn" is a modern Greek Tragedy. I'm not. The early seasons didn't reveal the true nature of the show, I'll admit that. It just seemed like another one of those, "People bring in weird stuff," programs, with the occasionally loud and angry customer getting thrown out. However, as time went on I began to realize how this wasn't a simple reality show, it was the tragic tale of Les Gold (yes, that is his real name). We have a man who has spent pretty much all of his life working to build a pawn shop empire, and his two children do little more than squabble with each other when they aren't working to screw-over their own dad. His son Seth tried to sell one of the less-successful stores without Les finding out. His daughter is generally the meanest person out of any employee in the shop to customers and I would argue makes them lose business. Then, to top it all off not too long ago we learned that there was a thief in the store, and it turned out to be Les' own head of security, Joe!

"Hardcore Pawn" is about one man trying valiantly to keep his stores successsfull despite his children doing more harm than good, his employees being terrible at their jobs (or just flat-out robbing him), and his customers seeming to often come in with a chip on their shoulder that they feel can only be dealt with by yelling insults at the top of their lungs until they are escorted from the store. Les is basically Caesar in Shakespeare's play and everyone else is all the folk who stabbed Caesar.
Et tu, Seth?
"Hardcore Pawn" may be what I consider a modern Greek Tragedy, but that doesn't mean the show lacks in hilarity. This is an incredibly funny program. While his own children seeming to work against him is sad if you think about it, watching them go about it is quite entertaining. It may be depressing how so many customers at his shop are jerks, but seeing them throw a fit as if they were a small child is quality television. This show is just so over-the-top it has to be fake, right? After all, a fair amount of programs on Tru TV show disclaimers saying how the outrageous moments we witness on "Operation Repo" or "Lizard Lick Towing," are actually reenactments. Well, I keep looking into it and no matter how much research I do it seems "Hardcore Pawn" is at least mostly for real. There actually are people out there who behave like incredible fools in the store, Seth and Ashley do in fact argue all the time, and Joe really was arrested for stealing from Les.

"Hardcore Pawn" is always fun to watch. Seeing Les try as hard as he can to keep things going smoothly is both sad to witness and makes for engaging television. Tru TV has made another pawn show called "Hardcore Pawn: Chicago" and despite it being somewhat fun and having idiot customers, it is missing something. That something is the chemistry the Gold family brings to the screen when we see them in their store and how we always are sitting there rooting for Les even when everything goes wrong. "Hardcore Pawn" is a one-of-a-kind gem in the wasteland that is reality television, and if you haven't seen it I encourage you to do so. That way you too can see this real-life play that is all at once full of hilarity, rage, and weird knick-knacks.
Series as a whole so far: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
When it is on: 9PM Eastern, basically every Tuesday.

When I sat down to write this I thought I would just post some quick thoughts on "Glee" and "Hardcore Pawn". Clearly, I had more to say about the shows than I initially thought I did. However, whether you watch "Glee", "Hardcore Pawn", both of them, or neither, the important thing is that each of the shows are full of interesting people (both real and fictional) with captivating stories--and isn't watching the stories we love what television is truly about? Well, that and selling us useless junk during late-night infomercials? Yes, yes it is.

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