TV Review: Ryan Murphy's TV style in need of new directions
October 11, 2012
Ryan Murphy is at what one would assume to be a peak in his yearly schedule of attempting entertainment. "Glee" resumed for yet another season in September, "The New Normal" premiered the same month and "American Horror Story" is returning in a matter of days. However, the way I see it, "Glee" is its own Americanized horror story, mostly due to the fact that it has defined the new normal in pop media culture.
To be clear, I have a halfhearted appreciation of "American Horror Story." I semi-enjoy it for the same reasons I hugely dislike "Glee" and question "The New Normal." All Murphy's current shows, however, have their blatant setbacks — at least in contrast to my own style preferences as an RTVF major and as one of his suffering viewers. Where to begin?
Ryan Murphy tends to put new characters in his shows as an unsubstantial replacement for plot development. He definitely prefers breadth to depth in his way of doing so. This has been evident in both "American Horror Story" and "Glee." Instead of developing characters, Ryan Murphy fills "Glee" with typed stock characters. Brittany is the ditzy cheerleader, Finn basically epitomizes the unlikable Brad from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and Puck is the rebellious teenager forced into adult situations. That’s it. No matter how many relationships characters have with one another, as "Glee" is notorious for mixing and matching relationships amongst its characters, these characters become no more interesting in the process. They remain boring stock characters that prove their narrow roles with every new episode. So what does Ryan Murphy do about this complete lack of depth in his characters? He adds more characters that are all equally flat, such as season three newcomers Sugar and Rory. He relies far more on character interactions to be interesting than on characters themselves being able to uphold interesting backstories.
Likewise, in "American Horror Story," adding new characters comes across as Murphy’s constant attempt to compensate for what he portrays as mistakes in his plot progression. Killed off too many people? Add more victims. But what do we do now that all those characters are dead? Why not simply ruin all the scare factor ghosts could ever muster by creating a whole town’s worth of them in the plot? Wait, so who is even left living anymore? Oh … right. Well, an entirely new set of characters for season two would make sense on a non-reality television show, right? And don’t forget to throw in Adam Levine! Are you sure you didn’t send him to the wrong set, Murphy? Because we all know "Glee" is constantly in dire need of unnecessary characters and celebrity guests to keep it alive.
But wait, I’ve got it! All the boredom of undeveloped characters and senselessly excessive casting — not to mention the episode-individualized plots rather than cohesive, seasonal story progressions in "Glee" — can be compensated by the one universal cop-out, Murphy’s weakening crutch: overblown theatricality. Must I even explain how "Glee" and "The New Normal" embody such garish theatricality? It is not even the theatricality show choirs like those in "Glee" want to portray, but the unsuitable kind that epitomizes wince-worthy acting from a Broadway-reject script. Characters like Will Schuester and Emma Pillsbury embody off-the-charts cheesiness through their lines and character presentations as framed by Murphy, and yet they don’t even have excuses for theatricality since they are not students in the New Directions show choir. I don’t understand how society scoffs at "High School Musical" as cheesy and over-the-top, when "Glee" essentially embodies the same — overbearingly stereotyped high school kids singing songs all of a sudden in strange places like crowded hallways — but with contrastingly massive amounts of resulting fandom and praise. Ryan Murphy offers nothing substantial at all in "Glee" aside from making a commendable point of presenting LGBT characters on network television. The only real depth he has to offer is an excess of dripping theatricality that is cheap, distractive compensation for poor, piecemeal, weakly trudging television.
"The New Normal" is no less theatrical. Goldie Clemmons, the sickeningly overenthusiastic surrogate, has what seems to be a multitude of significant realizations about her life and its greater meaning in the pilot episode alone, leaving me to wonder what in the world she would have left to discover or disclose about herself in the rest of the season. Her life’s purposes and longtime background struggles seemed to unravel and resolve themselves in under a single half-hour. However, this doesn’t stop her character from being unfathomably annoying. Despite these lifetime “aha moments” she has one after another in the first episode alone, she wastes a great portion of viewers’ and other characters’ time in the first few episodes wrangling conviction and doubt, gratitude and humility — all in all, a very showy and desperate display that comes off as a juvenile call for attention that would seem to please her very theatrical character. Indeed, besides her character’s lines and whimsical actions being wholly irrational and unbelievable, Goldie speaks these lines of hers in an elaborate fashion, best described as a cross between that of a Disney princess and Rachel Berry. One Rachel Berry is more than enough to put up with for a single episode of one of Ryan Murphy’s shows in a week. Presenting a blond revival of Rachel-Berry likeness in "The New Normal" evokes the frightfulness Murphy fails to convey through the awkward ghost overpopulation in "American Horror Story."
I’ll admit I have continued to watch "Glee," even if I did so mostly because of my Brittana and Klaine fandoms, and I have been giving "The New Normal" its fair share of attention as a new series with a worthwhile premise (despite a horrible follow-through up to this point). I also intend to watch the new season of "American Horror Story," even if, in complete honesty, I think the most talent of any Ryan Murphy piece currently in production is the short opening sequence of the latter show. That title sequence itself is twice as artistic as the entire third season of "Glee."
All I can assume going into this upcoming season of "American Horror Story" is all the "Glee" relationships I once liked have gone to the Harmon house to die and reside amongst the spirits of Murphy’s single redemption: his "Nip/Tuck" glory days.
Ryan Murphy’s "Glee" is playing on FOX at 9 p.m. Thursdays. "The New Normal" airs on NBC at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and "American Horror Story" kicks off its second season on FX 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17 .