The real world behind Glee

4 Jul 2011


Originally posted at

WARNING: Spoiler alert. I'm specifically spoiling about things in 2x22 ("New York"), but may well jump around elsewhere. I'm not specifically intending on spoiling other earlier episodes, or touching on big plot items, but I'm also making no effort to not do so if it serves my point. You have been warned!

So, I've been curious for a while about the notion of the real world behind Glee. Or, in other words, what actually happens, away from all of the flights of fancy. It seems to me like a fascinating discussion within the diegetic world of Glee, and most probably in other series. There's probably a good word for what I'm talking about, but I don't know what it is yet. Feel free to enlighten me!

All of Glee is (fairly) realistic, but not connected. This is very much in the mainstream musical tradition from which it draws, but I'd like to explain further what I mean (again here with the lack of vocabulary, being a non-scholar in this area). It's realistic in the sense that pretty much everything could happen (in the sense that given sufficient planning and orchestration making all those singers and dancers appear out of nowhere could be done), it's just not connected (e.g. if someone breaks up with someone else, the chance of them having a bunch of their mates around to do a dance number about it implies a level of narcissism not present even in the average teenager).

This implies to me that the diegetic elements are split: there's what actually happens, and there's the flights of fancy and musical theatre emphasis. Both are needed to build the full story, but I'd still like to see them occasionally split and know what the darn term is for the split!

Glee is littered with items that illustrate this idea, but two items of the plot of 2x22 in particular got me thinking about this again. Firstly, Rachel and Kurt's duet on the stage of Wicked - Kurt actually specifically tells Rachel to imagine the orchestra in her mind. Yes, it would be less interesting, but I'm still curious as to what that would have looked like without the orchestra, with just the two of them singing. No amplification, no special lighting at just the right moment. It would have been damn hard for the actors to be able to get through the emotions of love for the theatre and express them to the TV audience, but I'd like to see them try.

In a different vein, with the unreality being less explicitly mentioned, there's the serenading from Puck, Artie, Sam and Mike at the end of Finn and Rachel's date. It's pretty clear it doesn't actually happen given Finn/Rachel's complete lack of awareness of it, and that the others appearing in the middle of the date would be weird, to say the least. I'm less interested in the split off version in this case, as the "real" bits would probably be just as we saw them.

In contrast, there's the performance of "Barbra Streisand" during 2x18 ("Born This Way"). It seems fairly real, in the sense that I get the sense it's meant to have been organised by the others to make a point to Rachel. There's a certain level of unreality (number of people, time required to set it up, lack of pissed off mall security), but it's not off the scale. It's possible, just difficult. There have been more elaborate flash mobs, but this involved a lot more effort from a focused group, which is always harder.

Thoughts anyone?

Previously: Automagic Phone-to-Kindle with Calibre Next: Generating Kindle collections