Friday, May 11, 2012

Unsung Heroes

True confession: I am a huge fan of Glee.

Writers could do a lot worse than learn a few craft tricks from the show.
  • It isn't easy to create an entire population over-the-top characters that flirt with being melodramatic caricatures, but who, at the last moment, veer enough toward believability to become real.
  • The writers consistently get navigating the minefield of high school right (though it must be a special kind of hell to be a writer perpetually trapped in revisiting one's high school experience). They remain absolutely faithful to the world they have created.
  • I know many hate the cheesy PSA-themed episodes tackling such issues as underage drinking, bullying, body image, sexual orientation, and religious tolerance. But I think that they do a good job dealing with difficult subjects -- with no easy answers -- in interesting ways.
  • I love how they get us to root for the the underdog, even when the underdog is actively being a grade-A jerk.
  •  No character on the show is always "the Good Guy." Even the nicest characters have deep flaws and could benefit from significant personal growth. Better yet: no character is always "the Bad Guy." Even the characters you love to hate have qualities that make them human and evoke empathy if not outright sympathy.
  • And of course, there are the musical numbers -- which are often very, very, very good.
In my opinion, the underlying message of Glee is that even the "losers" of an organization have merit. The beautiful irony is that people tune in, week after week, to willingly spend time with the least popular kids in school -- kids who, if we were in school with them, we would probably avoid. (Either that, or they would be our friends, in which case, we'd be outcasts right along with them.)

Glee is all about unsung heroes. And yet...

It has unsung heroes of its own.

Darren Criss & the Magic Drummer Boy
The real heroes of Glee are not the kids who get Slushie-d every week, or thrown into lockers, or forced to choose between cheerleading and singing. The real heroes aren't Rachel or Finn or Kurt or Quinn or Blaine. No: the students at William McKinley High actually know who these people are. They get recognition. They get to be in the spotlight. They get plaudits. They get to sing and dance and perform and be recognized. Among their peers -- even among the people who loathe them and everything they stand for -- they exist.

In my opinion, the real heroes of Glee are the unsung heroes: the musicians.

McKinley High School has the MOST AMAZING music department in the history of public schools. They also must have the most awesome music teacher on the planet (whom we never get to meet because he or she never hangs out with Will Schuester or does any of the cool stuff, like go to national competitions).

This teacher works with Magic Musicians: kids who can play any arrangement of any song upon sight-reading it. The McKinley Magic Musicians show up whenever and wherever they're needed so the Glee kids can perform and look good. The MMM's happily play in the background while the Glee club kids take center stage.

One could argue that no regular character on Glee is more unsung than Brad, the ubiquitous, omnipresent, practically mute pianist. If Rachel, or Puck, or Kurt, or Mercedes didn't show up, the club could still perform. If Brad was a no-show, they'd be screwed.
Matt Morrison & the Magic Mariachis

McKinley High School has a full string section, a brass section, a jazz ensemble, amazing guitarists, a mariachi band(?!) and (get this) a harpist! In addition, it has ready access to a full gospel choir. These people are in the background. They never play a wrong note. They never hold up a performance to tune their instruments. They absolutely never have personal issues that interfere with them being at their post, ready to play, when needed. The vast majority of them don't even have names.

Brad and the MM's are McKinley High's version of 99% of the Dalton Warblers, who exist only to accompany their leading man.

The Magic Musicians of McKinley High are never asked to join the Glee club. They never sing. They're never involved in fundraising. They never ride the bus to the performances. But they show up and kick ass anyway. We watch, accepting their existence and their insignificance without question. They exist as faceless support, in the background, doing their job -- and doing it well -- even though, at the end of the day, no one knows who they are.

Writers: take note.

The real trick to good unsung heroes is having them do their job so well that no one questions them. They have a single purpose: to make the Main Characters -- and, by extension, their creator (that's you) -- look good.

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