'Glee' review: "Shooting Star" gives us a bang, then a whimper

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"Glee" as a drama is problematic at best. The show really works best when it embraces its ludicrous musical comedy concept and makes us laugh. While there have been a few dramatic moments that work -- Kurt coming out to his father in Season 1 immediately comes to mind -- most serious storylines hit bumps.

"Shooting Star" is no different. You can't quite fault "Glee" for wanting to jump on a topic as hot as school shootings, but we still have to wonder: Should a show like "Glee," limited as it is by jokiness and singing, try to address the big issues?

Based on this episode, I have to say no. Maybe "Glee" should either commit to reality or simply lose itself in happy tunes for the rest of the show's run.


Building the tension

One of the highlights and successes of "Shooting Star" was the way the episode built up its tension. From the early joke about Lord Tubbington predicting a fiery end to life as we know it, right up to the shock of bullets in the hallway, we were waiting for something.

Gunfire was always a leading contender for that something, but we didn't know.

The outcome of the school shooting was a matter of tension as well. After all, there is one major advantage to being a show that doesn't know what it is or why it exists: You never know what's going to happen. "Glee" has no rules. Sometimes it's a comedy. Sometimes it's a drama. We get "happily ever afters" one week and tragedy the next.

Because of this, the gunshots could have meant anything from a joke gone wrong to the tragic death of a main cast member.

Interestingly, the choppy cuts and brief, random scenes that made up the first 2/3 of the episode were very reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's "Elephant." This odd film, made in the wake of the Columbine shootings, also portrayed a normal school day gone horribly, tragically wrong. Fortunately, the style was a good choice for "Shooting Star." Its unusualness alone creates tension we might otherwise have missed.


But...

Where "Glee" failed in "Shooting Star" is in the outcome. All of that buildup, all of that suspense, all of that commitment to a real and horrifying nightmare -- what did it all mean in the end? With buildup, there has to be payoff. And the payoff is where "Glee" failed to deliver.

I'm not saying the show had to kill somebody for any of this to work. But "Glee" didn't even make this an incident with any reason behind it. All we got was Becky ( Lauren Potter) -- an innocent if ever there could be one -- bringing a gun to school for a reason that barely made sense. Then, the gun went off. Sue Sylvester ( Jane Lynch) covering for the girl was touching, but it wasn't enough to address a huge issue.

The thing is, the presence of a gun isn't the same as a bloody massacre. All of the mass shootings we know and fear were the work of people. We may not understand and we may look only for blame, but all of those people felt that they had a reason to shoot and kill others. Many were mentally ill and all were angry. They became monstrous in their intent and in their results -- but the mere act of a gun existing only increased a problem that was already there.

Real horror comes from humanity turning against itself, not from mechanical danger. "Glee" should have reflected that by making the shooter be someone filled with rage. The rage itself doesn't need to be explained or make sense -- we never do understand mass killings -- but by framing this story as an innocent (if foolish) mistake, "Shooting Star" fails.

Instead of a story that truly faces the issues, all we get is another look at the fear we have as a society. The changes -- searches, police presence, metal detectors -- are superficial and annoying because they won't help. There's nothing that can help, not when the entirety of the problem is an accident.

"Glee" could have told a school shooting story. What we got, however, was the tale of an unpleasant accident.


"Glee" deserves better

One big positive that came from this episode a showcase of how much raw talent there is working on "Glee." Not only did the format of the show increase the tension, but the actors brought it all to the table. While cowering in the music room, you really believed in the show. These were not just actors playing a part but real people feeling real fear.

The scene in which the kids recorded their personal messages, thinking that they might be goodbyes, was in itself greater than the entirety of "Shooting Star." Every character and every actor shone in that moment. It was sad, it was beautiful and every bit of it felt real.

Special mention needs to be made of Chord Overstreet and Heather Morris. The dumb-blond relationship between Sam and Brittany has had more than its share of critics, but these two nuts just worked here. Their dramatic moments -- perfectly played by both actors -- showed us the level of their mutual commitment. And the comedy told us exactly why they would be together in the first place.


Failure can't be an option

In the end, it's not so much that "Glee" messed up its story. On the contrary, "Shooting Star" -- an episode filled with true tension and great performances -- was mostly an excellent piece of work. The fatal failure was in the show's unwillingness to commit itself to facing a problem. When "Glee" pulled away from that, we were left with nothing more than a superficial look at fear.

It's not enough. And when it's not enough, probably it's better to stay away completely.

Photo/Video credit: FOX