Time Out! Music, Football, and Suspension of Disbelief in "Glee"

Time Out! Music, Football, and Suspension of Disbelief in “Glee”

“Glee” is a show about music, not football. It should stick to what it knows best.

Glee-FOXOver the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to enjoy the new Fox show “Glee,” but as I’ve mentioned on multiple times in the podcast, the show’s frequent trips towards absurdity often try my sense of suspension of disbelief.

One incident in particular stands out to me as an exceptional offense. In episode 4, the song “Single Ladies” inspires the hapless football team to find its groove, but more specifically, it allows Kurt, the over-the-top gay member of the glee club, to kick the game winning extra point.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4mMfdzdaio

Allow me to set this up for you if you haven’t seen this episode. Through a series of plot contrivances that aren’t worth getting into, the glee club director gets the football coach to agree to let him teach the football team the dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” as a way to “loosen them up.” But rather than limit this to practice, they actually put the moves on before snapping the ball, which confuses the opposing team and allows them to score the game-tying touchdown.

football-team-dancing

This is already stretching my suspension of disbelief, but this isn’t even the worst part. Now, the team has the opportunity to win on the upcoming extra point. Here’s the sequence of events.

Kurt comes onto the field and motions to the public address system operator:

kicker-signals

Cut to the PA system guys who give him the thumbs up:

pa-operators

At this point, you hear the whine of feedback over the PA system, a clear indicator that “Single Ladies” is being piped into the stadium and onto the field.

Cut to the snap. With the ball in play, Kurt dances along to the music for a few seconds before (SPOILER ALERT) kicking the game winning extra point:

kicker-dances

What’s wrong with this scene, you might be asking? One very simple thing: it clearly depicts music playing over the loudspeakers while the ball is in play.

This kills my suspension of disbelief in two ways. First, and most obviously, it ignores a rule that almost all viewers, sports fans or not, know instinctively: you can’t play music while the ball is in play. Music before and after the play is fine, but during play is a big no-no. It’s a distraction to the players on the field, but more relevant to this scene, it gives athletes a performance boost that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Both the performance and distraction reasons were cited by USA Track & Field in its recent decision to ban iPods from official races.

But wait: what about the previous scene, where the music is also unambiguously playing over the loudspeakers while the football team dances to “Single Ladies”? Take another look at the sequence of events (video is cued to the relevant part):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4mMfdzdaio&start=200

You’ll notice that the music cuts out right as the ball is snapped and put into play. Granted, the dance number by itself is probably violating some section of the Ohio State High School Football rulebook, but at least this sequence makes an attempt at respecting the “no music while the ball is in play” rule.

And that brings us to the second, and perhaps more important, reason why the kicking scene challenges suspension of disbelief. It violates its own internal consistency. Watch the kicking scene again. Feels even more unnatural now, right? (Video is cued to the relevant part.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4mMfdzdaio&start=293

A TV show or movie doesn’t have to confine its depictions of action to the constraints of cold, hard reality, but it needs to be reasonably consistent in the way that it does violate those constraints. In “Glee,” we accept the unrealistic depiction of its musical numbers (theater spotlights in the choir rehearsal room, singing over amplified instruments without mics, etc.) because it does these things consistently. We process, we accept, we file away, we suspend disbelief, and we enjoy.

It’s no surprise, then, that “Glee” is most successful when delivering the musical goods (see their renditions of “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Somebody to Love” if you haven’t yet), and least successful when it takes on other things like football or meaningful roles for Asian-American actresses.

But that’s another topic for another post. Until then, I’ll keep watching “Glee” with the hope that before the season ends, they correct this mistake and retroactively forfeit this game.

14 Comments on “Time Out! Music, Football, and Suspension of Disbelief in “Glee””

  1. Puerca #

    This scene is what caused me to stop watching the show, although not precisely for the same reason. The biggest complaint I had was that in the time it took for Kurt to dance his way to the ball he would have been tackled by the entire opposing defense.

    Furthermore, there seemed to be no explanation for why dancing prior to snapping the ball would in any way confuse the defense into not covering a receiver.

    While I can accept the over the top shenanigans on Nip/Tuck (Ryan Murphy’s other show), I just can’t do it with Glee.

    Reply

  2. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    To me, this is just the tip of the lazy writing iceberg. In the episode’s first scene, Kurt’s friend lies to his dad and says he’s the kicker on the football team. First of all, that’s a very stupid lie to tell. But what really bothers me is five minutes later, it’s true. Kurt JUST SO HAPPENS to be an amazing field goal kicker, and the team just so happens to have fired its current kicker. Weak.

    In a different show, Kurt would go running up to Finn in a panic, explaining that he somehow needs to get on the football team. Finn would agree to help him. Finn would try to teach him some kicking basics, and Kurt would be very very bad at it all. Kurt would completely despair. And then Finn would suddenly realize that Kurt is a great dancer, and all he needed to do is teach Kurt the Single Ladies field goal dance. Episode ends with him trying out and getting the spot on the football team.

    And THEN he decides to tell his dad the truth – he doesn’t like football. Because I promise you, the show’s writers don’t actually WANT Kurt on the football team. They may not ever mention it again.

    Honestly, the dancing football team by itself wouldn’t bother me too much – it’s silly show, silly things happen. What BOTHERS me is these guys can’t tell a story.

    I may, however, keep watching it, if only so I can crash Wrather’s podcast and diss him.

    Reply

  3. Megan from Lombard #

    There’s thing that bugs me with that clip; how the time on the play clock does seem to match up to what’s happening on the field. If there was a second left then the game would’ve been over right after they set up for the “play”. (but then they wouldn’t have had time for the dance which the entire scene was built upon therefore having no dance sequence…which I’m seeing as a plus here)

    Reply

  4. Megan from Lombard #

    or does that play into the ‘Suspension of Disbelief’?

    Reply

  5. Jenna #

    I’m wondering why there weren’t any delay of game or false start penalties…

    Reply

  6. Kristina #

    Are you kidding? That was fucking awesome! TV is never realistic; it’s entertainment. That was entertaining, Want to watch a realistic football game? Watch a fucking football game. Want to watch a cute, campy musical comedy? Watch Glee. Sheesh.

    Reply

  7. Matthew Wrather #

    Yeah. God, you guys… why do you always have to overthink everything so much? Can’t you just enjoy TV?

    Reply

  8. Matthew Wrather #

    @belinkie

    Honestly, the dancing football team by itself wouldn’t bother me too much – it’s silly show, silly things happen. What BOTHERS me is these guys can’t tell a story.

    If by “story” you mean “something out of the warmed-over Joseph Campbell screenwriting seminar Robert McKee spec script turnaround d-girl script coverage playbook”, then I agree completely.

    Reply

  9. Mike M. #

    You mean to tell me that high school football games don’t really go down like this? ;)

    Obviously I’m being facetious, but it illustrates an interesting point: the target demo for Glee probably doesn’t watch much football and probably doesn’t know about the rule upon which this post is based (I certainly didn’t). As Kristina said above, we watch for the musical numbers. Personally, I was laughing my ass off during this entire sequence.

    Consider also the dual utility of this episode:

    1. Flesh out the character of Kurt
    2. Explain why 4 football jocks are suddenly in the glee club at the beginning of the next episode.

    When viewed in this context the episode should be considered a success in the overall arc of the series, even though it was clearly not their best work. What’s the opposite of “filler?”

    Reply

  10. Gab #

    Again, I’m on the same page as Wrather about this show. As such, even though I knew they (most likely) shouldn’t have music going while the ball is in play, I wasn’t all that upset about it. I just thought it was funny, so I suppose I fail at the overthinking part here.

    HOWEVER, while I know NFL players get fined for it, I am now curious as to whether there are rules in hs football about trash-talking on the field.

    And football players dance all the time, right? I mean, c’mon, don’t you remember “Remember the Titans” or “The Replacements?” ;p

    But IRL, the Bears made “The Superbowl Shuffle” when they went to the Superbowl (one of the reasons I’m a Bears fan):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJNC3dgreaU

    I actually wondered if this bit from _Glee_ was some sort of tribute to that, believe it or not.

    Reply

  11. Wordsworth #

    I’m on Team Wrather here too. As Mike said, the audience demographic isn’t going to be full of Noah Puckermans. A slight inconsistency regarding a relatively minor rule is not a huge deal, given that it sets the stage for some later character development, and more than a few laughs. Most people watching the show are going to give the show some leeway.

    After all, GLEE is a musical comedy set in a heightened reality. Genre is part of the issue here. Comedies rarely depict completely believable worlds: some aspect of reality must be skewed in order to tease out laughs. There is an innate suspension of disbelief. Dramas, meanwhile, are placed in a more tangible reality, where the need to suspend disbelief is more fervently frowned on.

    In GLEE, the over the top aspects of this high school’s world, from the Single Ladies football dance to the Celibacy Club to the host of wacky teachers with very peculiar conditions, are a matter of course. The show isn’t SUPPOSED to be taken seriously a la THE WIRE. It’s a comedy at heart, and I think this distinction gives it the power to suspend my disbelief a little bit more, so long as it still delivers what it promises: musical numbers and amusing dialogue.

    That said, I do agree with Belinkie that the actual plotline of the episode pushed the line a little. But again, I’m just going to run with it. This show isn’t going to replace LOST in my heart. I’m willing to let the football players put a ring on it if they want.

    @Gab, RE: Superbowl Shuffle. They referrenced it in the episode, so I’m pretty sure the final seconds stunt was a tribute in some respect.

    Reply

  12. AmandaLP #

    The rule broken during the dance sequence (besides the very obvious delay of game) is crossing the line of scrimmage. :)

    Reply

  13. Tom P #

    My only problem was the kick — in which, as mentioned, he took so much time that he would have been snapped in half by someone getting through the line.

    And the uncalled false start penalty.

    But the entire sequence was made up for by “I had sex with your mother. No, seriously. I actually had sex with your mother” delivery.

    Reply

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