Episode 4: The Requadranting of America

Ryan and Matt answer listener questions.

Ryan Sheely and Matthew Wrather address the profound sociological implications of Glee and Gossip Girl, this time by mocking listener feedback, taking Belinkie to task, considering the merits of Sonic Youth as a wedding band, and generally being jerks.

There will be no spoiler warnings and there will be many naughty words. If either of those things bothers you, don’t click!

Reactions to the show? Email us or call 20-FAT-JOG-01 (that’s (203) 285-6401).

Download TFT Episode 4 (MP3)

16 Comments on “Episode 4: The Requadranting of America”

  1. Lewis #

    You guys should actually have Belinkie on the show next time, instead of just interjecting in his voicemail.

    Also, you guys are not giving his central criticism it’s due: the show can’t just reject any concerns with continuity, because it is telling an ongoing story. There need to be some rules for viewers to know which changes in the status quo are persistent between episodes (like football players joining the glee squad) and which are going to dissipate (like Kurt joining the football team). And right now, it is just sloppy.


  2. Lewis #

    And you can’t just hide behind the Simpsons comparison. The Simpsons is episodic in a way that Glee is not. Season four of the Simpsons does not have an ongoing storyline, but a season of Glee does.


  3. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    First of all, your response to a lot of my issues seems to be, “C’mon, aren’t you overthinking things a bit?” I’ll direct you to our url for the answer.

    The closest we get to seeing eye to eye is when Sheely comes out and says something like, “The writers of the show clearly don’t care about character development and plot.” But he doesn’t mind this, and I do. If you’re going to have characters and plot, you have to treat them with a basic level of care. And look, it’s not that I think Glee does a terrible job with characters and plot. It’s that SOMETIMES, they do dumb things for no reason, and I don’t really understand why. Why (for instance) would you have the principal give the group a really limited set list, if you have NO INTENTION of ever mentioning it again? Why not just have the principal yell at Will and tell him he’s on thin ice? It would be the exact same ending, but without the continuity problems.

    (If I had to take a guess at answering my own question, I’d say the writers intended to address the set list problem, but when they got Kristen Chenoweth to star in an episode, they had to shuffle some plotlines around to make room for that.)

    Wrather and Jordan are a little more militant in their defense of the show – they seem to feel like what I think is lazy writing is actually GREAT writing. If I understand Jordan’s hunter-gatherer analogy correctly, it’s: “When Belinkie insists that plot developments in one episode effect future episodes, he is holding the series to rules that don’t apply to it. In fact, one of the things we LIKE about the series is that it plays fast and loose with continuity. So what you see as a bug is really a feature.” I don’t buy it. The writers of Glee aren’t engaging in some bold new storytelling experiment. They are not “hunter-gatherers.” This is a TV show, and it’s not reinventing the wheel.

    And even if they WERE, it’s not working for me. It’s CONFUSING not to know which plot elements are important, and which are going to disappear forever. Example: the last I saw, all the cheerleaders were academically ineligible. One of two things could now happen:
    1. Most likely, the show will never mention this again, and the next time we see the cheerleading squad, it’ll be business as usual.
    2. But it’s also totally possible that there will be some sort of plotline involving Cheerios struggling to get their grades up.
    And I can’t get behind this. You either have continuity from episode to episode, or you don’t. You don’t get to write yourself into a corner, and then pretend it never happened. If this opinion means I’m not cool enough to “get” what Glee is up to, I’m alright with that.

    Here’s what I think: I think you guys are so intent on defending Glee from any and all slings and arrows that you are simply incapable of seeing that perhaps the show is still working out the kinks. That maybe – JUST MAYBE – there’s the occasional plotline that sort of fizzles out. So here’s the deal: why don’t you boys tell me a couple things that YOU think Glee could be doing better. Because if your position is that the show is PERFECT, then I guess we’ve really got nothing to talk about.


  4. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    By the way, I left that voicemail from my girlfriend’s apartment, which is pretty much a lead-lined box that cell phone signals barely penetrate. But luckily for everyone, I had my seven-point message written down!

    1. In Throwdown, Will flunks a whole bunch of cheerleaders, and tells the principal that most of them are practically illiterate. But doesn’t this imply that either:
    a) he was inflating cheerleaders’ grades before, but now he’s being fair
    b) he was being fair before, but now he’s failing them just to hurt Sue
    c) all the cheerleaders got much stupider since last semester

    2. Most of the cheerleading squad is now academically ineligible, which the principal agreed is only fair. And I believe Will’s last word on the subject was, “You can pry those F’s from my cold, dead hands.” This leaves Sue with only four or five cheerleaders. So is this the end of Cheerios?

    3. Sue has been trying to destroy the Glee Club since episode 1. In Throwdown, her plan is to make things so uncomfortable that everyone quits. At the end, she succeeds, and everyone storms out of rehearsal. And then she seems to change her mind, and unexpectedly backs off, resigning as co-director. Why does she decide to let the glee club survive?

    4. Way back in the season premiere, the Glee Club got in trouble after performing “Push It” at an assembly. In response, the principal declared they could only use songs off a church-approved set list, on which every number is either about Jesus or balloons. Not only does nobody ever mention this again, but at their next performance, the Glee Club performs Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name,” a song about drunken casual sex.

    5. Will is kind of obsessed with “mashups.” But is he using the term correctly? I propose that what he calls a “mashup” is really a “medley.”

    6. Are we really to believe that the doctor can tell the baby’s sex at Quinn’s ultrasound, when she’s only eight weeks pregnant?

    7. In the show Dawson’s Creek, is the titular body of water really a creek? Isn’t anything you need a boat to cross more than a creek?


  5. Lewis #

    I can’t believe the Kurt stuff didn’t make it on your list.


  6. Matthew Wrather #

    What you’re saying boils down to, essentially, “I don’t like the storytelling priorities of Glee. In fact, I wouldn’t dignify it with the name storytelling at all. Why can’t those Glee writers value the same things I value in televised entertainment? Surely the things I value are the truly important ones, and the ones that make for good television! And by not valuing those things, the writing on Glee is Bad [or lazy or whatever]. Right, guys? Guys?”

    I may be editorializing slightly in those last two sentences.

    And my point, all along, has been: The priorities in Glee’s plotting are different than what you seem to value. Not worse, not better, not lazy, not more correct—I, at least, am not arguing any of those things (and not appealing to their corresponding normative claims).

    Actually, I think you drift a little too close to normative in saying that a TV show is a TV show is a TV show and we’re not here to reinvent the wheel. I’d counter that every good TV show has reinvented the wheel (just off the top of my head, The West Wing, Buffy—hell, Buffy reinvented the wheel once a season—Arrested Development, The Simpsons, The Wire, Mad Men). Each one makes different use of narrative conventions: chronology, exposition, elements of the fantastic, continuity.

    I’m not saying Glee is on par quality-wise with these other shows. It’s not—I enjoy it, but it’s just not as good as The Wire. (Have you seen The Wire, Belinkie? You really should watch it.)

    I *am* saying that there isn’t a single set of criteria for what makes a story good or what makes a show entertaining.

    Oh, and you’re right about “mashup” vs. “medley.” Some of the song combinations on Glee are one, some are the other. The term is used imprecisely. Sheesh. Those writers are lazy.


  7. Lewis #


    Here’s the challenge I think legitimate to offer to you:
    Since the show has some ongoing narrative, in which some events from earlier episodes have persistent effects on later episodes, and some character traits are clearly intended to be reasonably consistent for a character across episodes, can _you_ provide a rough description of which sorts of events are to be treated as persistent, and which effects are not to be treated as persistent?

    Insofar as the season of Glee, as a whole, can be construed as telling a story (and I don’t think you would deny that there is an ongoing story), there are clearly some constraints on the overarching coherence of that narrative. If an episode started with everyone in College (and no explanation or even implied time-jump), I assume you’d take issue with that.

    Some part of the overall evaluation of an episode _has_ to be dependent on how well that episode contributes to the overarching narrative. That is where a lot of Belinkie’s concerns seem to come from, attention to the overarching narrative. If you think that story is being well told, that’s one thing. But your comments and evaluation of the episodes seems to simply disregard that aspect of the individual episodes.


  8. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I still haven’t watched any Glee except for the first five minutes of the first episode (after which I changed the channel and said, “Oh, no. Not for me.”), but I want to jump in and salute Matt Belinkie for being so contrarian. After spending more than a month criticizing Battlestar Galactica for an audience of BSG enthusiasts, I feel your pain.

    The question is, can anyone judge art based on any sort of objective principles? If the answer is no, then we can’t call Glee bad or lazy (and nor can we call, say, “Showgirls” bad or lazy), but I do think we can characterize it as “inconsistent.” Then it’s a matter of taste. Quite frankly, I think I’d be happier with The Simpsons if it was more consistent about its plot and character developments. But that’s just me.


  9. Megan from Lombard #

    A slightly OT reply: Belinke sounds like my mom, she doesn’t want to get me a new cell phone (with text plan) because then she’d have to sign a two year contract (plus an extra $5 a month). While it’s nice to have a phone and not pay for it, at the same time it’d be nice to not have to apply duct tape to the back so the SIM card/battery doesn’t fall out.


  10. stokes OTI Staff #

    @Belinkie, I’m not saying that the lack of consistency in Glee is one of the things I like about the show. I’m saying that the things that bring me to the show have nothing to do with plot continuity, so I don’t really care if plot continuity is there.

    “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” is actually not a bad way of putting it. I feel like I’m the guy at tech support, and you’re calling up to complain that the new version of excel doesn’t let you edit video. My response: “Yeah, that’s not what it was designed to do.” I don’t relish the lack of video editing capability. I suppose it would be nice if it was there, in case I ever needed it. But I don’t miss it, either, and I think you’re letting your focus on video editing ruin your enjoyment of a perfectly good spreadsheet application.

    @Mlawski – that’s a good way of putting it. Glee’s plots are wildly inconsistent both within the individual episodes, and even more so between episodes. If that’ a deal breaker for you, consider the deal broke.

    But we can have an argument later on about whether it’s possible to judge art by objective principles. Obviously art is a social construct, so it isn’t “real” and can’t be judged objectively in that sense… but I’m one of those whackadoos that will tell you that numbers are also kind of a social construct, they’re just one that we agree on universally. So while Showgirls may not be “objectively” bad, you could argue that people who believe that it is good are functionally insane.


  11. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Appearances to the contrary, I’m not trying to troll this podcast to death. I’ve said my piece, so I’ll give it a rest and let you guys, you know, actually discuss Glee on the next episode.

    But Wrather, you and Jordan raise some interesting points on how we judge art. Can you EVER accuse a television show of being “lazy,” or “bad”… or “good,” for that matter? You guys believe: “The writers of Glee obviously aren’t TRYING to be consistent, so calling their writing ‘lazy’ is imposing your own value system on them.” And I’ll admit, there’s something to that. If you accused the writers of Family Guy of being unrealistic, you’d be totally right, but also missing the point and judging the show on ridiculous criteria.

    But the problem with this is, doesn’t it mean that as long as the people in the writer’s room are happy with a given episode, viewers have no right to judge it? Like, WE may not find “Home Improvement” that funny. But I’m sure Tim Allen thought it was the funniest show on television. So who are WE to call it unfunny? Aren’t we just imposing our own value system on the show? Or to take “Showgirls” as an example, if the guys who made it enjoyed watching it, then how, exactly, is it a “bad” movie?

    I’m sort of worried that if I agree with you that there’s no such thing as a universal expectation of continuity in a serialized show, am I pretty much saying, “There’s no way to judge a TV show, period.”


  12. Lewis #

    I wouldn’t call lack of video editing in excel a “feature”, so if that is the parallel you want, “it’s not a bug its a feature” isn’t quite right.


  13. stokes OTI Staff #

    @Lewis – Well yeah. My point was that the phrase “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” is usually industry-speak for “It’s a bug, but we don’t want to admit it.” I was trying to find the most cartoonish example of something that was not a bug.

    @Matt – I think there are three questions we can always legitimately ask. 1: What is the show trying to do? 2: Does it succeed? 3: At the end of the day, is this something I’m interested in? And then for all three, why or why not?

    At the end of the day you’re saying that you want your shows to have either no continuity or perfect continuity, and something like Glee that falls in the middle is a dealbreaker, no matter what else it gets right. That’s… fine. But I find it so weird! Honestly, how much pleasure do you get out of continuity? I have never, ever tuned in to watch any show and said to myself “Wow! They’re picking up on the plot threads from last week! Good job, writers!” And I quite OFTEN think something like “Wow! Look at that production design!” or “Wow, listen to that snappy dialogue!” or “Wow, that’s some surprisingly mean-spirited social commentary!” or “Wow, that was an awesome Motown arrangement!” Okay, maybe that last one only happened with Glee. But the others are things that I value in TV in general.


  14. Sheely #

    @ Lewis- I’ll go one step further with Stokes’s example- it is not so much that the lack of video editing that is the feature, it is video editing in general as a feature of software. In this way, you can separate something like video editing from more general aspects of software, such as GUI, freedom from crashes, and speed of execution of commands. Regardless of what the software is designed to do, if it sucks on these dimensions, there is pretty much no way that it can be considered to be a good piece of software. Theoretically, you could compare excel and final cut pro on these dimensions- I’m sure that a lot of software reviews implicitly do this when they talk about the basic performance of the software.

    However, in general, the more relevant comparisons in such reviews are going to be between pieces of software that share similar feature sets- excel vs iWork numbers, or final cut vs. Adobe Premiere. If a piece of software is being sold as “movie making software”, the presence (or functionality) of the video editing function is crucial to your evaluation of whether or not it is a good piece of software, but it isn’t going to be relevant to your discussion of spreadsheets (unless, over time there is a shift in what it means for a piece of software to be a spreadsheet software and that comes to include video editing capability).

    Understood in this way, I think the important question then becomes whether or not continuity is a “feature” that can be absent without decreasing the ability of a TV show to be a TV show, or whether it is a deeper aspect of the form (more like GUI), without which the TV show can’t be said to performing well. The tricky thing about continuity is that I think it might be both- I do agree that some amount of continuity is intrinsic to the form of serialized fiction, but I think that above that threshold, the extent to which the writers are slavishly devoted to following though with every single plot and character element that is brought up is an optional feature.

    I like shows that have vastly different approaches to continuity- Mad Men and the Wire are both pretty detail oriented and pretty much don’t waste a single gesture, line, or scene- anything that happens will most likely come back in a later episode or season, while on the other hand shows like Arrested Development and Glee play much more fast and loose with continuity. I have no problem liking both of these types of shows, as I have no one strong preference with respect to continuity. I think the key is how consistent each show’s use of continuity is within my general expectation of what kind of show it is and what it is about. By this yardstick, I would probably be upset if Mad Men started doing the sorts of things that you guys are criticizing Glee for (unless they substantially, credibly, and rather transparently changed my expectation of what kind of show it is). Similarly, I might actually like Glee less if they tried to be substantially more conscientious about continuity (again, unless they really shifted my perception of what kind of show it is).

    So I guess a question that I have for Belinkie and Lewis is when you say that Glee’s writing is lazy (or that it has continuity problems), what is your benchmark or reference group? What show or set of shows do the things well that you think Glee does poorly?

    I think this discussion also relates to some of Lewis’s earlier comments (and some of Belinkie’s specific gripes) pushing us to elaborate on how we can tell whether plot elements introduced in one episode will apply later in the series (or even within the same episode). I think a show that plays fast and loose with continuity can still provide a lot of clues about which plot and character developments matter for the larger plot and which ones don’t. I think Arrested Development has a good example of this- the “On the next Arrested Development” device. Occasionally the things mentioned there became major plot arcs or permanent features of the overarching narrative (George Sr.’s conversion to Judiasm, Buster’s hand getting bitten off by the loose seal), but just as often (or probably more often), the things mentioned in that segment never came up again. However, I was rarely confused about this as I was watching the show. If something mentioned as happening on the next arrested development actually did happen in the following episode, I assumed it was permanent. If it wasn’t mentioned, I assumed that it was a throwaway joke. I can’t think of any examples where something was introduced at the end of an episode, was ignored in the subsequent episode, then was reintroduced several episodes down the road.

    I think Glee has signaled which plot and character developments are permanent in two ways. First, Glee started using a “Here’s what is happening on Glee” device, where Finn (I think) gives a voiceover narration of a selection of previous plot points. My assumption is that if something is mentioned in any of these (Quinn being pregnant, Terri being fake pregnant, Emma being engaged), it is important to the larger narrative. I don’t remember, but has anything that has been mentioned in one of those “previously on Glee” segments later been just ignored or forgotten? I don’t think that has been the case- if that had happened, I think it actually would have bothered me a bit. Similarly, I assume that if a plot point isn’t brought up for an episode or two, it isn’t important to the overarching plot. Again, I think they’ve been pretty consistent about this. However, if we start getting things like the restricted setlist being brought back up with no explanation in a few episodes, I might be more inclined to agree that the show has some more fundamental continuity problems (and possibly lazy or just inept writing).


  15. Sheely #



  16. Matthew Wrather #

    I think Stokes is right that the question is: “Does this work accomplish what it set out to accomplish?” By that yardstick, Showgirls fails (I imagine the filmmakers wanted a different product than they got) and Home Improvement succeeds.

    Then, I think it’s honorable to say “this just isn’t for me” without appealing to moral norms.

    So, um, essentially what Jordan said.

    Last!!!!!111!!!!1 indeed. We can’t run a podcast about sociology if we have to defend the show every week. So we’re going to table this discussion for now. When we get forums, it can go on forever.


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