Memo to Ryan Murphy: Fix ‘Glee’ or nix Emmy hopes

Television critics have fallen out of love with your pop culture behemoth this year. Lucky for you, negative press has done nothing to slow down your ratings, but winning your demo every week doesn’t give you an excuse to put out inferior television. Running a series that has no TV precedent is certainly challenging.

Your hard work paid off with 19 Emmy nominations and four wins for the first season of “Glee,” including the directing prize for you and the supporting actress award for Jane Lynch. While that season hit amazing highs, it was often uneven. However, compared to what the show is now, that first season looks like a masterpiece. Unless you make changes to “Glee” soon, you shouldn’t be surprised when the Emmys don’t show you as much love this time around, especially when there are far better comedies deserving of nominations (“Community,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Parks & Recreation”.

My criticism comes from a place of love. If I didn’t care about “Glee,” I wouldn’t even watch it and certainly wouldn’t write about it. But “Glee” captured my heart in May 2009, and I can’t help hoping that the “Glee” you gave us in the pilot can still exist in 2011 and beyond. This season might be halfway over, but it’s not too late to make some changes to better the series and wow Emmy voters.

1) Lose the guest stars and share the spotlight
Guest stars in comedies can be fun as long as they don’t overshadow regular characters or occur too frequently (“Will & Grace” anybody?). But “Glee” has become so laden with guest stars that series regulars get pushed aside to make room for Gwyneth Paltrow and Charice Pempengco (who after much hype, has simply disappeared). Put the focus back on the glee kids and take us further into their lives. High school dramedy “Freaks and Geeks” had a large cast but still managed to put the spotlight on a different character each week. Good job putting Brittany front and center in “Britney/Brittany,” but we still haven’t seen much of fan-favorite Mike Chang, and compared to last season, Quinn and Mercedes have practically disappeared.

2) Simplify
“Glee” episodes are jammed with so many storylines that it’s easy to lose track of which ones are more dominant or even what purposes they serve in the overarching narrative. Furthermore, too many storylines lack complexity. Consider Mercedes’ storyline in “The Substitute.” Her quest to bring tater tots back to the cafeteria seemed irrelevant to the entire episode until the end when Kurt suddenly informed Mercedes that she was only after the tots because she didn’t have a boyfriend. Perhaps this storyline would have worked if we had gotten any hint throughout the episode or series that Mercedes struggles with emotional eating, but that kind of complexity just never existed. Cut the number of storylines per episode, and focus on giving depth to the ones that are important.

3) Make musical numbers meaningful
Too many musical numbers on “Glee” seem to only exist for the sole purpose of iTunes sales. One of the greatest tools a musical has is its ability to use song to express a character’s emotions or to advance the narrative. In other words, songs serve a meaningful purpose. Look back to the episode “The Substitute.” Which one of those four performances actually contributed to the narrative? It wasn’t Will and Mike Chang’s “Make ‘Em Laugh,” nor was Rachel and Holly’s completely useless “Nowadays”/”Hot Honey Rag.” To be fair, “Glee” is not a traditional musical, so not every number has to have great meaning. Sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and watch the kids goof around in the choir room or perform in the auditorium. But the performances that we really remember are the ones with meaning — “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Defying Gravity.” And we’d like to forget all of Will’s raps.

4) Make Will likeable again
Tuesday’s episode, “Special Education,” was a good start. Will acted like an adult and authority figure again. Who didn’t love seeing him yell at Rachel for being so Rachel? He even acted like a grown-up when it came to Emma’s relationship with her dentist. (By the way, any romantic tension that once existed between Will and Emma has completely fizzled.) Will has been all over the place this season and has often behaved stupidly and disgustingly. So bring back the Will who is actually worthy of Emma. Bring back the Will of the pilot. It has been almost impossible to root for the character this season, and now “To Sir, With Love” feels like so long ago.

5) Give (insert character name here) a motivation
When “Glee” began, every major character had a clear motivation. Will yearned to find fulfillment in his disappointing adult life, Rachel sought a way to become a star, Finn wanted to be anything but a “Lima loser,” and Sue wanted to take down the glee club by whatever means necessary. But character motivations have all but disappeared in “Glee’s” second season. No one seems to have a goal anymore. The glee kids didn’t even seem that enthused about sectionals. Early on in almost every musical, the hero or heroine sings the “I want” song to let the audience know exactly what his or her motivation is going to be throughout the narrative. “Glee” told us what these characters wanted in the beginning of the first season, but these motivations have failed to carry over into the second season. If the characters have no goals, then they have no journey to go on, and we have no reason to watch.

Photo: Ryan Murphy and Jane Lynch at the 2009 Emmy Awards (ATAS)

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