I’m just beginning my writing career, and I know I’ll have plenty of missteps and ‘wasted’ pages. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a wasted page if you’re striving to improve. Want to join me as I write a ‘waste’ spec that really want to write, even though it won’t really improve my portfolio?
My first two specs were Community and Archer, functionally useless to get me hour-long dramatic jobs. Glee‘s a similar beast. Not only will it be hard to spec with any kind of accuracy, considering the show’s unique writing situation, it’s a show in transition. As I covered elsewhere, it’s in that odd place most shows only spend 1-2 episodes in. It doesn’t quite know what it is: it spent half a season as a meanspirited high school satire, and has been slowly shifting over the past season and a half into an earnest teenage drama.
So, Glee is not just difficult as a spec. It’s nuclear. You can’t peg the show, and so much of its runtime is spent in song that it isn’t useful at determining your chops. But, and this is why it’s god for me to write it anyway: I still want to write it. This is a passion project, pure and simple, and I know better than to turn down passion of any form.
So I’m using it for something constructive. I’m gonna go through my development process publicly, to work as a roadmap not ‘how to write a spec‘, but how I’m writing this spec, which will be useful to different people for different reasons.
So, the Spec…
My initial brainstorm was figuring out ‘which’ Glee I prefer to write. If you prescribe to the ‘Three Glees’ theory (that each staffer is writing, functionally, a different show), then this would be key to my process. The episodes that define the approach I want to take are the superb “Duets” (2.04), and the less-superlative but effective “Audition” (2.01), “Silly Love Songs” (2.12) and “Born This Way” (2.18). Funny enough, each of the three different Glee writers is represented in this sample, but they share one thing: multiple stories, servicing each of the cast/couples and playing with all of Glee‘s toys.
I knew early on I wanted to do a hypothetical season premiere based around the idea of how, in highschool, you go away for three months, and when you return everything can be different. Changes, which is definitely a succinct enough theme that Glee itself would someday attempt. “Audition”, the only post-S1 premiere the show had tried yet, had a similar structure.
My next goal was to define my regular cast and choose my stories. As Glee is a show with a ballooning regular cast, I upped a handful of recurring players who were essentially series regulars last season.
My ‘series regulars’ list, in approaching “Changes”, is as follows:
- Rachel Berry
- Finn Hudson
- Kurt Hummel
- Artie Abrams
- Tina Cohen-Chang
- Mercedes Jones
- Noah “Puck” Puckerman
- Quinn Fabray
- Santana Lopez
- Brittany Pierce
- Will Schuester
- Emma Pillsbury
- Sue Sylvester
- Burt Hummel
- Blaine Anderson (new castmember)
- Sam Evans (new castmember)
- Dave Karofsky (new castmember)
- Mike Chang (new castmember)
That gives the show eighteen series regulars. This removes Terri Schuester from the regular cast, and adds four new characters:
- Blaine Anderson, who became a key character in the show’s second season, provides a seasoned male lead vocal, and is part of the Kurt storyline that the show considered a priority in season two. Favoured to become a regular in the real show’s third season.
- Sam Evans, a recurring character who soon was indistinguishable for his series regular castmates, and received more attention than longtimers like Tina. As of the end of the second season, he’d entered a secret romance with Mercedes, cementing him in the group. Also considered a lock for the cast next season.
- Dave Karofsky, a recurring character who was another key player in the Kurt storyline last season, as well as the popular Santana plot. Not only do I love the character, but he was central to a plotline I was looking at exploring in this faux season premiere. He’s considered a possibility to join the regular cast next season.
- Mike Chang, a recurring player who has been in the cast since early season one, and showed serious comedic chops in season two. His romance with Tina and his dance chops made him an important character in the cast, and a lock for series regular status.
I considered adding Lauren Zises to the cast as well – Glee is the rare show that could handle a massive regular cast by leaving some characters to the side some weeks – but the plot I realised I wanted to try with Puck necessitated some space from the character. While she could be a regular in this version of season three, she wouldn’t appear in the hypothetical premiere. Also Burt Hummel, who technically has regular status but is only guaranteed six episodes a season, wouldn’t necessarily appear.
I thought on the plots I wanted to tackle this ‘season’/episode, both epitomising the theme of ‘change’ while setting up a ton of potential seasonal arcs. The ‘big’ characters last season were Rachel/Finn, Santana/Brittany and Kurt/Blaine, with Sam/Quinn also holding a decent amount of screentime. I wanted both stability and to shuffle the deck a little, so I went with the following plots:
- Following from their discussion in last season’s finale, Rachel and Finn are together and stronger than ever. While he seemed to have come to peace with the idea of Rachel leaving him for New York, Finn has spent the summer psyching himself up to improve astronomically in order to be worthy of coming to NYC with Rachel after their final year. His ambitions and ‘Rachel-ness’ have prompted such a change that, in the midst of the episode, Rachel admits to someone, “I’m worried my boyfriend is becoming a less-talented Jesse St. James.” In the end, Finn admits he hasn’t really changed, and was overcompensating because he knows he’ll never be able to follow her. Not sure what the meat of the plot is, but I was considering Rachel and Finn becoming concerned when Sam and Mercedes’ relationship is outed because their voices might not work so well together for duets. Not sure about that bit, but it’s a way to integrate Mercedes (and Sam) into the proceedings.
- After Tina, who has grown in confidence since the early days of the show, dumps Mike Chang over the summer, he strikes up a professional relationship – and flirtation – with Brittany. Watching the early days of this new relationship hurts the jealous Santana so much she first torments Mike, then admits to Brittany – in a song ‘dedicated to my former lover, David Karofsky’ – that it hurts too much to be just friends with her, and stops hanging out with her.
- I knew I wanted to introduce some conflict into the Kurt/Blaine relationship after their cutesiness last season, and I also knew I wanted an engine to get Blaine into New Directions. Following up on arcs established last season, Blaine and Kurt are happy, but Blaine is concerned he’s losing Kurt to his current project: getting Dave Karofsky to be comfortable in his gay skin. After witnessing Blaine’s latest number with the Warblers, which speaks to his inner insecurities, Kurt worries Blaine is going to break up with him. At end of episode, he learns that he was completely wrong: instead, Blaine is so worried about losing him that he’s transferred to McKinley and joined New Directions in order to fight for them.
- And finally, the small subplot: after Tina dumps Mike, and after Puck is dumped by Lauren, the two strike up a summer flirtation that leads to a summer fling, which Tina breaks off in the fall. Both try and pretend that they don’t want to give being a ‘real couple’ a shot, but by the end of the episode, Tina’s jealousy over Brittany and Puck’s loneliness lead to him pulling the same trick he does with every girl he’s ever musically-seduced: he sings to her in front of Glee club.
- And finally, Will is back from Hollywood after doing a handful of shows of CrossRhodes late in its run. The entire Glee club spends the hour tiptoeing around him after reading the tepid reviews of his performance, but he reveals that he was elated: starting over would be way too much work, and he’s happy to be back. Sometimes, things don’t need to change. Group number.
I enjoy the idea of writing all of these plots when I think of them. My main concerns at this point are:
- Is there too much here? Will this end up being a two-hour premiere to make room for some plot strands that might be extraneous?
- Do the character motivations feel realistic? The main one I’m worried about is Tina and Puck. I see it – she’s gone from a loser who’s never had a boyfriend to a confident girl who had the balls to dump Artie after season one – but I’m unsure whether other Glee watchers would feel that it made no sense.
- Is the episode too angsty? The Finn/Rachel plot would be typical lighthearted Glee with an emotional ending, but with the bulk of the episode being couples reshuffling, it might not feel light enough.
That said, the musical selections for these plots that I’ve lined up feel really strong. The musical pieces I’ve selected are:
- “Gimme More”, by Britney Spears. Not only has the show used Britney music before, it’s developed a very specific relationship between Britney and Brittany that I wanted to use. Mike chooses this song to demonstrate his recommitment to Glee club by inviting Brittany up to show off to New Directions with him to it. The song would primarily belong to Brittany, with a few lines (particularly the opening, “I see you, and I just want to dance with you,” as Mike calls Brittany up to the front) going to Mike. And the continuing refrain of “Gimme More” would go to the New Directions crowd, minus a bitter Tina.
- “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)”, by Fergie. Not only is it pop and in the show’s wheelhouse, I’ve long thought this was the perfect song for Santana/Brittany, even before Santana was outed to the audience as a lesbian. The section about being kids on the playground, and about “I’m gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket, but I’ve got to get a move on with my life,” sum up the plot beautifully. Not only that, but this song would suit Naya Rivera’s voice wonderfully.
- A mashup of Keane’s “Everybody’s Changing” and U2’s “With or Without You”, by the Warblers, as the songs that show Kurt that Blaine’s state of mind is less than peaceful. Not only have both artists been showcased on Glee before, Keane has actually covered “With or Without You”, showing that both would be compatible with the same voice. (If I were to use this as a spec, an enterprising audio person could probably mash up the two files, too…)
In addition to these three numbers, I’m missing three: a Finn/Rachel duet to showcase their plotline, the song Puck sings to Tina (or, if that’s too much dev for that plot, a Samcedes duet where they blow Finn/Rachel’s socks off after all), and the closing group number.
This leaves Artie, Quinn, Emma and Sue playing support roles this week, which is fine. “Duets”, one of Glee‘s finest hours, had no Sylvester at all, and the rest have faded into the background beautifully before.
My next consideration: how to structure the episode and weave between the plots, choosing the remaining songs, and outlining/writing the beast. That’s the meat for the next ‘Spec Development’ installment.
What do you think? Feel free to weigh in either on the process I’ve followed, or the creative elements of the spec I’m developing.