Why Darren Criss Might be the Next Michael Emerson, and Why That Isn't a Good Thing for Glee

The unwritten rules for the second season of a hit television series are similar to the ones governing movie sequels: Everything has to be bigger, has to be louder, and has to include at least one major casting addition. In the case of Lost, the second season brought increasingly convoluted stakes (The Hatch! The Others!), some shocking character deaths (Shannon!) and the addition of Michael Emerson to the already bulging cast. What began as a well-received guest role for the veteran New York actor became a three-and-a-half season stay on the devilish island. Emerson's breakout performance not only forced Lost creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to shift their narrative, but also cemented him forever in the minds of television watchers as Benjamin Linus. Glee star Darren Criss is on a very similar path, and because of that, it might be time for Gleeks to get concerned.

Like Emerson, Criss arrived on Glee as a guest star, and audiences latched onto him so firmly that he was upped to series regular status. (Criss' stint as a full-timer will reportedly begin in season three.) His charismatic performance and undeniable screen presence is so enjoyed by the Glee faithful, that not only was Criss shoe-horned into the post-Super Bowl episode (see the totally unnecessary-but-amazing "Bills Bills Bills"), but also given the closing number on Tuesday night's Valentine's Day episode. That's major: After only six episodes, Criss has entered Lea Michele territory. Performing "Silly Love Songs" in front of the entire Glee cast of regulars -- the first time he has really interacted with everyone in the cast at the same time -- was Criss' very own "You guys got any milk?" moment; he went from intriguing scene-stealer to indispensable member of the troupe in the span of one Paul McCartney-penned bit of pop fluff. Unfortunately, that might not be such a good thing.

In the wake of Emerson's ascent on Lost, some fans groused that the show became too much about Ben Linus' various forms of delightful psychological warfare, and not enough about the plight of their favorite Oceanic 815 survivors. Emerson also backed Lindelof and Cuse into a corner of sorts -- Ben was the villain that you loved to hate, and then loved to love; how would they be able to stay true to the character and the show, without upsetting fans? It was that double-edged sword which led to Ben's hasty redemption in the final season, one that wasn't necessarily earned, but had to happen because of the arc Emerson pushed the show toward. (This is to say nothing of all that Ben-as-007-supervillain during the fourth season, which seemed to be done simply so he could stay involved in the series following his Frozen Donkey Wheel spin.) Still, Lost was able to withstand Emerson's all-encompassing presence because Lindelof and Cuse -- despite what you may think of how they ended the series -- were fairly disciplined storytellers. They learned to use Ben sparingly and carefully, and avoided losing a hubcap in the pothole of Emerson's talents.

At this point, you can't have the same confidence about Ryan Murphy. To wit: This is a man so fickle that he plans on splitting up Sam and Quinn (um, spoiler alert, but not really), because he's "bored." (It's true that Murphy could have been joking around when he made that statement, but judging from the schizophrenic nature of Glee -- especially during this wildly up and down second season -- he probably wasn't.) The fact that Blaine is Murphy's shiny new toy -- his "Ben," as it were -- is a problem on multiple fronts. Not only has nudged Kurt out of the spotlight (the character who Blaine was supposed to enrich, not marginalize), but also Rachel and the rest of the New Directions favorites. Remember Mercedes? Since Blaine has arrived she's appeared about as much as Jason Sudeikis did on Saturday Night Live over the weekend -- which is to say, barely. (Meanwhile, somewhere, Vanilla Ice is holding a candlelight vigil for Mr. Schuester's formerly frequent rap solos.)

To be fair, Murphy could just as easily sour on Criss and Blaine, and the show to return to its Colfer-Michele roots. But judging from what he said in November, don't bet on it: "I think there's a hunger for [Criss] and a positive relationship role model. He'll definitely continue through the year and longer." That's great for Criss and his fans, but not necessarily for Glee. Be careful what you wish for.



Comments

  • Spike says:

    I like Darren Criss. I like Blaine.
    That being said, I think Darren shares Lea's tendency to play with, as someone recently said, Broadway Face. He's been a screentime hog. And I have to say this: however delightful his singing and acting is (or how delightful he is to look at), he's basically given the same performance every song. It's that whole white-boy-soul, Color-Me-Badd 2011 thing.
    So Glee could fix this by (a) balancing the airtime and (b) giving Darren/Blaine other types of material to sing. It also has to somehow find a way to integrate these two worlds - we miss Kurt.

  • Leslie says:

    Blaming an actor for the shows bad writing is absurd and completely unfair. You sound like a whiny fan blogger and not a journalist.

  • Jay says:

    THIS. That is all. Wait, no it's not.
    Fox executives have only ever cared about money. It's the only reason why Glee is even on the air. Nobody thought it was going to do well, they thought it would be like other Fox pilots and be cancelled within the first season even though it may actually be a good show *cough*Firefly*cough*. But it did do well. Extremely well, and hey, money is money, so Fox Execs kept it going.
    Then you have Darren. Darren who would bring a lot of his own fanbase to the show, is attractive, talented and can act. At first, they didn't know that, but when they saw the public reaction (as in all the Starkids buying Teenage Dream) they said, "Dayum! That boy brings in a lotta moolah! Let's hitch our caboose to that train!" (the Klaine train, that is).
    In other words: Glee= $$$ Darren=$$: Glee + Darren = $$$$$: Fox Execs = :DDDDDDDDDDDDD
    And once more, with feeling: It's Darren's fault.

  • Jay says:

    Darn it, that was supposed to say "It's not Darren's fault. He's just an itty-bitty cash cow."

  • J says:

    While I sort-of agree, that's just how Darren sings. He has "soul" and it's in any song he sings.
    With that being said, I do believe I want less Blaine in the spotlight and *way* less Kurt swaying in the background- it feels like we haven't heard him really sing in forever.
    Glee will never fix airtime. I actually kind of like that. Not every character is important every frickin' minute. People go through stages of development, where there may be a lot of changes for one person but another remains static. That's just how life is. But you also have to realize, Fox Executives are going to push for what ever plot line is going to draw in the most viewers and therefore the most amount of money. And honestly? That's Kurt and Blaine. So much wank in the fandom supporting and hating on them is people talking about Glee. And that's what Fox wants. So they and RM are going to push this story line until possibly next season, when someone else goes through their cycle of development.

  • Donna says:

    It's a testimony to the popularity of Chris Colfer and his character, Kurt, that Mr. Rosen and other fans object to what they see as Darren Criss's Blaine character nudging Kurt out of the spotlight. If the character of Kurt wasn't so beloved b/c his story has touched so many hearts (and b/c Colfer's acting is so brilliant), I don't think Mr. Rosen and some other Glee fans would be as concerned. However, I disagree with Mr. Rosen that the popularity of Darren Criss and his character is a cause for Gleeks to be concerned. I don't think that the popularity of Darren Criss and his character, Blaine, took Glee in a "new direction." Ryan Murphy has been quoted as saying, that in light of the tragedies noted in the media involving the deaths of gay youths, that he felt it important to address the issue of why it is critical for viewers and others to embrace gay youth as wonderful human beings. The popularity of Darren Criss's character has merely extended the importance of this issue, not caused Glee to reverse its emphasis that all young people, even those seen as outcasts, are valuable members of our society. Having said this, I would like more solos or duets by Chris Colfer. His songs are often very touching. In all fairness though, I think the amount of time spent on the show focusing on Kurt's character development (which needs to be distinguised from the amount of time Chris Colfer spends singing) has not been deficient. I agree with others that Colfer's Kurt character has grown and matured immensely, and I feel like a proud mother b/c of this, during this season. I also think that although Darren Chriss has received a good amount of singing time in the episodes of Special Education, Never Been Kissed and the Valentine's special, there really wasn't much time spent on the show developing the character of Blaine until this last episode, the Silly Little Love Songs episode. I do believe to really send the message of societal tolerance of gay love that the character of Blaine needs to developed. It's essential, but it's only just beginning. It's not like the story of his character has been hogging the time spent on the various plots in the show. One last thought, I think all of the actors playing the students on Glee have improved a great deal, not just in terms of song performance, but as actors. It's a process, and I don't agree with some folks posting that Darren Criss's acting abilities are questionable. I thought he was quite believable when he told Kurt that he doesn't know what he's doing, and that he doesn't want to mess up his friendship with Kurt. The looks he gave Kurt after they agreed to follow the When Harry Met Sally process showed several emotions: concern about Kurt's feelings, relief that Kurt is taking it so well, appreciation of Kurt as a friend. I remember that Chris Colfer's acting didn't catch my eye until the scene where he came out to his father. Given the lack of opportunity so far in the show where the Blaine character is asked to show emotional complexity (and even the stilted, almost artifical choice of words the writers write for Darren Criss to deliver), I think he's doing a good job.

  • Donna says:

    As if I haven't said enough already, I want to add that I immensely enjoy Darren Criss and the Beelzebubs' musical performances, as I do Chris Colfer's. Every minute both actors spend singing on the show is a real pleasure, and much deserved by both actors, based on their vocal talents and charisma!

  • Meg says:

    Props to you Chris for this thought-provoking article that obviously got everyone's invisible mustache twitching. I read all posts and everyone's got a point of course. But c'mon guys, chill. It's a TV show. It should interest you that in one interview, RM's said that one of his goals at the end of each ep was to lift people's spirits up. If he can stick with that, it's enough for me.
    In the meantime, back to real life.

  • Dap says:

    I have this funny feeling Blaine will turn out to be straight. And he will become Rachel's new love.

  • Mary says:

    Interesting discussion. Personally I never liked Glee until Darren Criss joined the cast. I agree with those who said that Glee needs to do more Kurt/Blaine duets and less guest "Stars" who add nothing to the storyline. I really don't care about the love lives of the teachers.

  • jim says:

    Kurt was intended to be a big player, but only so much could be done in the first 13 which they wrote and aired in a bubble. Kurt had two major plot point in those first 13 which was meant too be a mini series anyway. Ryan planted the seeds for Kurt to be a big player in the fourth epsidoe of the series. He was designed to be the third lead among kid probably by the end of the polit.

  • Kim says:

    I still don't get him. He is talented but if he was gone I would not miss him either. I signed up for ND not the Warblers. I like the songs but spread them out two in one episode is too much. Plus give Kurt a solo already Dalton.

  • gillen says:

    i always believed that the plot of this show lies on the over abundant of ideas. the story arches are left un-tackled or hanging. follow ups are either weak or non existence. what glee needs is a strong systematic and well developed plots. the show capitalize too much on the premature reactions of the fans thus the constant changes in direction. like the last sectionals looking as contrived vocal supplements. Finn was right, you should send your best quarterback on the field or so i understand. and for darren's existence, who's to blame but the creative team. who would objectify to a character who is a good singer, who doesn

  • gillen says:

    i always believed that the plot of this show lies on the over abundant of ideas. the story arches are left un-tackled or hanging. follow ups are either weak or non existence. what glee needs is a strong systematic and well developed plots. the show capitalize too much on the premature reactions of the fans thus the constant changes in direction. like the last sectionals looking as contrived vocal supplements. Finn was right, you should send your best quarterback on the field or so i understand. and for darren's existence, who's to blame but the creative team. who would objectify to a character who is a go

  • gillen says:

    i always believed that the plot of this show lies on the over abundant of ideas. the story arches are left un-tackled or hanging. follow ups are either weak or non existence. what glee needs is a strong systematic and well developed plots. the show capitalize too much on the premature reactions of the fans thus the constant changes in direction. like the last sectionals looking as contrived vocal supplements. Finn was right, you should send your best quarterback on the field or so i understand. and for darren's existence, who's to blame but the creative team. who would objectify to a character who is a good singer, who doesn't jud

  • Lily says:

    As a Kurt fan, I have noticed how many Glee fans did not like Kurt at all... So I guess to please them, Kurt has been put on the backburner for a few episodes. If Season 1 was all about teenage pregnancy and Season 2 was about gay bullying, what will be Season 3 ? Racial minorities ? Obesitas ?

  • G says:

    Darren is the only reason I'm still watching this show. I had missed 3 or 4 epis and could care less when he finally came on-screen and caught my attention again. I imagine if he had not been signed on as a regular, Glee would have lost me as a viewer.

  • John B. says:

    Darren Criss is not that talented. He is a mediocre actor and singer. The only reason he took off is because of the freaks he has as StarKids fans and the fact that the Teenage Dream song was good -- due only to voice editing, the background singers, and the newness of acapella on the show. His live performances have uniformly sucked.

  • eklr says:

    That is so truth, look what Glee has turned into in 2013 --- BLEE, with declining ratings episode by episode, season 5 (if any ) is gonna be the end of this how.

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