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.