Joss Whedon’s Glee Episode: A Little Bit Buffy, a Little Bit Dr. Horrible

By Fred Topel How could the fan base for Glee get any bigger? How about by adding the passionate following Joss Whedon brings with him. The creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog directed this week’s episode of Glee.

“Directing somebody else’s show, I’ve done it once before, with The Office, it helps if the show is utterly wonderful,” Whedon said in a conference call with the media. “It’s a little tricky. You’re living in somebody else’s house and you have to make sure you’re fulfilling their needs. It takes some burden off you. You don’t need to take care of the big picture. Glee is probably harder to shoot than any other show in recorded history.”

Part of it is familiar territory for Whedon. The first three seasons of Buffy were set in high school, as well as parts of its final year. “I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily been pigeonholed. I like high school shows needless to say. I think they tap into something primal. You have elements, whether they’re physical or musical, that take them to the next level. It’s the kind of thing that jazzes me.”

One of the dance numbers in Whedon’s episode, “Dream On,” is set in a shopping mall. “The thing about that number is that really was Zach [Woodlee] and Brooke [Lipton] getting it done. Ultimately it’s a complicated, big, big number, very gratifying I think because we’re seeing things we haven’t seen before. I do pride myself on being the guy that was actually able to shoot it quickly, because once it gets dialed in, you just shoot them doing it. Because of the number of extras and the enormity of the number, people thought it was going to be more of a bear than it was. We were able to tack on another scene that day which was great because those sequences are a bear.”

Neil Patrick Harris guest stars as Bryan Ryan, an old high school nemesis of Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison). “I think you can see there’s a little bit of a western element in there,” Whedon said. “That really came from the music but then it ended up informing more of the show I think, of how these guys face off against each other. Ultimately, I don’t have enormously grand designs about well, he’s a nemesis so I need this or that. Bryan’s not the most stable guy I ever saw so it’s just a question of tracking where he’s going to go in any scene and making sure it makes sense and doesn’t feel random. That’s as much Neil’s job as mine.”

The regular cast of the show has plenty to do in “Dream On” too. “The idea of the episode being ‘Dream On’ really was sort of let’s take the things that are the core of what people are. With Will it’s his desire to perform and what he may have given up. With Rachel it’s questions about who her real mother was. Artie obviously thinks about if he’ll ever one day get out of the chair. These are very, very hard personal things that they don’t necessarily talk about with other people. I was really lucky because there’s a real thematic coherence to the episode that brought them all together on an emotional level. For me it was just a question of making sure they dovetailed and didn’t feel random. They came together and you understood why these three stories were in the same show.”

The songs this week follow the themes of the show, as usual. Expect many lyrics that mention dreams. “They select the songs well in advance. They give you the script not quite as well in advance [as possible] but much sooner than I gave people scripts [on my shows]. You’re there to service what they’ve already thought up. Quite frankly, I felt very fortunate first of all because I knew all the songs, which is not always the case. I think a lot of people assumed that because I’ve run shows that I was going to go in there and be working with them on it. Honestly, I am just a visiting director in this situation and I would definitely give my thoughts. ‘Oh, I feel like the song should end like this. Can this line be amped up?’ Little stuff like that but trying very hard not to overstep. This is their world. It’s a privilege to walk in it but I’m not going to walk all over it.”

As with movie musicals, many of Glee’s songs are prerecorded and the actors lip sync when they’re actually shooting. In one scene in a bar, the actors got to sing live. “They had earwigs just so they could hear the music and then they sung it live. Every now and then they like to sing live. For a singalong, you have to. They have it in their head and lay it over them.”

For the other numbers, most of the song was completed before Whedon got there. “The way I approach music, obviously if it’s a dance number, some of the work is done for me really. You pretty much know where you want to put the camera based on the movement. If it’s just about movement, I approach it from very strictly the narrative of the emotion. Particularly in ‘Dream On’ and ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ I got to pitch my own movement and my own staging for those numbers and just try to work all the emotional elements and reality of the thing, at the same time keep it kind of fluid and exciting. It’s one of the great joys of the show to be able to do that and then have the actors respond and understand and give their input and take what you’ve thought up to the extreme. So it’s kind of the same way you block a scene. You’re just looking for emotional reality and visual panache, except it’s way more fun because there’s music.”

Fans of Whedon’s previous musical forays will be happy to see some of the Joss Whedon touches from Buffy’s musical episode, “Once More with Feeling,” and his Dr. Horrible online show. “Doing Buffy and doing Dr. Horrible were both great prep for something like this. It’s obviously not my first rodeo. It’s different obviously but knowing a little bit of the realities between a day’s work shooting a musical number and a regular scene is very useful. It’s the kind of thing that I would like to spend a lot more of my time doing. I love musicals deeply and dearly. This was a return to home for me. Not my home, but a very welcoming one.”

The “Dream On” episode of Glee airs Tuesday, May 18 on Fox.


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