Kinda riffing off Eric’s post from earlier this week, and also off the fact that I’ve been watching Glee all weekend, which is not even a show I like at all, but, like, “watching TV can become malignantly addictive,” etc.
The level of a certain kind of “realism” in episodes or scenes that deviate from the norm of a series (so, like, musical episodes in nonmusical series) can depend on whether those deviations fit easily within the rules/worldview that the series has set up. This is a “realism” within diegetic reality rather than real-reality (whatever that is). Anything that strains credibility within the rules of what is or is not normal or plausible within the show is what is “unrealistic.” (This is just stuff about a type of consistency, and thus I’m not being that insightful, apologies. Also, that’s a tvtropes link, which internet culture wants me to attach a warning to (itself a trope), so, like.) For example, when supposedly-set-in-the-real-world show Felicity [omg, spoilers] decides suddenly in the fourth season that magic is real, it’s very weird and disconcerting and doesn’t play well.
On to Glee (sorry).* There are a couple ways that musicals treat the relationship between music and not-music (these are really really not solid, definitive categories, just broad ideas of possible diegetic/nondiegetic relationships): the music can be integrated in the form of diegetic “performances” (musicals about people putting on musicals often do this), the music can sort of just happen and the world of the narrative is one in which people burst into song, or the music can be “explained away” (as in the Buffy episode) by some other “real” thing within the fictional world, like a spell or a series of fantasy sequences (I think House did this?). Glee, however, does all of these. Sometimes the music is performed, sometimes imagined, sometimes both performed and imagined at the same time, and sometimes it just comes out of nowhere for no reason and then everyone kind of pretends it didn’t happen. This is kind of consistent with the “reality” of Glee, which is one that oscillates wildly between total absurdity and saccharine sincerity. The series has little to no tonal consistency—the story-world shifts to accommodate anything and everything that the writers want to put in the show (A tragic car crash? Yes! Everyone dresses like a superhero for an episode? Sure!) so it makes sense that they would do this with the music as well, making Glee a show that can handle every level and type of music/narrative integration.
Glee’s only norm is its lack of a norm—its lack of a consistent tone or a stable diegesis. This creates (in me, at least) a weird kind of dual effect, where technically anything is possible and nothing really strains credulity, but at the same time, everything comes across as weird and out of place.
*Also sorry to people who like Glee and are offended by me being mean to it. If you do like it, though, you should def tell me why because srsly idk.