Glee

Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Eight episodes into the first season.

Warning: Glee causes whiplash. The high school show choir dramedy will be clever and witty and sensitive and fresh, and then, a moment later, it will be stupid and unfunny and cruel and clichéd. Then it will launch into a musical number so energetic and charming that you forgive the bad stuff, and then the bad will take a truly ugly turn, and you wonder how you ever thought it was good enough to make up for that. The choir’s hyperspeed cover of Beyoncé’s “Halo” mashed against “Walking on Sunshine”—yay! The choir teacher’s deeply uncomfortable cover of Sisqo’s “Thong Song”—boo! Awesome, bizarre humor involving Jane Lynch advocating caning and prancing around in a zoot suit—yay! Stupid, bizarre humor involving the football team being coached to dance, literally dance, in the middle of a play—boo! A poignant, beautifully acted scene in which a gay teenage boy comes out to his father—yay! Yet another nasty, misogynistic scene in which an impossibly shrewish woman browbeats her impossibly saintly husband—boo!

Assessing Glee means weighing the good against the bad, and I, at least, have yet to get the scale to stay still long enough to take its measure. The show bewilders me, delights me, and disgusts me—and even when I stop hating it long enough to love it, I feel a little bit dirty about doing so. But I keep watching. It has me hooked. That has to count for something, I guess.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 and Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde”

The London Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center on Friday, October 23.

Schubert and Mahler both can be classified as Romantic composers, but their careers fell at opposite ends of the period. Schubert came early, helping bridge the gap between Classic and Romantic, and Mahler came late, transitioning from Romantic to Modernist twentieth-century styles. Pairing the two composers underlines just how drastically composition changed over the nineteenth century. Both are lyrical and expressive, but the evolution of harmony and form and orchestrational technique is impossible to miss.

Vermeer’s Masterpiece “The Milkmaid”

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 29.

There are many reasons to find Thomas Kinkade annoying, but top on the list for me is his trademark of “Painter of Light” as a nickname for himself. The term is hopelessly cheesy, of course, but even setting that aside, it’s offensively presumptuous. If anyone deserves such an exalted sobriquet, surely it’s someone like Johannes Vermeer.

That, at least, is what I was raised to believe. Vermeer is one of my father’s favorite artists, and I have a vivid childhood memory of Dad showing me reproductions of Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and Girl with a Pearl Earring and teaching me how to follow the sources of light in the paintings and recognize how Vermeer captured the way light reflected differently on different surfaces. It’s one of those little moments that, for whatever reason, really stuck with me. I always seek out the Dutch master’s works when I have the opportunity, and when Mom and Dad happened to visit New York while the Met had a special Vermeer exhibit on display, of course there was no question that we would go.

Tosca

The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, October 17.

On Saturday night, no one booed at Tosca.

Normally, that would go without saying, but this new production famously received an ugly audience response at its gala debut a few weeks ago. After more than two decades with Franco Zeffirelli’s extravagantly detailed production, which painstakingly recreated the real-life Roman settings, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned a new production, by Swiss director Luc Bondy, that gleefully rejects that kind of spectacular approach in favor of a cold, stripped-down aesthetic, which displeased many opera aficionados, to put it mildly.

For the record, I never saw the Zeffirelli Tosca, so I can’t work myself into a fury about Bondy supposedly desecrating the beloved Puccini opera, but I do think this new production is muddled, at best. The looming, overlarge sets swallow the performers. The costumes and sets comprise a motley, unmatched assemblage. (Just what time period are we supposed to be in?) And the Act II silliness with the prostitutes feels condescending and superfluous and therefore rather pathetic. The whole gesamtkunstwerk concept notwithstanding, though, opera is ultimately about the music, and musically, this Tosca was worth enduring those flaws.

Meet the Breeds

Presented by the American Kennel Club and the Cat Fanciers’ Association at the Javits Center on Saturday, October 17.

I strongly believe in adopting dogs and cats from shelters. My childhood cats—all of them wonderful pets—came from animal shelters, as did Tess and Luna, whom Sean and I adopted in January 2007. A few years ago, though, one beloved branch of my family suddenly became obsessed with Tonkinese cats—a turn of events that has made my pro-shelter, anti-breeder soapbox a lot less fun (and that takes some doing—I love my soapboxes), so suffice it to say that Mom, Dad, Sean, and I did not check out Meet the Breeds because we’re in the market for a pure-bred. No, we were there for the spectacle. My parents happened to visit on a miserably cold, rainy weekend, and we were looking for indoor entertainment.

We certainly found it at the Javits Center. Breeders from all over the United States convened at the event, with booths featuring some 160 dog breeds and 41 cat breeds—a small zoo of domesticated animals. We spent hours wandering through the enormous exhibition hall, marveling at the more exotic breeds and cooing over the cutest ones and learning more than we ever needed to know about everything from the Ocicat to the Manx to the Chinook to the Keeshond.

An Education

In theaters.

Several years ago, at the peak of the backlash against the movie Sideways, A. O. Scott wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he argued that critics overpraised the movie largely because the average critic is a schlubby, geeky, middle-aged man all too eager to buy into a story about a schlubby, geeky, middle-aged man who wins the heart of the luminous Virginia Madsen. I’ve heard similar insinuations about An Education, in which the luminous Carey Mulligan falls for a man nearly twice her age, but though I understood where Scott was coming from with regard to Sideways, the sneer at An Education mystifies me. The movie is not about the older man’s fantasy of seducing the younger woman; it’s about the younger woman’s fantasy of being seduced by the older man. If it flatters anyone, it’s not schlubby, middle-aged geeks but artsy, awkward young women who have more book-learning than life experience but who want desperately to change that. And yet An Education is not itself naïve. An elegant coming-of-age story, with a rare female protagonist, it walks the line between rosiness and darkness with grace and insight and a big heart.

Surrogates

In theaters.

Bruce Willis has made an art of aging—not of looking younger than his years (or trying to, clinging to youth with hairplugs and a lifted Botox face and a grotesque steroid-enhanced body), but rather of truly aging well. He looks great for a man in his fifties, but he still looks like a man in his fifties—always—and he uses that. In movies like Sin City and Live Free and Die Hard and now Surrogates, he sticks to his same old action genre, more or less, but acknowledges that he’s not the invincible, yippee-ki-yi-yay-motherfucking kid he once was. He lets himself creak a little bit when he moves, and it’s compelling and cool, and Nicolas Cage, for one, should take a lesson.

The effect is particularly noticeable in Surrogates, in which Willis plays not only Tom Greer, grizzled police detective of the near future, but also Greer’s uncanny, bewigged, smooth-faced “surrogate,” a kind of robot representative he controls remotely from the comfort and safety of his home. In Greer’s world, virtually everyone uses a surrogate to interact with the outside—an intriguing premise that raises all kinds of questions, from the practical to the philosophical. Sadly, the movie all but ignores those questions in favor of a routine whodunnit, which is why I spent most of the movie pondering Willis’s aging and other tangential thoughts. I guess I give it credit for providing the material for my flights of fancy, but its failure to develop that material itself makes it a disappointment.