Even though viewing figures for the finale of American Idol were down once again this year, the battle between the dude who won and the other dude in the make-up (sorry, don’t know names, don’t watch it) still managed to draw upwards of 28 million people. With numbers like that as a lead in it’s not hard to see why Fox elected to punt out Glee, a highschool set dramady about a dysfunctional musical troupe and their somewhat naive teacher, even though the rest of the series isn’t due to follow until September.
A somewhat odd amalgam of an idea co-created by Ryan Murphy, head writer of Nip/Tuck, Glee combines romantic comedy and mocking satire with coming-of-age awkwardness and some breathtakingly good musical numbers into a singular blend of fun that’s broad appeal will likely be catnip for older and younger viewers alike.
Matthew Morrison stars as former Glee club alum Will Schuester. Once bushy tailed and starry-eyed Will now teaches high school Spanish by day and acts as doormat to his yuppie shrew of a wife (Jessalyn Gilsig) who fritters their money on a crafts addiction while nagging him to quit teaching to become an accountant. Desperate to do something halfway meaningful, Schuester looks to revive the mothballed glee club despite unhelpful ribbing from his fellow teachers and widespread apathy from much of the student body.
One of the more fun ideas rolling around Glee’s almost overloaded noggin is the idea that the adult world, and in particular the workplace, is little more than the high school caste system continued. The overtly masculine cheerleading coach, Sue, (Jane Lynch) thinks he’s a nerd. The knuckle-dragging football coach, Ken (Patrick Gallagher), who is all too aware that hot teacher Emma (Jayma Mays) likes Will more than she likes him, thinks Will is gay. Scene stealing Indian bean counter principal Thiggins (Iqbal Theba) thinks he’s just a pain in the ass and agrees to Glee club on the grounds that Will not only pay for it but run detention after school for a month.
Having clearly established that whatever they think of him, no one thinks he’s cool, Will assembles his misfits team of closet-cases, divas in training, bullied cripples, and stuttering Goths. Yet the show is all too aware that life is all about looking after number one and cleverly mocks the mixed-messages of those formative years where one minute you are encouraged to come together for the good of the whole and in the next breath someone is telling you to do whatever it takes to ensure you come out on top. Will is kind-hearted and idealistic, but has no problem blackmailing the football team’s star quarterback into treading the boards will a little planted marijuana.
Tonally the show is absolutely all over the place and moves from sequences of bright enthusiasm to mean-spirited mockery at the flick of a switch. While it doesn’t always gel together as smoothly as it might, the writing remains sharp throughout. Lea Michelle is a little tough to buy as the ostracized plain-Jane as she’s blatantly drop dead gorgeous, but the rest of the cast are just the right kind of ugly ducklings that can facilitate the “look, they’re beautiful” makeover this kind of show will likely require.
But Glee’s secret weapon, and the thing that will likely ensure its longevity, is the song and dance numbers. Jesus Christ these kids can sing and whether its checking out the competition at a rival high school or just easing into rehearsals with some show tunes, it’s all you can do not to jump out of your seat and start whirling around the living room delivering a shrieking rendition of “You’re The One That I Want.”
Starring: Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Jayma Mays
Created By: Ryan Murphy, Brad Fulchuck, Ian Brennan