‘Glee’ deviates from ‘HSM’ formula
By Evan Lambert
Published on Tuesday, September 15, 2009
When I heard one of my friends compare Fox’s new buzzed-about show “Glee” to “High School Musical,” I wanted to vomit. I didn’t think I’d be able to retain my sanity if another vacuous song-and-dance pepfest made its way into mainstream pop culture (and onto the cover of my beloved EW magazine).
Thankfully, after seeing the show for myself, I can say my friend was wrong. “Glee” is noihing like “HSM.” Instead of taking stereotypical high school characters and making them sing and dance with exquisitely airbrushed Disney smiles glued on, the comedy (which airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.) takes stereotypical high school characters and gives them substance — although yes, they still sing and dance.
“Glee” follows the lives and loves of a group of misfit glee club students at Lima, Ohio’s McKinley High. Since many of the show’s characters are based on high school stereotypes (the jock, the cheerleader and the lonely gay kid are all present), “Glee” certainly had the potential to be another rote exercise in melodramatic soap storytelling.
“Glee” rises above mediocrity, however, with its combination of superb acting (see Jane Lynch, the tall, blonde actress in seemingly every recent major comedy movie, as the menopausal and perpetually pissed-off cheerleading coach), expertly-produced musical numbers, in-your-face cinematography and vividly-detailed story-telling.
“Glee” has developed a remarkable fan base since the pilot aired in May. Although the episode didn’t attract as many viewers as producers would have liked (9.6 million), the show gained buzz over the summer as viewers tuned in on sites like Hulu and downloaded singles from the show. The cast’s cover of “Don’t Stop Believin’” even hit No. 1 the day after the pilot aired on iTunes.
The show’s first season will focus on the budding romance between Finn (Cory Monteith), the musical jock with premature ejaculation problems, and Rachel (Lea Michele), the extremely talented, supremely conceited and remarkably oblivious glee club diva (imagine a Kristen Wiig character with a six-octave belting range).
Both characters seem remarkably relatable and refreshing, even though their stories unfold with a surrealistic go-for-broke style reminiscent of Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” (2002). Another notable storyline involves the glee club’s coach, Will (Matthew Morrison), who crushes on his OCD-addled co-worker Emma (Jayma Mays) while dealing with his egotistical and annoyingly sprightly wife (Jessalyn Gilsig), who is faking a pregnancy to save their marriage.
The downside to all of this humorous, vivacious showmanship, though, is that sometimes “Glee” can feel almost too gleeful. Instead of exploring the dark side of high school pariahdom, which is supposedly what these students are attempting to escape, the show glosses over disturbing scenes, like when a group of jocks beat up a kid in a wheelchair, with a winking, whimsical tone that seems to say “This would never actually happen.” Unfortunately, bad things do happen in high school, and the show’s fantastical world occasionally comes across as unrealistic and overly-fanciful because it never addresses that truth.
On the other hand, the show’s “villains” are deliciously conniving. Jane Lynch leads her group of hellish, prudish, supposedly-innocent cheerleaders in an ongoing and elegantly-planned war against glee club: in an attempt to break apart the gang from the inside, Lynch’s character sends three of her girls to audition for the club and instigate strife wherever they can.
Despite the borderline-sappy sanguinity of “Glee,” one cannot help but love it to death. This show isn’t afraid to be ridiculously cheerful, and its contagious happiness spreads to the audience through its addictive (and expertly lip-synched) cast performances. Just like those unrealistically upbeat and constantly happy performing arts kids that you loved to hate in high school, “Glee” gets under your skin with its loud and pervasive love for life. It also helps that it doesn’t star Zac Efron.