20 May 2009
All I wanted was for someone to make a show I understood. Not one where the emotional arcs of the characters made them human enough that I could relate to upper east side fashionistas, stylish demon slayers, Texan high school footballers or polygamists from Utah, just a show about people doing things that I actually did in high school. I wanted the impromptu sing-alongs and the dorky obsession with whatever your extra-curricular of choice was, I wanted characters who were happy doing what they were doing and weren’t always on a quest to be the cool kids. And I thought Fox was finally giving me that with Glee.
Sadly, though it pretends to be all these things, Glee turns out to be nothing more than High School Musical with stronger lungs.
Let’s start with the good news, the one thing that really got me through this horrifying hour-long display of cheese: Lea Michele. The outrageously talented Spring Awakening ingenue plays a vapidly narcissistic spotlight hog who we’re somehow not supposed to hate, but she does it well. The saving grace of the character is her similarity to Logan from The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee, a girl who’s 2 fathers gave her so many opportunities that she feels indebted to them, always striving for more than perfection. The great news? Michele’s voice is so epic that her character can be parallel to Narcissus himself and I will still smile every time she opens her mouth.
The only other good thing about this show is the music, which is inarguably awesome (whether it’s from Guys & Dolls or Journey).
Now for the bad news; and please remember, I was convinced this would be the greatest show ever. I embrace cheese, adore musical theatre and had a pre-existing love for more than half the cast… but I hated this show. The dialogue was so cliched that the muscles that control eye-rolling actually began to tire by the end of the hour. There wasn’t a single character that I really felt for, everyone was a) a stereotype and b) kind of icky. Particularly, the main character’s wife seems to have walked straight out of The Judd Apatow Guide to Shrewish Women. Our protagonist (Hairspray‘s Matthew Morrison) is charming but wishy-washy and the golden boy (Cory Monteith) is a poor man’s Zac Efron (that’s right, I said it), even if he is cuter.
In fact, the whole shooting match is scarily similar to the already tired High School Musical format. The comparison was inevitable; everyone who doesn’t know anything about musicals will tell you that they’re the same just because they’re about high schoolers singing and dancing. But genre aside, the two are, in fact, sadly similar for a different reason all together: they both participate in (and reinforce) the delusion that high school is a caste system in which doing something different (in both cases it’s performing) is equal to social suicide.
Glee exists in a world where you can both look and sound like Lea Michele and no one will notice; it’s a world in which you can’t wear a football uniform unless you’re a class-A jerk, and where you are inherently considered unsympathetic unless you’re an underdog (even the golden boy has a difficult past and trying peer pressure). Let me first say that this is a serious disservice to not only members of what Jane Lynch’s character would call the lowest caste, but also to the higher-ups. First of all, not everyone who sings is weird; they’re not all starved for attention, bad dressers or people who would actually put up with having eggs thrown at them. All one has to do is look at the current season of American Idol (Glee’s lead-in tonight) to see that singers can not only be attractive, successful and suave (Kris) but they can also ooze confidence, so secure in their talent that they don’t feel the need to bring it up all the time(Adam). As for the upper-caste caricatures, I’ve got to say (as a bonified “outsider”, theatre nerd and general anti-cheerleader) that uniforms and consciences are really not mutually exclusive accessories. There are non-evil cheerleaders, football players who’ve never shoved anyone in a locker and even a few jocks who *gasp* feel like outsiders too. High school has enough drama as it really is, isn’t forcing characters into unfair and largely inaccurate boxes based on interests just serving to minimize what makes those characters interesting in the first place?
Just once, I’d like to see a musical (though, by technical standards, Glee isn’t considered a musical) hit the mainstream media that isn’t about some cool kid discovering how freeing it can be to join the uncool kids. I’d like to see something where the cool kids ARE the free ones (whatever it is they’re doing with that freedom: sports, music, debate,…), something that makes Hollywood finally realize that what they think is “cool” is actually lukewarm.
Maybe Glee can someday be that show; I’ll be tuning in in the fall just in case that’s true. But for now please do know that I really am sorry about what you just had to sit through.