Why you should all watch “Glee”

May 21, 2009

No, seriously, this is a good show.

Many of us feel a foreboding chill when we read the phrase “new, fresh comedy on FOX”. We’ve had our hearts broken too many times. We get visions of time slot changes, out-of-order episodes, pulled promotions, premature cancellations. I mean, these FOX guys would use foie gras for toilet paper. But I have to warn you anyway: there’s a new, fresh comedy on FOX. It’s called Glee, it inspired this list, and from one pilot I’m already willing to call it one of the best shows of the single-camera era.

Despite being a show about a high-school glee club, it’s played deadly straight, by seriously talented actors creating multi-faceted characters. As one of the main characters snaps in the first few minutes of the pilot, “there is nothing ironic about Show Choir.” The pilot’s an hour long, and I hope the show stays that way, because it allows for a complex, layered story and innovative pacing choices. Glee gives jokes the breathing room they deserve, and sometimes foregoes joking entirely when the story demands it. It’s a tremendously risky decision, but it works by avoiding “dramedy” didacticism or easy resolutions.

Set in a football-obsessed high school in a humdrum Ohio town, Glee follows Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) as he tries to inspire the school glee club to go to Nationals. Will has to contend with an unhappy marriage to a secret Pottery Barn addict (Jessalyn Gilsig), and the attentions of Emma (Jayma Mays), a clean-freak career counselor. Morrisson nimbly holds the show together, projecting a starry-eyed warmth that makes it hard not to care about the kids as much as Will does. Mays, meanwhile, creates one of the funniest and most compelling characters currently on TV. Her surprisingly restrained performance makes her character’s mental illness actually funny — for Emma, OCD is just an inconvenient fact. She floats around the screen in perfectly arranged ’60s ensembles, with a doe-eyed assertiveness that makes her bizarrely sexy.

I mean, just look at her. Rawr.

I mean, just look at her. Rawr.

But, thankfully in a show about music, the best thing about Glee is the music. The actors with singing roles can all sing (a few of them were plucked straight off Broadway), and the stage numbers portray the full range of the high-school glee-club experience, in all its grandeur and all its folly. Cory Monteith shines musically and dramatically as a quarterback who has to choose between the team and the club. Lea Michele gives the show some of its funniest moments as a wannabe star who takes the club far too seriously. While both characters seem like the most obvious types imaginable, nuanced writing and spot-on performances make the roles seem as if they’d been invented just for this show. Other club members (Amber Riley as a would-be Beyoncé, Chris Colfer as a gay Wayne Newton soundalike, Kevin McHale as a wheelchair-bound nerdlinger) are less consistent in the talking scenes, but the whole cast brings the musical scenes exactly what they need. For an example of Glee‘s playful but meticulous handling of the musical numbers, just watch the evil high-school performing “Rehab”. The background music is also sublime, thanks to the odd but perfect decision to record most of it a capella. Many of the key scenes are cut to choral renditions of pop songs, which miraculously turns out memorable but not obnoxious.

Touches like this show what’s great about Glee: its willingness to take risks, to focus on subtleties, to try things that have never been tried before. This show will have plenty of chances to jump the shark, and FOX executives will have plenty of chances to meddle it to Hell, but until then, it’s one of the most interesting things on television. If you’re convinced at all, you can watch the pilot here.


One comment

  1. Saw the pilot and loved it!

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