FOX thinks it has a hit on its hands with “Glee,” giving it a prime post-“American Idol” slot to air its pilot months before it actually goes into regular rotation in the Fall. The early verdict? All depends on your tolerance for being beaten over the head with a happy stick. Because this show will put on a smile on your face even if it has to kill you in the process.
The plot: well, you know the plot. Not because you, like I, watched the episode, but because you’ve seen some variation on every single plot point in some other part of pop culture. That’s not a knock on the show: it wears its unoriginality as a point of pride, which in a way ties in nicely with the overall theme of the show: it’s OK to reveal yourself to the world exactly as you are.
And hey, in a post-Susan Boyle world, I’m fine with that message. I don’t need every show I watch to revel in emo angst. Teen spirit in this show doesn’t smell minty fresh, but there’s something wonderfully retro about the trials and tribulations of the characters involved. It’s not that there’s no drama, but there’s a refreshing lack of histrionics as the show uses its protagonist, former wonder kid now high school Spanish teacher Will Schuester, as a stand-in for the audience. Through him, we’re asked to relive the communal, awkward experiencing of trying to fit in. Not just in high school, but in life itself.
As one who spent more time in our theatre’s wood shop than on any particular practice field, it’s safe to say I’m the target demo for “Glee.” But the beauty of the show is in showing that members of each hard-coded clique feels equally an outsider, with the bullying of the football team merely a defensive mechanism to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. But we get behind the ragtag members of the glee club because they in some ways represent that sense of isolation we all felt in high school. (Not just me, right? Right? Right? Oh God, I’m regressing again.)
Having mentioned that ragtag group…we only got two know two of them in any meaningful manner this week, Finn (this show’s Troy Bolton) and Rachel (this show’s Tracy Flick, props to Rick Porter for the reference). The rest stayed in the background as much in the plot as on stage in this initial episode, though undoubtedly we’ll learn more about them come the Fall season. Because Finn and Rachel are only archetypes at this point, they didn’t really stand out this week. I hope “Glee” takes its occasionally naughty humor and punctures the stereotypes currently caging these characters when it returns.
For his part, Will puts his heart behind the glee club not only to relive his glory days, but as a way to avoid what appears to be a fairly loveless marriage. His wife works part time in an ongoing effort to own every item in the Pottery Barn catalog. I personally didn’t believe her telling Will about her pregnancy; instead, I chalked it up as a plot to re-orient her drifting husband as well as an attempt to ensure that she’s always well-stocked with tasteful yet banal home furnishings. All this leaves fellow teach Emma doe-eyed and yearning from across the teacher’s lounge.
The episode ends on the approximately 1,657,433rd use of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” with Finn having decide to bridge both the jock world and glee world and the rest of the school’s established cliques envying the group’s red shirts and soaring harmonies. I tried to resist this song, having burned out on it from not only “The Sopranos” finale but its ubiquitous use at local karaoke joints, but damn you “Glee,” you got me anyways. Because again, through Will, we’re invited to see ourselves onstage at this moment. And who doesn’t want to see themselves in a perfect moment?
Other news and notes:
- The promos made it seem like Jane Lynch was the star of this series, but she was sparingly used this week. Luckily, she made the most of her screen time as a worthy nemesis who will undoubtedly fight Will for every last school dollar.
- Loved the use of a capella versions of popular songs in lieu of synthesized orchestration. Subtle but effective. About the only subtle thing the show did during the entire hour.
- While I lament the overuse of “Don’t Stop Believing,” the show at least snuck in another Journey gem, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” via flashback. Now, if they drop “Wheel in the Sky” at some point in the future, I’ll be impressed.
- As (intentionally) inappropriate as the ginormous production number for Vocal Adrenaline’s “Rehab” was, it was topped by Tina’s hysterical crotch chop during “I Kissed a Girl.”
- Best quotes? “Oh my God, look at monkey!”, “Don’t go in the Christmas closet!”, and the sign in Will’s office that reads, “Priority #1: Help the Kids!” after pretending to plant drugs in Finn’s locker.
- I know I’m a little old and perhaps unhip, but are people really still using MySpace these days?
For a show that names its group “New Directions,” “Glee” certainly treads along well-worn paths. But the point isn’t transcendence of television tropes; it’s about conquering the hearts of its viewers. I hope further episodes tickle the brain as much as this episode lurched at the emotional jugular, because there’s a devious wit existing below the surface of this seemingly saccharine show. And a little more subversion would be music to my ears. But since I’ll be tuning in to see later this year, I’d say the show did it job well. Not quite the 9 assigned by Will at episode’s end, but well indeed.
What did you think of the show’s premiere? Are you on board for the full season come Fall? Will it fill in the gap left by “American Idol” or will it fall flat? Get it? Flat? I kill me.
Ryan will be hosting auditions for his Journey tribute band over at Boob Tube Dude.