By: Aleks Chan
GLEE, FOX’s musical dramedy hybrid about a high school glee club, seemed at first everything that ratings-hungry advertisers and networks love: HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL meets AMERICAN IDOL, complete with a pretty young cast, catchy song ditties, and the sarcasm-laced script that the 18-49 demographic has shown to eat up in droves – something more earnest than it was worth.
And then I watched it: mea /freakin’/ cupla.
Having enjoyed his previous foray into the teenage quest for social identity (POPULAR), and having fallen in and out of love with his dark, brooding plastic surgery satire NIP/TUCK, I should have known creator Ryan Murphy, with all his tendencies towards over indulgence and writing his plots into corners, can’t help but put on a fabulous show. And I would expect that those who trumpet their skepticism for dance, music, or any combination of the two, would be just as surprised by GLEE’s infectious sense of humor, spirit, and brains. It’s the musical comedy for people who hate musical comedies.
Set in a fictional Ohio high school, it follows Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), who takes up the down-on-its-luck glee club to recapture the youthful passion he had when he and his baby-frenzied wife (Jessalyn Gilsig) first met. Faced with a tiny pool of talent beyond prima donna Rachel (Lea Michele, donning Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick from Election), he recruits quarterback-cum-secret-shower-singer Finn (Cory Monteith) into joining, setting the two up as the leads.
New Directions, the aptly devised new name for the chorus group, is marching through an uphill battle: overshadowed (and by associated underfunded, leaving Will to pay for the program out of pocket) by the cheerleaders – the “Cheerios” – and their caustic leader Sue (the perfectly snappy Jane Lynch, whom without the character would never work), they have to work, song-by-song, to be taken seriously. Musical numbers as elaborate and explosive as a Broadway production from their main rival notwithstanding.
FOX is banking on GLEE to takeoff – it has positioned tonight’s premiere after the AMERICAN IDOL finale thinking we’ll love it so much that we’ll wait all summer to see another episode. This is risky, though I think it might pay off, but not for the reasons the brass thinks it will: GLEE is the anti-AMERICAN IDOL, filled with inspiring moments of remarkable talent, it embraces the lust for fame from Idol while turning it on its head, creating a parody that can perform Journey’s all-too-corny “Don’t Stop Believin’” without a hint of kitsch. Grade: A-