Glee – TV Review

If you happened to miss FOX‘s preview special of the Glee pilot episode, it isn’t that surprising given the competition, but you missed a real treat.  The misfit musi-comedy about high school life, and it’s clubs, popularity contests, and hierarchies, is driven by a kind of creative genius rarely witnessed in the television world.

I know, pretty serious stuff, isn’t it?

Glee: The new one-hour comedy musical series about a group of aspiring underdogs will premiere this fall on FOX. Pictured clockwise from L: Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Lea Michele (C), Jenna Ushkowitz, Cory Monteith and Kevin McHale. 2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Matthias Clamer/FOX
Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Lea Michele, Jenna Ushkowitz, Cory Monteith and Kevin McHale. 2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Matthias Clamer/FOX

First of all, I have to point out that no matter what you’ve been led to believe, Glee is not a musical.  It’s just a show that happens to be about people who sing, and there’s a difference.  People in Glee don’t, for a start, just break out into song randomly and sing their way through their day.  They sing in Glee club.

The story is that of Will, a young teacher who suddenly finds an opportunity to take over Glee club staring him in the face.  McKinley High was once a Glee powerhourse, but now they are a dreary excuse for even a random group of kids, much less ones with the ability to take on singing competitions.  With a varied sampling of the modes of geekhood as the only students interested in the affair, Will needs some way to drum up recruits.

When he learns that the quarterback can sing, and is actually interested, the game is afoot.  Now he just has to find a way to get the principal to let Glee continue, keep the few members he has, deal with his wife (who wants him to quit this silly teaching and become an accountant), and dodge the cheer squad’s efforts at destroying the upstart loser brigade.

2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Carin Baer/FOX
2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Carin Baer/FOX

Glee is a wonderful reminder that the word “caricature” is only a certain description, and it does not deliver negativity on its own.  Is everyone in Glee just a little too… whatever?  No!  They are massively too whatever, and mostly with bells on.  The bullies are too bully, the waste of space wife is too… vacuous, the neat freak would scare the neatest of freaks, and not by a little bit, but by miles.

They are hyperbolic representations, and they deliver and translate the story wonderfully, and build a heartwarming style of comedy around what is frankly a pretty dramatic frame.  Sometimes the comedic and ludicrous pierces to a truer depth, because the serious or dramatic effort misses somewhat by virtue of our own dodges.  We see the High School bully (or jerk boss, or annoying coworker, or shrew wife) coming, and we’re already pulling ourselves away from involvement a little.

But, hyperbole plays with your brain.  You can’t take the characters seriously, but your mind demands you take something seriously, and all that’s left is what they’re doing.  But, if things are done well, what they’re doing is just as outrageously over-the-top as anything (the kid in the wheelchair is generally pretty safe from bullying), and you skip to the sub-text.  That part is pretty serious, and there the serious meets the ludicrous and comedy happens (that’s why all funny things are funny, by the way).  Along the way we managed to get you to accidentally pay attention to that serious stuff, and then we’ve got you.

Glee brings together a variety of perspectives, through a range of characters and motivations, but it’s all about the same thing.  You spend a lot of your life travelling the road you’re on, just because it’s the road you’re on.  The road says, “go left,” and you do, because… well, at least you feel like you understand this road, and you can’t really see where else there is to go.  A lot of aspects of society promote this road or that road at you, or maybe they help convince you how great your road is.  Sometimes someone comes along and shows you another road with a handy turnoff, and it looks similar to your road, and maybe you change roads, maybe just for a while… and maybe you don’t.  But, once in a while, if you’re really lucky, someone will irritatingly ask you what difference it makes, and you will find your answer couched in terms of your road… and that person (probably you) will smile just a little, clap you on the shoulder, and say, “What road?”

You could attempt that story 1,000 different serious ways, and you’d never get anywhere with anyone.  We are good at swerving by now, and vehemently defensive of our roads.  If you attack my road, where does that leave me?

On the way to the downside of things –  Glee is fun, funny, and an entertaining time in a way absolutely rare on television.  It’s also a show I will actually watch again.  That last is a huge statement if you know anything about me.

But, it’s really a long movie at best, and a long run of episodes doesn’t quite make sense.  First off, it builds an arc that can really only last so long.  More importantly, the very nature of hyperbole pretty much requires that it either end, or change pretty substantially.  You have to let people loose from hyperbole.  So, either the show will end before long as a conscious decision (a move so genius it is beyond the scope of television possibility), or it won’t be able to sustain itself into double digit episodes, or it will have to morph into a different effort.  That last has possibilities, but there’s certainly no way to know what they are.

You won’t get more Glee until the fall, but you can see a lot of clips below, and the full pilot episode.  It isn’t hard to imagine missing the original airing, but don’t miss it again.

Glee, by the way, is brought to you by the creator of Nip/Tuck, a show that similarly brought you a few episodes of… well, pretty-goodness anyway, and then didn’t know what to do with itself.

And, if anyone has any stats on the spike in iTunes sales of Journey, I’d love to know the numbers.


Are You Screening?


You can watch several clips, trailers, and the full episode through the player below.


Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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