A Different High School Musical

By on Aug 18, 2009 in Previews | 3 comments

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Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Jenna Ushkowitz, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, and Cory Monteith of "Glee"

2009-2010 New Series Preview, Part 2

Statistically, only a third of all new shows avoid cancellation during their first seasons. I have no doubt in my mind that Glee will be among them this year. It’s riding the wave of popularity for all things song-and-dance, and yet it’s edgier, funnier, and so much more fulfilling—for my money, at least—than That Which Shall Not Be Named.

Glee follows a teacher who, unsatisfied by his stagnant life, rekindles his dream of taking McKinley High’s glee club to fame and glory. He finds club members in some of the school’s most derided outcasts: a showbiz-obsessed goody-goody, a paraplegic nerd, a stuttering goth, a flamboyant fashionisto, and a Jennifer Hudson wannabe. And to bolster the social standing of the group, he also recruits a quarterback, one who actually starts to enjoy the club.

In addition to the talent and humor of the student characters, the supporting roles are quite good, too. The ever-likable Jayma Mays plays a sweet guidance counselor, and Jane Lynch seems to have been born for her role as an acerbic cheerleading coach. (Here’s an example of her cutting remarks: “Our school is starting a glee club. Oh sure, these kids are nerds, misfits, tools… crusty, little cross-eyed nerdlets… I forget where I was going with this. I guess I’m done.”)

Last summer, FOX made a very smart move. (And how often can we say that?) It treated us to the pilot episode of Glee months in advance of the fall season to pump up hype. Plus, they aired it after ratings-juggernaut American Idol. And since then, the network has been running ads like crazy. Luckily, they’ve had some great critical blurbs to tout: “It is so good” from TVGuide.com; “The best thing you’re going to see on TV this year,” from the Los Angeles Times; “I am officially obsessed,” from Entertainment Weekly.

The praise is certainly not faint, and I can hardly disagree. Creator Ryan Murphy, who explored the superficiality of beauty on Nip/Tuck, is now plundering the social caste system of high school. The characters are exaggerated to the point of stereotypes, but Murphy does this intentionally and originally—much like previous high-school satires like Mean Girls and Election. (In fact, the character of Rachel Berry owes a lot to Tracy Flick in her unabashed, perky ambition for stardom.) But despite the snarkiness and edgy humor, the essence of the show is wholesome and winning. Because, at its core, Glee is an ode to the underdog.

As good as the writing and acting are, however, the music often steals the show—and there’s a lot of music to love. The pilot offered two deft covers—one of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and one of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”—both of which have become hits on iTunes. Entertainment Weekly reports that a staggering 70 songs have been recorded for the first 13 episodes. Unsurprisingly, the first two soundtrack albums are already in the works.

There is so much to look forward to for this show, and luckily, we only have weeks to wait.