Sounds like team spirit

On paper, FOX’s new hit show, Glee, is not something any self-respecting student should admit to watching. After all, its premise is essentially what you get when you take every movie set in an American high school ever, bundle them up and repackage them into something with a lot of spontaneous singing that bears suspicious plot similarities to that scourge of the universe, High School Musical.

However, on closer inspection, High School Musical turns out to bear a resemblance to Glee in the same way that Sarah Palin resembles Tina Fey. They may look alike, but one of them spends her free time shooting moose and the other is Liz Lemon. The premise of High School Musical, after all, isn’t automatically terrible – most people like music, and everyone likes to watch shows about high school (mainly because high school as presented on American film and TV resembles nothing actually experienced by any real human beings, and can therefore be categorised as sci fi acted by people wearing normal clothes). However, the Disney juggernaut’s earnest message of hope, achievement and friendship merely moves me to pour another drink and remark that Zac Efron looks very much like he is made of rubber.

It’s nice, therefore, to discover that someone else agrees with me that High School Musical might have been a whole lot better if someone had added in jokes about bulimia, Republicans and teen pregnancy. Glee turns out to be about as caustic and tongue-in-cheek as an American show can get. “You think this is hard?” coach Sue Sylvester screams at her squad of cheerleaders in the pilot, “Try waterboarding, that’s hard!” Its humour comes not from the fact that its characters are trying to be funny, but because they have no idea how funny they really are. When Spanish teacher and new Glee club coach Mr Schuester tells his wife that he may have to work longer hours, she exclaims, “But I’m on my feet four hours a day, three times a week here! Now I have to go home and cook dinner for myself?”

Glee cheerfully admits that people in general, and the students and teachers at McKinley High in particular, are ridiculous, stupid and quite often extraordinarily bigoted. Efron analogue Finn (Cory Monteith), is permanently puzzled as to what words longer than two syllables mean, and pipsqueak ingénue Rachel (Lea Michele) is a pushy, stagestruck and often extremely unlikeable diva. The real standout, in terms of utter toxicity, is Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester. Sue, a woman who believes in caning and littering, manages to wipe the screen with every other character she shares a scene with. At one point she cheerfully remarks that “I like minorities so much that I’m thinking of moving to California to become one.” In real life, we’d hate her, but she’s presented in such a slapstick, surrealist style that there’s nothing to do but laugh.

Glee’s title, it must be admitted, does not translate well for an English audience. This is mainly because the English are extremely cautious about expressing any kind of cheerful emotion, especially in a place where someone else might see it. Americans, however, are practically under a national requirement to be gleeful at all times, and see no reason why they should not tell everyone else about how they feel. A Glee club, as it turns out, is a sort of very excited choir, who sing arrangements of popular songs and dress in brightly coloured costumes. In effect this means we get a lot of Rihanna and Beyonce, apparently this generation’s version of show tunes. Under the guise of totally natural, not staged in any way ‘rehearsals’, characters often break into song, generally accompanied by wind machines, flashing lights, ten man bands and other completely normal everyday objects found in the halls of every high school that there has ever been. For the anti-musical, pro-Sylvester ones among us they’re pretty easy to skip, but as guilty pleasures go you can’t get much better.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Mr Schuester, who distracts himself from his unhappy life by deciding to reinvigorate McKinley High’s ailing Glee club. To do this he follows the dictates of the Plucky Underdog Team plotline rigorously – the core of his club includes the regulation two ethnic minorities (one black girl, one Chinese girl), one reluctant jock, one stage nerd, one gay kid and one boy in a wheelchair. It later expands to take on the regulation cheerleaders and the regulation Bad Boy with the Heart of Gold. I will bet you my entire student loan right now that this season will either end with the Glee club Suddenly and Unexpectedly Winning the Big Prize at Nationals or Courageously Coming Second to the Team with a Greater Number of Ethnic Minorities. It could not be said that Glee is innovative in any way, but it somehow manages to riff off of its painfully stock plotlines to create something a whole lot more amusing than could be expected.

A few months ago I would never have believed that anything involving singing could be my favourite new show of the year. To be honest, there’s quite a lot wrong with Glee. At times it doesn’t seem to be quite aware of where it’s going, and those plotlines, to put it politely, need some work. But somehow Glee has snuck its way into my brain like a particularly insidious Lady Gaga song, and now I just can’t help enjoying it.


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