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Fox Gets Buoyant Head Start on Fall Schedule, with "Glee"
May 19, 2009  | By David Bianculli
 
GLEE-rehab.jpgMore people will be watching tonight's performance final of American Idol than almost any TV offering shown this year. Here's hoping they keep their TV sets tuned to Fox immediately afterward, because tonight's advance taste of Glee, one of its new fall series, isn't just a sneak peek.

It's a sneak peak...

Presenting a preview of a new series after the year's penultimate American Idol is a shrewd move. Adam Lambert and Kris Allen will bring a Super Bowl-sized audience to the network, so why not use that platform the same way, as a high-profile launch pad? Crazy like a Fox, indeed.

Rarely, though, has a Super Bowl ever presented such a compatible program as dessert. American Idol, stripped of all the hype, celebrates the belief in and development of talent, the power of dreams, and the joy of music. Glee, a new series about a high-school glee club "show choir," celebrates exactly the same things -- but with enough irony and wit to avoid being syrupy.

"There is NOTHING ironic about show choir!" exclaims one proud student singer at one point in Glee (9 p.m. ET). She's wrong, of course, and the ironies and twists and comic exaggerations are part of what make this new series work. And it comes from Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, so the twisted parts aren't surprising... but the heartfelt ones are, and they work just as well.

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Matthew Morrison, the Tony-nominated young actor from The Light in the Piazza, stars as Will, a high-school Spanish teacher with a stagnant marriage (his wife is played by Nip/Tuck import Jessalyn Gilsig).

He also has an unexpected dream: When the glee-club teacher is fired, he applies for the job and sets out to shape its misfit volunteers into a star troupe. The other students are scornful, and most fellow teachers are skeptical to hateful, but where there's a Will, there's a way.

Approached too earnestly, this could be another High School Musical -- hugely popular among tweens, but without enough bite to draw and hold their parents. Glee, though, will please both. Like American Idol, it is that rarest of 21st-century TV programs: a show for the entire family.

I love this show for many reasons, and let me count the ways -- with advance warning that I'm saving the best, or at least the most personal, for last.

I love Morrison in the leading role. He's a new face to TV, and it's easy to see why both his students and at least one fellow teacher look at him with goo-goo eyes. He's got an easy comic manner, but his secret weapon is his voice. When, in a pensive moment, he grabs an acoustic guitar and sings "Leaving On a Jet Plane" to an empty theater, it's a vocal moment surpassing most of this year's performances on American Idol.

I love the way the misfit students are introduced, through their audition musical selections. All you need to know about these kids, and their self-images and ambitions, you can glean from a few bars of what they sing to try out for the club. Mercedes (Amber Riley), black and hefty, sings "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." Kurt (Chris Colfer), shy and vulnerable, sings "Mr. Cellophane." Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), aggressive and punkish, sings "I Kissed a Girl."

And Rachel (Lea Michele), the diva in waiting -- the social outcast who uploads a new video of her singing nightly on her MySpace page, and has definite dreams of becoming a Broadway baby -- sings "On My Own" from Les Miserables.

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I love, in fact, the way music is used throughout the show. When Will coerces Finn (Cory Monteith), the high school football star, to join the performing arts group in an attempt to make it a more popular school activity, Rachel latches onto Finn immediately, with a rousing rehearsal of "You're the One That I Want" from Grease.

And while some of the musical choices are best enjoyed as surprises, one is too good not to mention -- and already has been featured in countless promos anyway. When Will takes his ragtag group to a rival school's recital to scope out the competition, what they see is a wildly choreographed, wickedly inappropriate performance of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." (See photo at top.) Funny as that idea sounds, the music itself sounds even funnier.

Also, I love that Glee connects certain scenes by having a cappella singers provide background music. It's like a glee-club version of the weird musical snippets that help bridge scenes on Seinfeld -- and, like so much about this series, it makes me smile.

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Nothing, though, makes me smile quite so much as Jane Lynch, who plays Sue, the hard-driven, tough-talking coach of the high-profile, high-talent cheerleading squad, the Cheery-Os. She runs her squad like a different kind of drill sergeant, and uses her bullhorn to bark out memorable instructions. My favorite: "I want the agony out of your eyes!"

Jane Lynch, veteran of many wonderful comedy films -- Best in Show, The 40 Year Old Virgin, For Your Consideration -- comes on like an unstoppable, always quotable dynamo. From her very first scene, she is to Glee what Alec Baldwin is to 30 Rock: an irresistible comic dynamo.

Finally, a shared factor of Glee. Will, the protagonist of this series, finally explains that he wants to coach performing arts because he took it himself as a student, and "loved what I was doing." Ryan Murphy's creation of, and devotion to, this series is easier to understand once you learn he had a similar experience.

And, as a student at Nova High School's Performing Arts program in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, so did I. I was on stage as a singer only once (maybe that's why I became a critic, because I had the gift to hear instantly how bad I was) -- but as lighting designer, a stage manager, and member of a tightly bonded stage crew, I had some of the best times, and made some of the best friends, of my life.

Many of those friends, I still have. Some of them did go on to star on Broadway, or sing the lead in Disney animated musicals, or star on TV. Others went about their lives, pursuing different careers. Some did both. But all of us, for that brief moment of youthful time, dreamed big, worked hard, and, most important, worked together.

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All of that is captured, and reflected, in Glee. Which is why, watching it and even thinking about it, I can't help but smile. Watch it tonight, then watch it come back big in the fall. This is one Super Bowl-type launch that will make it into orbit.

The 2009-10 TV season already has a hit.. and it's Glee.


2 Comments

 

sarah said:

Not bad not bad at all and as one of those kids in high school who was happier on stage (even if it was just a part of the chorus), it is nice to see a show bring the importance of the arts back to high school.

Comment posted on May 19, 2009 10:07 PM


Garrick said:

The "Cheery-O's"??...LOL. Rachel (Lea Michele) is pretty smoking- nice choice of eye candy.

I don't know though, it all seems a little too "high school musical-ish". I thought this show was going to be more in the vain of mocking high school hierachy & social structure like "Daria" did on MTV years back. "Daria" made outcasts interesting and cool by comparison of the other hypocritical social types (Daria's nemesis was also named "Quinn"). However this seems to be another example of "geeks being geeky" getting mocked and magically triumphing as only they do in TV Land. Not into that stale chestnut. I'm surprised actor John Cera (king of all sensitive wussy males) isn't the lead.

I think Fox has it backwards. They should have a bunch of cool & popular kids do a glee club and then you add in some geeks who help the club instead of a club full of nerds who need popular kids to excel. It just reinforces the old stereo-types I think they're trying to avoid. I guess it's tailor made for the A.I. audience I'll give Fox that. At least it's not "Twilight" the musical.

(Do you mean MICHAEL Cera? At any rate, don't joke about a musical Twilight. Broadway, the past few years, has stooped even lower already. -- David B.)

 

Comment posted on May 20, 2009 1:44 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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