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Why Fox's 'Glee' Shouldn't Win the Nobel Peace Prize
September 20, 2010  | By Noel Holston

I wonder what's next for Glee. Knighthood? An installation at the Louvre? The Nobel Peace Prize?

Nothing much would surprise me now that the Fox musical-comedy-fantasy-melodrama, which begins its second season Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, has become the most over-praised TV series since, well, I can't think of a close second, let alone an equal.

It recently picked up an Emmy to go along with its Peabody and its Golden Globes. I wouldn't be shocked if the members of the Motion Picture Academy created a new category so they can give it an Oscar.

Seems like every time I watch any Fox prime-time show, I encounter an in-house promo citing critics' raves for Glee, including a quote from TV Guide to the effect that it "raises the bar for all of television."


Please. Glee is a nice little show, sort of a cross-breeding of American Idol and the old ABC Afterschool Specials. Over the course of its brief life, it has tirelessly contended that, as Mac Davis once put it, "music in the universal language, and love is the key, to peace, love and understanding, and living in harmony."

More specifically, it has put forth the proposition that a school music program can enable kids representing rich and poor, ebony and ivory, the jocks and the preppies, the bullies and the nerds, the straight and the gay, the overweight and the anorexic, the handicapped and the buff to see beyond their petty differences and find common purpose in life. And exchange wistful looks at least once per episode as they recognize their personal growth.

Well, OK, lovely. At a time when schools are ditching chorus and band and other extracurricular arts programs for lack of funds, it's great PR. And far better this than another voyeuristic melodrama about serial killers or another sitcom about a pudgy doofus with an improbably gorgeous wife. But the notion that Glee is historic, epochal, phenomenal television is silly.

The Wire raised the bar. The Singing Detective raised the bar. Friday Night Lights raises the bar. Glee? Well, it's the best musical-drama series since Cop Rock, although not as daring or original.

Given the success of Disney's High School Musical franchise, I'm not surprised that somebody thought, "High school, music, big box office, hmmm -- what if we did a series about teens who are in a glee club? And what if we have them sing songs their parents grew up on? OMG!!!"

What Glee portrays is much more akin to a high school's theater department or some sort of showstoppers troupe, not a glee club. I realize I've been out of high school more than a couple of years and that things change, but I still think of a glee club as being a choral unit whose members join their voices on songs like Oh Shenandoah and Battle Hymn of the Republic, not a collection of Idol-ready soloists who take turns backing each other up in a medley of hits by Olivia Newton-John or Journey.

But even if I'm being overly technical -- or old-fashioned -- about this, there's still the problem that the basic dramatic tension in Glee is strained. We're supposed to believe that the members of New Directions, the glee club at McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, not only struggle to be recognized and respected by their classmates and the school's administration, but that they have sworn enemies out to undercut them at every turn?


Enter Sue Sylvester, the unscrupulous, power-mad cheerleading coach who has made it her mission to embarrass and undercut New Directions and its faculty advisor, Will Schuester, by any means possible. Every school or office has its petty despots, to be sure. But to find a TV nemesis as caricatured as scheming, skulking Sue, you have to go back to Boss Hogg or Sheriff Roscoe in The Dukes of Hazzard.

Yes, Sue had a mild attack of decency in the season finale, using her clout at McKinley to see to it that New Directions got another year's trial (and, conveniently, the series another season). But it's unlikely her change of heart will be anything but fleeting. Her over-the-top antagonism is an essential contrivance of the show.

But, you may say, what about the music? Where else on television can you turn to hear songs from My Fair Lady and West Side Story and Sweet Charity, songs made famous by Aerosmith and Lady Gaga and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap?


Nowhere. Not even on Idol, which has never had much use for show tunes. And I applaud the producers for sneaking in occasional reminders of musical theater's grand history. But is it too much to ask that the performances by Glee's undeniably talented cast bear a bit more resemblance to reality?

This is supposed to be high school, right? And these kids are presumably amateurs. Yet their rehearsals quickly elevate to improbably elaborate, misstep-free choreography, and the public performances are so intricate, they could have come straight from a Broadway stage.

The problem with Glee is never sour notes, just false ones.




Amiee said:

I agree with everything you said and yet, god help me, I still can't help but love this show. No it's not revolutionary and it certainly doesn't deserve every award known to man but when I watch it I sing, I laugh, I cry and I generally come away feeling happy.

I get your point. Stop showering it with undeserved praise. But can we please stop beating up on it as well?

Comment posted on September 21, 2010 7:38 AM

Ed Q. said:

Thank you! Glee is a fun show, I enjoy it, my wife and kids love it. It's a show they can watch together (and buy the cd's and see the shows...). But it's not daring tv or at times even great tv. the dramatic realism falls flat when surrounded by satire and lunacy. The musical numbers are wonderful and a joy to watch but that doesn't do enough to merit the heaping praise it is given.

Comment posted on September 21, 2010 1:28 PM

Rich said:

Noel! - thank God, I thought I was the only one who noticed this. My own initial reaction is that 'someone' at Fox is trying WAAAY to hard to over sell something as I don't know anyone who doesn't know this show exists.

The problem I have with "Glee" is that it initially was promoted as a "Breakfast Club"/"Daria" (MTV cartoon) style Teen TV drama and I thought it was going to be 'clever' and Not take itself so seriously. The adults in this show are weirder than the kids! And how am I supposed to believe all these people would hang out if not in this 'Fan Fictionalized' drama world.

The other thing I find funny is that whenever I see people promoting "Glee" in print it's always the "prettier" people. "Glee" wants it both ways, They want to glorify the outcasts and make them seem like underdogs but they have no problem showing off and acting like they're the most Popular Show on TV. Either you're the cultural phenom you claim or you're a scrappy edgy upstart- which is it?

I wish Fox cared this much about "Terminator: Sarah Conner Cron." & "Dollhouse" both had their cult status and didn't get the coddling "Glee" gets. Thanks for this refreshing review on the "greatest show ever to be reviewed".

Comment posted on September 21, 2010 1:30 PM

Carlton said:

Friday Night Lights raised the bar? That's your opinion. Besides the music, the theater, etc., you forgot to mention the endearing, universal characters that most of us can relate to or identify with as someone we may have known during our own painful, lonely, confused days of high school. To say it's as simplistic as just copying the High School Musical franchise is more silly than your argument that the program is silly. Besides didn't Friday Night Lights the TV show, just copy Friday Night Lights the movie? You only examined the show on the surface, but the chord that has struck most people who watch it, lies below the surface. That is the secret of its success.

Comment posted on September 21, 2010 2:45 PM

Nathan said:

I fully expect "Glee" to live the same life "Ugly Betty" did. Silly, over-the-top show has popular, critically acclaimed first season, novelty wears off the second season, third and fourth seasons have ratings that vanish like fractals into nothing. And I say that as someone who likes the show (about half the time).

Comment posted on September 21, 2010 10:03 PM

sumoran said:

Thank you. Again. Thank you. I just don't get it. Friday night lights is great. That's how the real people are done on TV. Mad Men is even better. Wire is another universe. Glee is nice, fun, easy to watch, with good music-thing going on, but that's it. Not even close to the best thing on tv right now, let a lone the comparison with the all time greats. I bet(hope)that no one will care 3 years from now.

Comment posted on September 21, 2010 11:01 PM
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