Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

Glee Review: Pilot and Showmance (Eps 1&2)

Posted by Mr. Feeny on September 9, 2009

“By its definition, Glee is about opening yourself up to joy.” – Lillian Adler, former Glee Club Sponsor

That’s the quote on her plaque and the objective of this show. Enjoying yourself.

It’s not about bringing musicals to the masses. It’s not about the torture of high school. The goal of Glee is simply to enjoy yourself every week for an hour. I hesitate to call it brain candy, because there are signs of early character development and intriguing plots. But nothing you have to think over for long periods at a time. Filled with jokes and a soundtrack that happens to be sung by the characters, Glee‘s second episode, “Showmance,” confirmed what the Pilot suggested in the Spring. This will be FOX’s hit this season…perhaps the biggest for any network.

Fans of musical theatre will love this show. It features a mix of classics (“On My Own”), oldies (“Don’t Stop Believing”) and modern interpretations (“Gold Digger”). Not to mention a cast of quality singers, including Tony nominee Matthew Morrison and would-be nominee Lea Michele (and many great guest stars coming, including Kristin Chenoweth…who I assume will be playing a freshman). And at least one musical number per segment. That’s not the demo the producers have to win over.

Two Rising Stars: Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele

Two Rising Stars: Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele

The key for Glee’s success is making it mainstream. Allowing normal viewers to watch a compelling program without dwelling on the musical numbers. The songs should be as much a part of Glee as football is a part of Friday Night Lights or murder is a part of The Sopranos. Yes, they’re integral to the plot. But those series are about much more: characters, dialogue, creativity, emotions. That’s what makes them a hit. The music should just serve simply as a side component.

But there also needs to be realism. CBS’s Viva Laughlin failed two years ago because it awkwardly combined drama and musical. There was no reason for the characters to start singing. Normal viewers hate that. And the songs weren’t original renditions; the actors’ voices were actually mixed with the originals’. Musically-minded viewers hate that. The only way a musical TV show can appeal to a wide audience is by making the singing natural and reasonable…not out of no where.

Through two episodes, Glee has excelled at that. Every song is either an audition, a rehearsal or a performance. Jane Lynch (who’s hilarious in her role as the gym teacher, by the way) hasn’t sung a note. Nor has the principal or Will’s wife or the guidance counselor. There’s no reason for them to. They add the straight play elements that viewers need. The last song of “Showmance” did border on breaking that vital wall, as Michele’s character started singing in the hallway. Too much of that could hurt Glee‘s credibility (and this from someone who loves random singing…and does it quite often. Right now as a matter of fact).

The problem that will most often be cited with Glee is predictability. All the high school stereotypes are in there, from geeks and jocks to perfectionists and mean girls. And their individual stories, so far, have gone about as you’d expect. But is that much different from the other teenage/young adult dramas out there? Glee can get away with it because its an hour-long comedy. Viewers don’t expect total realism. They expect laughs. So some characters can be over the top, others make cheesy looks. Remember, the point is to be joyful.

Of course part of the style seems like a direct ripoff of the movie Election. Character narrations with oddball background music and exaggerated high school situations. It did work wonderfully for the Matthew Broderick/Reese Witherspoon film, and it hasn’t been tried on television. So I doubt that will hurt its chances at popularity. But if it’s bugging you why Glee seems so familiar…well, that’s why.

Oh, and if you like the songs you hear…check iTunes. Many of them are available right after the episode airs, sung by the Glee cast. I already own their Journey cover.

Grade: B+

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4 Responses to “Glee Review: Pilot and Showmance (Eps 1&2)”

  1. Skate said

    I just watched the episode on Hulu. I do enjoy it. It has been added to my watch list.

  2. CJ Cregg said

    I agree with Skate. I will watch this season. I liked it. I absolutely hate the teacher’s wife and every time she’s on the screen it makes my skin crawl. But I agree with Feeny that the music is pretty great, and I think a lot of people will keep watching it just for that. The sex ed scenes were contrived and the high school stereotypes are over the top and predictable, but sometimes that makes it funny. And sometimes it just makes it like every other TV show.

    AND OMG! Kristin Chenoweth is coming? Can’t wait! I’m tuning in.

    I’ll give it an B+ too.

  3. Malcolm said

    No mention of Ryan Murphy’s pedigree?

    And how can you not enjoy Jessalyn Gilsig’s performances?! Sure she only really ever plays one character, but she does it so well!

  4. […] being a Gleek at first.  This is exactly the kind of sugary-toothache-sweet show that I like.  Mr. Feeny pointed out the show’s strengths in his review of the premiere, and I agreed wholeheartedly with what he […]

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