Sunday, March 21, 2010

The path of Glee resistance

I fancy myself a non-conformist in many ways, so it takes me a while to jump onto any bandwagon. Sometimes I totally refuse to hop on at all (e.g. Facebook, Twilight, gladiator sandals) for any number of personal reasons, but when I do cave and am persuaded to give something a shot (e.g. Harry Potter, Twitter, wide belts), more often than not I do wind up being converted.

In the case of Glee however, I wasn't so easily won over. I'd heard so many raves about the TV musical comedy from former students and old friends alike, but it wasn't until someone (who, ironically, has never even watched a single Glee episode) went out of his way to download the series for me that I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

After the first couple of episodes, I still found myself underwhelmed. "This is like High School Musical: The Series!" I snorted dismissively. The template was certainly similar to the inane, irritating Disney franchise: musically gifted, nerdy but pretty girl and musically gifted, popular cute jock are connected by their love of singing and end up falling for each other.

But with each additional episode I watched, I discovered that Glee veered away from that trite template. Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) is a girl with a big voice and big heart, but she's also prissy and exasperatingly conceited. She's so full of herself that it's funny, and she's not one-dimensional and more likable than the usual Little Miss Perfects in teenybopper shows or movies. Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) fits the gentle jock stereotype, but the writers of the show keep him real and accessible by making him unabashedly, well, unsmart. Aside from not being the brightest bulb in the room, Finn has a vulnerability about him rarely seen in the typical teen heartthrob, and it works.

I also like the unexpected, if improbable, twist of the show, where the cheerleaders and football players join the glee club for their own personal selfish motives but end up sincerely enjoying being part of it, even if they are labeled "losers" by the rest of the school. The young actors who play the 12 members of "New Directions" are quite talented in both singing and dancing, and it's delightful to watch the choreographed musical numbers within each episode (which are also reintroducing classic rock and pop songs to a whole new generation). I'm not so much a fan of big girl Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley) and her black diva belting, but I enjoy it whenever gay soprano Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) gets to sing solo, AND name-drop fashion designers he's wearing. I also have a soft spot for Noah "Puck" Puckerman (Mark Silling), the token bad boy (complete with mohawk), whom I find so much more appealing than the sweet and sensitive Finn. Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) first struck me as a bland blond bombshell, but the captain of the "Cheerios" grew on me, although I'm more impressed with her acting prowess than her musical talent.

However, while Glee is ostensibly about the kids in the glee club, I prefer to think of it as Mr. Schuester's show. Will Schuester
(Matthew Morrison) is the teacher who moderates New Directions, and his passion for both music and teaching is inspiring and makes me miss my teaching days something fierce. When it comes right down to it, he's the main reason I got hooked on Glee (you know you're getting old when you relate more to the grown-up characters). Moreover, the romantic tension between "Schue" and hypochondriac guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jemma Mays) is, adultery aside, surprisingly kilig-worthy, and Schue's shrewish, scheming wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) just makes me root for Emma all the more. But the woman in Schue's life who brings out both the best and worst in him is cunning, cruel Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch, whom I've loved since her recurring stint as the wry psychiatrist in Two and a Half Men). Sue will seemingly stop at nothing to bring the glee club down. Her put-downs, especially the swipes she takes at Schue's hair, are hilarious, and delivered with spot-on deadpan comedic mastery that makes this aggressive antagonist impossible to hate. Lynch's Golden Globe nomination for her work in Glee is well-deserved indeed.

I started out unimpressed with the first couple of episodes, but by the 9th episode (the surprisingly touching "Wheels") I was already getting misty-eyed, and the 13th episode (the mid-season ender "Sectionals") got tears trickling down my face. And the waterworks are as good a seal of approval as I can give.
I may have taken some time to get here, but I'm now officially on the Glee bandwagon.


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