Fox’s new series Glee has been talked about as one of the most highly anticipated shows of the season. Of course, this is largely to do with Fox doing its damnedest to make sure you know it’s highly anticipated, although the question really becomes by whom.
Keep an eye on that: that’s going to be the important thing when it comes to Glee. In this post-High School Musical age, it’s safe to say that Fox is trying hard to follow in the footsteps of Disney’s success, catering to an audience they know exists because it didn’t just carry a movie at the box office; it carried the third in a trilogy of films previously shown on the air. Clearly there’s money to be made on high school kids singing and dancing, and Fox wants in.
I’m tempted to say, though, that they’re close to missing the boat on this one.
Now, it’s early days yet, so it’s still too soon to say whether or not Glee will sink or swim as it navigates the treacherous high school waters. Certainly the buzz generated by the show’s spring premiere wasn’t all company hype. And the show absolutely has potential. It’s one of those things that’s always going to be hit or miss — some people just do not like musicals, simple as that, for one thing. The trouble is, what Fox seems only to have half-understood, is that there’s a very large pre-existing subset of people who love musicals.
In Glee‘s lead, Broadway veteran Lea Michele, Fox has an easy in with Spring Awakening‘s cult following. More than that, in Rachel Berry, they’ve created a character readily recognizable to a whole lot of people, and the writers have been smart to soften her up from the get-go. Michele walks the brittle line between vulnerability and bravado, and while she threatens to tip over once in a while, playing ever so slightly too much to the cheap seats, there’s no doubting the girl has a voice. Her performance of “On My Own” in the pilot struck a definite chord; how many millions of women can remember being fifteen years old and connecting to that song like no other? How many fifteen year old girls are going through it still? It’s classic and cliche at once for a reason, and in that moment, Glee tapped into the psyches of theatre geeks everywhere.
This second episode, the season premiere, pulled away from that. It’s clear from the musical selections that Glee is essentially pandering to an audience that’s already had its Zac Efron-fueled run, not entirely realizing that there’s this group of people — the theatre geeks and the outcasts — who don’t yet have a show to call their own. And they think they’re acknowledging that with this little merry band of misfits they’ve constructed, but the problem is, they’re all just exactly that — constructs, outlines.
There’s potential here, yes, but if they want to succeed, they need to shape up. That high school group this show could win over isn’t looking for pure camp; they want something that resonates. These stereotypes don’t do that. They just make everyone look bad. And okay, so it’s only episode two. It could get better from here.
But it needs to start doing that fast. Quinn Fabray seems to exist only to keep Finn and her virginity. She might do a decent turn at “Say A Little Prayer,” but we’re going to need more if she’s to provide a decent foil to Rachel, just the same way that Jayma Mays’ cuteness can only sustain Emma’s one-sided personality for long. Similarly, if we don’t start seeing some real motivation out of Sue Sylvester, that’s going to be a problem. That kind of cardboard cut-out villain gets old fast. And as adorable as Finn is and as talented as Rachel may be, they cannot be the only kids spotlighted. Their budding romance is old hat already (come on, don’t we all know how this song and dance goes?), and while they make interesting characters, the fact remains that it took fifteen minutes for me just to remember that one of the glee club girls was named Mercedes. I still couldn’t tell you what the others are called. They’re shallow stereotypes and the longer that lasts, the deeper the grave this show digs itself.
And as for the music, one of the appeals of the pilot was the wide variety of styles used — and the inclusion of an actual musical theater number. Maybe this show isn’t strictly about musical theater geeks, but that’s the cloth from which Rachel is clearly cut, and the writers will be doing themselves a serious disservice, backing away from that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m firmly in the camp of those who hope for the best from this show. I’m just also aware that half my hope springs from a deep-seated nostalgia and the desire to see this turn out for the best. Underneath Glee‘s many flaws is the chance for something better. It’s just gonna need a whole lot of polish and shine to make it to the top.
Glee’s second episode garned quite a lot of attention already. So what’s the verdict, readers? Don’t stop believin’ or is Glee just pushing it?