Move over, Zac Efron. “Glee,” a glitzy new musical comedy, is taking over the made-for-TV-musical genre, shredding the rulebook in the process. The story of McKinley High School’s rag-tag glee club’s quest for stardom and social acceptance, “Glee” valiantly attempts to package satire, teen angst and musical theater into must-see-TV. But “Glee”—an amalgamation of High School Musical (without the chastity), “Arrested Development” (without the finesse) and “Friday Night Lights” (without the depth)—is weaker than the sum of these three shows. Though poignant moments and high-energy song and dance numbers abound, “Glee” still struggles to find a steady tone. Cliché and sophomoric plotlines cloud the show’s refreshing rejection of the television show rubric. The result is an amusing, albeit inconsistent, program that may never reach its full potential.
As a satire, “Glee” is not meant to be realistic, yet as an underdog story, it still tries to gleam with emotional realism. “Glee” lampoons high school drama, yet it boasts heartstring-tugging plotlines of its own. “Glee” mocks shows with formulaic high school cast members—the jock, the girl who wants to be popular, the cheerleader, the gay guy—yet it calls upon viewers to care for its own stencil-traced characters. This inconsistency of genre and mood weighs “Glee” down, leaving viewers to mix water and oil.
Several members of the “Glee” cast are talented actors who have the potential to soar if given the right material. Unfortunately, “Glee’s” characters suffer from the show’s inconsistency and lack of dimension. Together, they make McKinley seem like not only a place you’d never want to be, but also somewhere that couldn’t possibly exist.
At the show’s center is narrator Will Schuester, teacher by day and glee club coach by afternoon. A member of McKinley’s glee club in his youth, Schuester laments not pursuing his passion for song and dance since that time. Schuester is determined to put together a top-class glee club so that he can live vicariously through their glory. What he must work with, though, is six awkward teens from McKinley’s fringes who happen to share a love for song and dance.
Mercedes provides “Glee’s” big voice. Though she isn’t skinny, popular or confident, her soulful voice and delicious mix of attitude and vulnerability rivals Beyonce’s. Other club members include Kurt, a flamboyant gay kid afraid of rejection, and Artie, a wheelchair user who is the butt of at least three inappropriate “cripple” jokes an episode. (Here, “Glee” cracks the thin ice it walks on.)
McKinley is also home to Sue Sylvester, a tyrannical cheerleading coach with a pea-sized heart and a deep hatred for all things glee. Overprotective of her cheer squad’s budget and resources, Sue is determined to annihilate glee club. Played by brilliant comedic actress Jane Lynch (“Best in Show,” “Arrested Development”), Sue has the potential to be the show’s most valuable comedic asset. However, immature plot lines and dialogue make her the show’s weakest character. Her default jokes about students in special education are, besides elementary, also distasteful.
“Glee” wouldn’t be worth watching were it not for the singing and dancing. Amid the mediocre jokes and lapses into cliché, the musical numbers are a welcome reward. Besides being humorously outrageous, the song choices also showcase the talent of the show’s Broadway-ready cast. You haven’t fully enjoyed Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” until you watch it performed Broadway-musical-style by a high school glee club. As for Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” everyone but Mr. West himself would likely agree that a glee club rendition provides a damn good time.
Besides the glee club performances, characters tend to break out into solo song several times an episode. To top it off, Will’s coaching gig inspires him to form a hip-hop a cappella boy band. Their performance of “I Wanna Sex You Up” for the PTA is hilarious, if a bit creepy. Unpredictability may cause “Glee” to falter in other regards, but in the musical realm it is a boost. From Katy Perry to Journey to Andrew Lloyd Weber, viewers never know what they might next hear.
“Glee” is a rollercoaster of empty clichés and genuinely poignant moments, over-determined jokes and wry, spot-on humor. It attempts to be an amalgamation of three terrific genres. However, when taken together, they crumble, foundationless. “Glee’s” success will depend on its ability to find steady, original footing as it navigates inter-genre waters. Despite “Glee’s” imperfections, there is an intriguing sweetness in watching this gaggle of misfits as they cobble together a band and a few relationships. And if we expect the students of McKinley to give their glee club a chance, then who would we be to write off “Glee” so quickly?