That headline is right, unfortunately. Last night’s episode of Glee is the last one until the spring, which is a major bummer for us fans of the show. (Some of us have named ourselves Gleeks, though whoever came up with that name did so without my input.) I’ve been watching the show regularly for the past few months, and I thought I’d post about it now to help us all deal with our withdrawal. Warning: last night’s plot developments revealed!
For newcomers, Glee is set at a high school in Ohio, where Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) — “Mr. Schue” to his students — decides to resurrect the glee club that he loved so much when he was a student there, rechristening the club as New Directions. This draws the ire of Sue Sylvester (the priceless Jane Lynch), the pantomime villain of a cheerleading coach who sees the glee club as a drain on her budget and a threat to cheer squad’s elite status among high school extracurriculars. In this first batch of episodes, the drama has been all about babies: Will’s wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) experienced what turned out to be a hysterical pregnancy and, out of fear that Will would leave her, kept up the pretense that she was pregnant. As for the kids, quarterback Finn (Cory Monteith) was dating cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron) and found out she was pregnant for real. But Quinn lied about her pregnancy, too, because she let Finn think the baby was his when it actually belonged to his offensive lineman Noah “Puck” Puckerman (Mark Salling). By the end of last night’s episode, all those secrets were out, with disastrous consequences. There was no significant progress on the romantic plotlines — Puck’s secretly carrying a torch for Quinn, while New Directions’ Tracy Flick-style diva Rachel (Lea Michele) is in love with Finn — but I’m sure that’ll come up in the spring.
For those who’ve been following the show, I hope they figure out a way to keep Terri around, because she’s such an entertaining sociopathic presence, but I hope it doesn’t involve Will going back to her, because that’d just be too pathetic. This show is already really sad; all the adults’ lives are limited by that small town that they live in, and everybody’s settling and giving up on their dreams except for crazed Sue Sylvester, who doesn’t have time for self-doubt and regret because she’s too busy playing power games and nursing petty grudges. The kids don’t seem to have much of a future, either; none of them seem to have the ambition or the resources to escape that small town, except maybe for Rachel, who dreams of being a star but is so neurotically driven toward her goals that even if she gets there she’ll still be miserable. Glee would be unbearable to watch if it weren’t for those big, bouncy musical numbers.
The show is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy, who created Nip/Tuck (which I never watched), directed a movie adaptation of Running With Scissors (which I saw and didn’t like), and is now working on a film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts. I’m fascinated by Glee for so many reasons. For one thing, lots of TV dramas are about cops, lawyers, and doctors, but relatively few of them are about schoolteachers, whose work is surely as important and offers as many possibilities for dramatic situations as those other professions do.
I’m also intrigued because there’s really no template for a musical TV show. When Hollywood started back up making musical films in this decade, at least they could look to the past to see what a successful movie musical looked like. Some TV shows have indulged in occasional musical numbers or musical episodes, but never with staged numbers in every ep. Glee is truly breaking new ground here. The program has had no shortage of exposure, but it’s gratifying to see that Fox can indeed handle a show with an unusual premise.
(In a related story, Dollhouse has been canceled and is burning through the last of its episodes this month. That story proved to be too unusual for Fox. So long, Dollhouse. You were one hell of an interesting girl.)
Glee is far from perfect. Will frequently comes off like an idiot because he’s so oblivious. His showdowns with Sue too often follow the same path, even though they’re sprinkled with Sue’s delightfully nasty lines of dialogue. (Then again, the Will vs. Sue battle last night had a much different outcome.) The other New Directions members, with the notable exception of the so-gay-you-don’t-have-to-ask Kurt (Chris Colfer), have been poorly developed. I’d like to see Mercedes (vocal powerhouse Amber Riley) become something other than the sassy fat black girl, and Artie (Kevin McHale) be something more than the nerdy kid in the wheelchair. I’d like to see the Asian dude get some lines. The show burns through too much plot sometimes, and its satiric viewpoint verges on cartoon. Oh, and I really could have done without the deaf-school choir performing “Imagine.” This show has the potential to go bad in many different ways.
With all that said, this is still much more textured than the High School Musical series. I like the fact that the cool loser chick Rachel is a high-strung diva who deludes herself into thinking that everyone likes her, while the bitchy cheerleader Quinn actually turns out to be rather awesome. Also, it turns out the two cheerleaders whom Quinn got to join New Directions with her are having sex with each other. (I knew it!) If the presence of lesbian cheerleaders gets straight guys to watch this show, that’s fine with me. And the numbers themselves are so much juicy goodness by themselves, especially the cast bouncing around in a mattress store to Van Halen’s “Jump” or the football players winning their one game by doing the dance from Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video. When other things don’t work, a terrific musical number can iron out any flaw. That’s what makes Glee so special.
If you can’t wait until April to satisfy your musical jones, I recommend you check out Nine when it hits movie theaters on Christmas. Or you can click on this rundown of my 10 favorite songs from this first batch of episodes. Better quality audio tracks are for sale at iTunes, but I’m sending you to YouTube because it’s free. It turns out I’m not a fan of the big group numbers like “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” and “Somebody to Love.” Who knew?
Track 1: Lea Michele is the best singer in this cast. Let’s lead off with her. A brokenhearted Rachel channels Rihanna in this version of “Take a Bow” directed at Finn.
Track 2: Mercedes blows the roof off with Jill Scott’s “Hate on Me.” No further comment necessary.
Track 3: Mr. Schue and one of his high-school classmates (guest star Kristin Chenoweth) reminisce about the old days, and out of nowhere comes this magnificent rendition of Heart’s “Alone.”
Track 4: Finn covers Chicago’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling.” This is from the pilot episode, and Cory Monteith hasn’t had a solo showcase as good since then.
Track 5: Challenged to come up with a more contemporary musical selection for the kids to sing, Mr. Schue delivers Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” with Mercedes helping him out. This played in an episode that aired a few days before Kanye’s Taylor Swift-induced brainlock.
Track 6: Kurt finds his inner Broadway leading lady with “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. Some of those falsetto notes are downright terrifying.
Track 7: Artie turns Billy Idol’s ode to masturbation “Dancing With Myself” into a meditation on his own status as the kid in the wheelchair. The lo-fi production values suit the song, and Kevin McHale gives it a nice boppy turn.
Track 8: New Directions get a look at their nemesis, a rival show choir called Vocal Adrenaline. (By the way, adrenaline is what you taste in your mouth right before you vomit. That’s why it’s a great name!) Here’s Vocal Adrenaline singing Duffy’s “Mercy.”
Track 9: Quinn reaches into the past for the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Don’t know who decided this character likes girl-group songs from the 1960s, but Dianna Agron’s voice fits that repertoire.
Track 10: The finale to last night’s episode, the cast sings “My Life Would Suck Without You.” I’ve never been so glad to hear a Kelly Clarkson song in my life.