Consternation? Malaise? Eye-rolling? Or just a deep, deep sigh of disappointment?
I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything better from FOX, really, but I was hoping that the pilot/premiere of their new scripted show for fall, Glee, was going to be a Freaks and Geeks for artsy-fartsy nerds like I was. I really wanted to like this show, but I just can’t.
Glee is ostensibly about the trials and travails of a group of goofy high school misfits who love to sing and throw jazz hands, led by a good-hearted but put-upon teacher who fondly remembers his own show-choir glory days. As a group, they struggle against both the sneering popular kids and an arts-hostile administration, but, Bad News Bears-style, they’ll probably pull it together in time to rise through the ranks of the competitive high school show choir world (yes, there is such a thing).
It sounds pretty rote, right? That’s not the problem. I wasn’t expecting a television revolution here, but I thought it might not fall so completely into same-old, same-old formulas. The Times review called it “blissfully unoriginal in a witty, imaginative way,” but I’m not sure what show they were watching.
(slight spoilers after the jump)
If you click through to that review and look at the production shot, you’ll see five of the six choir kids (more on the sixth in a moment). Any mouthbreather who has been through an American highschool–or merely watched any of John Hughes’ oeuvre–could recognize these misfits: gothy (possibly lesbian?) Asian girl, fashion-obsessed queer boy, nerdy crip boy (played by an able-bodied actor, no less), sass-talkin’ African-American girl, and over-eager, wannabe starlet-who-we’re-supposed-to-see-as-homely-and-unpopular-but-bish-plz. Mmmmm, token-y!
Enter the sixth choir member: Handsome Football Jock. The pilot is basically about how the teacher-director wrangles HFJ into the choir, where he (totally unexpectedly, y’all!) finds he really likes all that fruity-tooty singin’ and dancin’. After a darkish night of the soul, he finally stands up for himself and his marginalized weirdo buddies to his bullying teammates. (Cue “We Are the Champions.”)
Okay, that’s a pretty good message to send. I guess. But if the show is supposed to be about kids on the bottom rungs of the social ladder, why does it focus on the moral heroics of the handsome straight white able-bodied guy, while pushing those “others” into the margins yet again? (Is that the “witty” or the “imaginative” part?) Gotta get that male 18-34 demo, I guess, and maude knows they ain’t gonna watch a show about a black girl, or some fag.
The other major problem I have with Glee has to do with it’s portrayal of adult women, whose lives seem to revolve around the choir sponsor, Mr. Schuester (well, lookythere! Both central characters are dudes!). Three are established in the first ep, and are only slightly less cartoonish than the kids. There’s an agressive, bonerkilling cheerleading coach (The Enemy), the shrill, greedy, and humorless wife–who later will be revealed to have an hysterical pregnancy (The Shrew), and the doting, cow-eyed, germophobe colleague who gently encourages Schuster, with whom she’s clearly smitten, to follow his heart and work with the kids, not sell out and become an accountant to support his wife’s Pottery Barn habit (The Helpmate).
Yuck. Yuck all over. It’s possible that the series will at least partially redeem itself in the fall, but I’m not holding my breath. Was Fame this retrograde? I’m apparently in the minority on this one; see reviews here and here and here and here. How about you? Did you watch it? Did you like it?