Like the motley misfits of Glee, I sometimes feel a bit slow. I missed the pilot’s premiere last May, not gleaning from the ads how good it was and figuring it’d be too much like High School Musical. (As if!)
But now, I have seen the light–and the pilot–twice, in fact, the week before Glee’s full-season premiere. And am I on board with Glee? Is Les Miz not a great source for audition numbers? These are rhetorical questions, so let’s move on.
You should know: I’m a veteran entertainment writer (spent many years at papers in Houston, Okla. City, Austin, Fort Worth, etc.) and have seen it all. That doesn’t mean I’m jaded. It means I know the difference between the truly great, the numbing mass of middle-ground mediocrity, and the truly awul.
Glee is truly great. I mean, it’s been ages since a new TV series was so right and so good in so many ways.
Obviously the first big way is the music, for which Glee provided so much in its pilot — even down to the anything-but-incidental background songs. (All those rights! I tell ya, Fox is spending some money.) But the soaring, inspiring, show-ending performance of Don’t Stop Believing — well, it just doesn’t get any better. If that song doesn’t sell ya, nothing will.
I often bemoan “If I ran Hollywood,” then specify exactly how I’d do it. For one thing, if you truly want to be creative and original and really go for it with something fresh and new and distinctive, cast fresh faces. Don’t lean on name actors first discovered by other people — well, hire some. But find new names yourself, and make them stars.
Ryan Murphy, Glee’s co-producer-writer-director, has done this. He’s assembled a cast from head-shot and audition heaven. And though it’s a great ensemble, the breakout for me is Lea Michele, a young woman who — can’t help it — reminds me a bit of Rent’s Idina Menzel (this is the last time I’m mentioning it!) but is her own powerhouse performer.
Ms. Michele (my wife of the same name appreciates the proper French spelling) also seems just as born and driven and hungry to do musical theater as is her character, Rachel, the gleeks’ best girl singer. Scrub that. Best singer.
Also new — to me — is Matthew Morrison as the club’s nice-guy coach and put-upon teacher. And then there’s the rest of the gleeks. Love them! Kevin McHale? I thought he was GM of the Minnesota T Wolves. Nope, the actor who pretends to need a wheelchair is a bright new talent — with amazing discipline not to move his legs while castmates dance up a storm around him.
Jane Lynch? The Chris Guest trouper (and 2 1/2 Men, Boston Legal, etc. guest star) has always been fun. Here, as the show’s haughty power-mad cheerleader-coach foil for the underdog gleeks, she’s got a great role to sink her comic teeth into and not let go — at least for 13 episodes, though surely Glee will be renewed for mid-season.
Those are reasons enough to watch Wednesdays at 8 (that’s CST — I’m in Houston). But for this show, what really POPS — what really shines beyond the great music and the great cast — is something very special, very unusual, even for today’s most-watched shows.
It’s something that starts on the page and extends through casting, direction and performances. Quite simply, it’s characters you can REALLY CARE ABOUT — not because the script, the setup, the billing or the hype tell you to, but because they’ve earned it.
I care about these folks — lots of ’em — and on what other show is that true? On Ugly Betty, I’m impressed by Wilhelmina and amused by Mark, but only care about Betty, while exasperated by her. On Desperate Housewives, I can respect the dark humor and shrewd scheming, but who’s to like?
On Glee, I not only love the core gleeks — love ’em — but even understand their nemeses. As Murphy spins it, everybody’s human, which is the kind of tolerance our Glee heroes only wish were a mantra. And everybody has a selfish, dark side — or at least sliver. But here, only a few really pursue life from their hearts, not from avarice, bitchy insistence on conformity or projection of lousy status standards.
As I say, I’m on board. And you are welcome to join me here. This will not be a shrieking hot tamale train of mindless hype. It will be a non-loco locomotive that tells it like it is (if I carp, it’s cuz I love), cherishes musical expression more than any art and values true show-biz inspiration.
We don’t see that a lot, but we’re seeing it now. We’re seeing it in Glee.