Pilot Review: Glee

The Brief: A teacher hopes to inspire kids to be more, by getting them to sing and dance. Funnily enough the kids who volunteer aren’t exactly top of the social ladder.

“There’s nothing ironic about show choir”

Glee has the mixed blessing of being one of the most highly anticipated shows of the new season; that gets you a lot of press and publicity, but also a lot of pressure. There’s a great sympathy between the show and the premise – it’s all about being what you can be, daring to be different because it’s what you’re good at. In a schedule full of cookie-cutter procedurals and low ambition dramas, Glee certainly stands out.

I watched the pilot with my jaw dropped in bemusement and eyes glued to the screen, unable to close either for pretty much the duration. It’s vibrant and energetic, heartfelt and passionate. I think whether you actually like it or not, you can’t help but come away impressed at the commitment. Much like Pushing Daisies it’s uncompromising in being what it wants to be and if you don’t like it, it doesn’t really care.

The idea of high school Glee Clubs fits in perfectly in a world obsessed with America’s Got Talent and High School Musical, but with an apparent long tradition in American High Schools which predates those phenomena. The setup for the show is therefore strong – a bunch of misfits who find themselves with a common talent and goal, stronger together than apart, blah blah blah. The message is laid on pretty thick in the pilot, with inspirational speeches and narrations. But to balance the “be all you can be” optimism there’s a couple of cynical characters to bring you back to down to earth. The drill sergeant cheerleader coach and the bean counting principle both slam a brick wall in front of the optimism train with shuddering hilarity.

The characters in the pilot are pretty one dimensional, each with their own defining characteristic so that names don’t really matter. There’s wheelchair kid, diva girl, gay kid, head jock – each is pretty straightforward. I don’t think this show is going to be one that easily develops multifaceted characters, but I don’t think that’s what it really wants to do. One thing is for sure, the kids that sing can REALLY sing, the auditions early in the episode quickly established that. The only thing that let down their talent was some bad dubbing in the final musical number which made it evident the singing was recorded separately. I’m confident it was still same actors singing, but that really dropped me out and broke the scene.

Glee succeeds in pretty much every way that The Vampire Diaries failed, it’s got charm, passion and style oozing out of every pore. Rather than go with the easy option of filling the soundtrack with popular up-and-coming bands, the a capella classical music is brave and perfect. While the narration in the Vampire Diaries was full of whiny emo-ness, here it’s used with flashback footage to load on the irony. It just feels like the creators have thought about each element of the show and decided where they want to go, rather than just using the easy and predictable options.

The show is going to have a difficult long term life I think. It’s a bit like watching a Disney Family film, it’s sweet and fun to watch, but once it’s finished, you’ve no real desire to find out what happens next. By the end of the first episode at least two of the characters had realised ‘who they really are inside’, which doesn’t really leave much space for development. It’s a light and fluffy show, nothing in the pilot gave the impression that it either wanted to, or would be any good at, addressing major dramatic storylines. The audience is tuning in for wit, colour and a couple of song and dance routines – it’ll be tricky to partner that with hard hitting stories.

I really enjoyed the first episode, it made me smile and I’m a sucker for a big musical number. I’ll continue to watch, but for once I’m watching not because I want to know what happens to the story and the characters, but purely because watching the episode made me happy. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it does mean that as soon as there’s a duff episode or one that just doesn’t spark there’s no long term elements to fall back on. This is all a pretty harsh evaluation to make after just one episode, so maybe it will manage to exceed my expectations. In the meantime, I’ll just keep singing along and tapping my foot.

The official site, imdb, tv.com, wikipedia, YouTube Channel

Glee doesn’t seem to have been picked up by any of the British broadcasters yet.

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  1. June 2nd, 2013
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