Oh Glee, I want so very very much to give you a glowing review, to recommend you to all my loyal readers (hi Dad!) as a joyous example of something that looks trite and cheesy on the outside, but inside is supported by the highest calibre of talent that has ever gathered together around a television camera. Sadly I cannot. Mind you, I have a suspicion that in the light of its massive ratings success, almost unheard of TWO season pick-up, staggering itunes sales, and command performance at the White House – those involved aren’t really going to give a flying pompom what I think of them.
The fact that I’m giving a season spanning review tells you that I don’t actually hate the show. In fact, I kind of adore it. Each episode is brimming with such colour and spirit and passion and life that I can’t help but watch with a massive smile on my face. I love the fact that a show as weird and wonderful as this is just a huge hit on network television, amidst all the death and cops and blood and lawyers, it’s a huge beacon of noise and energy.
The musical numbers are generally superb. A completely eclectic collection of music from the classics of musical theatre (so I’m told) through to hip-hop. Not all the music is to my taste, but the energy and enthusiasm carry them through. I know some people complain of the ridiculousness of them spontaneously bursting into a fully choreographed, harmonised number, but I was perfectly happy to accept that. I was less happy about the poor dubbing that continued to be used periodically, but I was usually pretty quickly distracted by the clever montages and creative direction.
The dialogue is sharp and witty, the mix of eccentric characters gives a great balance. While Will and Emma are painfully inspirational, Sue cuts people down with complete inappropriateness. While Rachel and Finn are being tortured and full of dreams, Brittany and Puck are presenting the somewhat baser instincts of American teenagers. Somehow the fact that a lot of the rest of the kids are there to represent minorities is made less annoying by the fact that Sue endlessly points that out. The flipflopping around could be jarring, but actually really keeps you on your toes.
But if you look beyond each individual episode, the flaws in the show become all too obvious. As I very presciently said in my pilot review – “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.” Well as it turns out the writers get round that small problem by having the characters forget they’ve discovered their true selves, and rediscover it again 3 episodes later. Every few episodes Rachel will discover there’s more to life than just being a star, Finn will realise he has to stand up to be himself, Quinn discovers she can be more than a vapid cheerleader, Kurt finds his father to be surprisingly accepting, Puck discovers… actually it takes him a few attempts to discover anything. But it just goes round and round. Likewise certain relationships and issues fade into the background for a few episodes before re-appearing once you’d forgotten they were even there.
The ‘issue of the week’ storylines got increasingly painful, each time focussing on a small fraction of the characters and giving them a complete journey inside the episode – introducing an issue we were often not aware of, exploring it, and resolving it all in 45 minutes while making space for songs and jokes about Will’s hair. Then next episode it will all be forgotten. It was almost as if they had a checklist of issues a high school show has to deal with and worked their way through, but without being particularly creative in their handling. It was just… poor.
But does any of that matter? As I watch each episode, I feel happy. I smile, I laugh out loud, I tear up and I want to sing along. I’ve bought all the soundtrack albums, and the opening chords of Don’t Stop Believing make me smile, wherever I am. It’s only when I start thinking that the massive flaws really stand out. So from here on, the solution I’ll take is to switch off my brain completely and just turn up the volume.