Two big things struck me as I watched this new US comedy from creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan. Firstly, that it’s unspeakably frustrating to, yet again, be watching a cast of supposedly high school-aged characters all played by actors who look, and, indeed, are, in their twenties.
Among them, Cory Monteith, who plays Finn, is 27 while Rachel is played by the 23-year-old Lea Michele. It’s unfathomable to me why American TV is afraid to put talented teenagers on screen in teenage roles. These characters, just like those in silly Dawson’s Creek in which James Van Der Beek looked about 35 by the time Dawson finished high school, will never feel as authentic and credible as they could because they look over grown, over mature and over groomed.
The second big thing was that it feels like the creators think the show is more subversive, spoofy and quirky than it actually is. Or, at least, it’s not as subversive as British telly has already become very used to. In a country where we’re currently being treated to a comedy about five teenagers with Asbos lumped together through weird superpowers in a storm, we’re not going to feel that frisson of comic tension that Glee wants us to feel towards a bunch of stereotypical high school misfits bonding unexpectedly in a singing group. In this day and age (I sound like my grandma!) we need a new slant on that whole ‘geeks unite’ storyline, and Glee just hasn’t quite given that slant.
A handful of unconnected teens form a slightly lacklustre glee club – for those who like a bit of history, glee clubs are not of American origin, as many people think, but go back to 18th century London and groups that sang ‘glees’, short songs; they have nothing to do with glee in the sense of ‘happiness’ – under the inspirational leadership of teacher Mr Schuester (Matthew Morrison).
By the end of this pilot episode, they’ve pulled things together enough to sing a ridiculously accomplished, fully harmonised and choreographed piece, bringing Schuester to tears and convincing him to stay at school instead of leaving to become an accountant and finance his young family.
OK then, but what’s the journey from here? Will the choir continue in their implausible rise to musical theatre excellence, beating off all the competition from other high schools? Can Schuester convince his wife that teaching and music leadership are legitimate career choices? Are these interesting enough questions to make us watch on when the series proper launches in January?
Oh, dear. I’m sorry; have I killed the fun? Look, it’s got some plus points: the use of incidental music is quite witty and clever, and there are some nice performances from Jane Lynch as cheerleading monster-coach Sue Sylvester, and Jayma Mays as definitely-in-love-with-Schuester guidance counsellor Emma.
It’s also a good-looking show, well-acted and well produced, though, in a supposedly spoof drama, it would help if they’d made more of the production, perhaps ramping it up to a more cartoony level. Sadly, the way E4 broadcast this pilot, lurching into ad breaks without so much as a tiny title saying ‘Glee’ to help us distinguish action from adverts, was seriously bad and should be corrected before the rest of the series goes out. I was on Twitter throughout the show and many people were tweeting that the lazy programming was enough to have put them off watching on. Be warned, E4.