Once upon a time, Disney forged the philosopher’s stone of preteen entertainment when it set he-said-she-said high school drama to the tune of snappy musical numbers. You don’t have to own a comforter with Zac Efron’s face emblazoned on it to understand the mass appeal of really good-looking people singing marginally passable pop songs. And in a post-High School Musical world, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Fox’s Glee came along for a slice of the profit pie.
Unlike High School, though, Fox’s musical comedy about a glee club full of misfits isn’t as mind-numbingly white-bread or, for that matter, as annoying to watch. With classic Broadway and mainstream hits padding the pilot episode, and caricatures of high school faculty adding more generational depth, Glee‘s charm is more akin to that of the original high school musical, Grease.
Glee stars Broadway heavy-hitter Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester, an idealistic Spanish teacher who volunteers to rescue the school’s once-award-winning glee club from obscurity. Unfortunately, the club has since gained a campus-wide reputation as a decidedly “loser” thing to do: The only kids trying out are the outcasts, most notably priss Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), a sophomore so determined to become famous and so convinced of her talent that she places gold star stickers next to her signatures (“It’s a metaphor, and metaphors are important. My gold stars are for me being a star,” Rachel relates perkily via voiceover). Motivated by sentimentalism, Will preservers to restore the glee club despite disapproval from his frazzled wife, Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig), and most of the faculty, including the cheerleading coach played by queen of deadpan delivery Jane Lynch.
The cast is rounded out, in no particular order of nerdiness, with the delicate Kurt (Chris Colfer), who kindly insists on removing his Marc Jacobs jacket before being tossed into the dumpster by bullies; Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), a stutterer whose affliction conveniently disappears when she sings; plus-size diva Mercedes (Amber Riley); and Artie, a spectacled, guitar-wielding geek in a wheelchair. And because no high school drama is complete without a secretly thoughtful jock, Finn (Cory Monteith) is the football quarterback with a voice fit for an ‘80s power ballad.
Created by Ryan Murphy, the mind behind Nip/Tuck and the short-lived Popular, Glee isn’t entirely without its flaws, some of which may prove critical in the long run. In addition to a few packaged dialogue bits here and there (“Being a part of something special makes you special”), the club sounds far too good way too soon. How is an entire series supposed to subsist on the premise that these perfectly harmonizing high schoolers are really the underdogs? Every one of the club members sounded professionally trained at their first auditions.
Concluding on a chipper rendition of the perennial karaoke hit, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Glee nevertheless proves that a few good song-and-dance numbers can make up for a few unsightly bits of maudlin fluff. Fox is testing out their perky series with all the hoopla of a debutante ball, premiering the pilot after tonight’s American Idol, after which it will return in the fall. It will be interesting to see if the Glee club will maintain enough interest to outlast four months of disbandment.