Fox hit big on songs, bigger on duh-rama!
DVD Release Date: Dec. 29
Creators: Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy
Starring: Lea Michele, Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison
I’ve never been to Lima, Ohio, which sits halfway between Toledo and Dayton, but I’ve seen it on TV. It’s where Fox’s new series, Glee—which premiered in September—is set, specifically, at the fictional William McKinley High School. Aside from one character with big-city dreams referring to it as a “cow town,” Glee doesn’t spend much time characterizing its setting, but from watching the first half of the first season—now available on DVD—I’ve pieced together an idea of what life there might be like.
Lima seems an incredibly diverse city for its size (real-life population 38,000), with McKinley High in particular boasting a student body that resembles the human cast of Sesame Street more than any bunch of small-town high schoolers I’ve ever known. It’s big on football and not so much the arts, though it seems to have some money to spare, because even the members of McKinley’s Glee Club—whose daily dramas (more offstage than on) comprise the bulk of the show—enjoy ample practice space and faculty support. In town, there’s a Target, a few restaurants, an autoshop. No one seems too rich or too poor, but everyone does seem absolutely miserable.
Take thirtysomething Spanish teacher Will Schuester, whose work as Glee Club director is constantly besot by Sue Sylvester (an über-competitive cheerleading coach, played by a brilliantly unhinged Jane Lynch, who can’t bear the idea of choir kids stealing her squad’s thunder), and whose marriage is constantly tested by his affection for doe-eyed, germophobic guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury. Meanwhile, at home, Will and his wife Terri face the terror of first-time parenthood, though Terri isn’t actually pregnant, just planning to fake it for nine months and buy a baby from one of her husband’s students. That would be Quinn Fabray, lead cheerleader, who joined Glee to spy for Sue and stayed on for reasons unclear. Quinn is trying desperately to hide her own all-too-real pregnancy from everyone except her footballer boyfriend, Finn Hudson (also in Glee, despite himself), who she’s led to believe is the father even though they’ve never had sex. (Quinn’s explanation alludes to their recent make-out sesh in a hot tub and hints at one more fact about Lima, Ohio—it’s maybe not so much into the sex education.) Finn has never had sex with Rachel Berry either, who’d prefer it otherwise, and is trying to establish her de-facto star status among the Glee nerds without them openly despising her.
Some of the kids’ troubles can’t be helped—among the choirmates, one guy’s in a wheelchair, one girl has a stutter and several are almost too airheaded to function (more likely due to bad writing than extenuating personal circumstance). The cherub-faced Kurt Hummel—played with admirable pathos and grace by Chris Colfer, who could’ve easily buckled under the weight of the show’s entire gayness quotient being heaped upon his delicate shoulders—has to grapple with his painfully flamboyant homosexuality at home and at school. But most of the characters’ wounds are self-inflicted, the natural consequences of self-serving lies and deliberate manipulations of friends, family and co-workers. There are some exceptions, some challenges and conflicts parlayed into teaching moments with all the saccharine wisdom of an after-school special. But, for the most part, every moment of character development is merely an excuse to unveil another dark layer of these people we’re supposed to identify with, root for—even love. For a show so obviously intended as recession-era escapism, this is not a compliment.
Thank God, then, for the musical numbers. In pitch-perfect, ostensibly off-the-cuff rehearsal scenes; ridiculous fantasy sequences featuring cast members wandering through the school halls with wind-tunnel hair; and in every episode’s big onstage blowout, the cast delivers note-for-note. The cast’s Broadway chops readily apparent in their slick, studied deliveries, and while they tackle the occasional showtune, they deal most satisfyingly in sticky-sweet pop fare—like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.”
The performances require some suspension of disbelief (Didn’t they just lay eyes on that sheet music five seconds ago? Where’d those costumes come from? Who’s running the lights? Who from this arts-hating cow town paid for this fancy theater?), but Glee leaves you wanting nothing more than to divorce yourself from reality—specifically, the one the show has created for itself. When you’re craving an escape from your escapism, it’s time to exit stage left.