“We’re all losers.”
I didn’t want to like Glee. Honestly I didn’t.
Friends on three continents have recommended it – cheers, Evil Steve in Ireland, Brett in Australia and Shaun in the USA (isn’t that a Bruce Springsteen song?). But it sounded so… well… gay! A musical comedy drama set in an American high school centring on the Glee Club – where are the zombies, where are the spaceships, where are the explosions?
So I went into it expecting to tut cynically and hate every minute. For one thing, I’ve never heard of a ‘Glee Club’, but apparently these are show choirs run as extracurricular activities at many American high schools, whose members tend to be universally looked down upon.
The show’s set in the kind of suburban, small-town high school familiar to all viewers of 1980s John Hughes movies. All the cliches are present and correct. Students all divided into cliques? Check. Dumb jock with a secret sensitive soul? Check. Inspirational teacher set on building up the shattered hopes of disillusioned students? Check. Shallow cheerleaders who discover unexpected hidden depths? Check. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, new here.
And yet – here’s the kicker –it’s unexpectedly enjoyable. The most obvious comparison is to Disney’s ultra-saccharine High School Musical series. But thankfully, there are major differences from the formulaic style and grown-in-a-vat cast of those films.
Most importantly, it’s the style of the musical numbers. The thing I hate most about musicals is the way people spontaneously burst into song while going about their everyday lives, usually bringing the plot to a crashing halt while they get it out of their system through the medium of dance.
Here, the plot is about staging musical numbers, so they don’t interfere with the story and seem natural when they appear. And when they do, they’re actually rather excellent interpretations of songs you already know from a real range of genres. Already we’ve seen storming versions of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It and a variety of old and new showtunes.
The cast are a lot of fun, despite playing characters so broadly drawn even Rolf Harris might disown them. Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison), the teacher determined to resurrect the fortunes of the Glee Club, is irritatingly talented and good looking, though implausibly heterosexual. Dumb jock with a voice of gold Finn is likeably incarnated by Cory Monteith with a nice blend of goofy naivete and good looks. Would-be diva Rachel is played by Lea Michele, who has a genuinely superb voice and (remarked on in one episode) a nose like Barbra Streisand.
Of course, it’s all utterly implausible, as though the late John Hughes had chosen to remake an old Judy Garland film. That bit where flaming queen Kurt (Chris Colfer) gets the football team to dance to Beyonce during a game? Never happen. Putting together a showstopping musical number overnight for the PTA? Surely not.
So it’s corny as hell, too. But sometimes it wrongfoots you. Mr Shuester has an unexpectedly shrewish, gold digging wife who’s faking pregnancy for selfish reasons. When Kurt comes out to his macho father, it turns out, unsurprisingly, that he’d worked that out already – “I knew when you were three and you asked for a pair of sensible heels.” – but more surprisingly, he doesn’t have a problem with it. And the apparently dumb neanderthal of a sports coach turns out to have a beautiful a cappella singing voice.
So- Cliched. Cheesy. Not entirely believable. And yet great fun and addictively watchable – my boyfriend Barry, who I expected to hate it, insisted on watching three episodes in one night. Turns out, funnily enough, that he was in a Glee Club too. You never can tell, can you? Maybe it’s a gay thing…