Monday, May 25, 2009

"Glee" is a snarky good time

I'm geeking out. Like, uncontrollable-jazz-hands-and-Crest-commercial-smile geeking out.

"Glee" is FOX's newest primetime addition*, following the age-old stereotype of misfit students forming a, uh, more perfect union through song and dance. But while this routine may sound familiar, creator Ryan Murphy (writer, "Nip/Tuck") did something...magical. I can only conclude that Mr. Murphy took a trip to see The Wizard when pulling together this cast.

Leading the parade is a young, ├╝ber-handsome Broadway vet named Matthew Morrison. You probably haven't heard of him. That's okay...for now. Sure, he's had bit-parts in a couple of movies (the cop that pulls over Steve Carell's character in Dan in Real Life? Matthew Morrison!), but he is best-known in the stage world for his Tony Award-nominated performance in 2005's The Light in the Piazza. I'm not sure why he didn't actually WIN the award--he played a freakin' non-English speakin' Italian (sorry, sorry, sorry for the rhyme!), and that boy is as White Bread Americana as they come. However, he did just finish up a stint on the revival of South Pacific as Lieutenant Cable at New York's Lincoln Center.

Anyway, Morrison's background aside, he's wonderfully sincere as glee club leader Will Schuester. Unhappily married (I mean, really--we see his wife for all of eight minutes total, and she scares the bejeezus out of me) and a little stuck in his show choir glory days of yore, Will decides to get all emotionally attached to the afore-mentioned teenage misfits and help them achieve their dreams...sort of. There's a moment at the end of the episode where Morrison's eyes water a bit: My eyes watered a lot.

The other stand-out performance is by Lea Michele. Never heard of her either? For shame! And you call yourselves musical theatre fans! Oh, don't. That's just me. Moving along, Lea Michele originated the dark role of virgin-turned-abortion-gone-wrong-victim (yeah, chew on that one for a while) in the 2007 Tony Award-sweeper, Spring Awakening. Her voice is flawless; her face is flawless; her demeanor is flawless. Even if the rest of the cast were a complete wash, I'd watch "Glee" for her. Ms. Michele is the next Idina Menzel. Don't know who that is? Google it.

Also featured, for those of you without my stage obsession, are Jane Lynch, of 40-Year-Old Virgin fame (think "cougar"), and Jayma Mays, who played Charlie the waitress-befriending-Hiro in the first season of "Heroes" and Charlie the Henry's-adulterous-girlfriend in the first season of "Ugly Betty". Their characters' separate neuroses on "Glee" just crack me up.

Rumored guest appearances (from the all-knowing Wikipedia) include B-way stars John Lloyd Young, Victor Garber, Debra Monk, Kristin Chenoweth and Cheyenne Jackson, not to mention Josh Groban playing himself. I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see me some Joban!

But it's not just the cast that has me geeking; nope, it's the musical numbers, too! Of course there are musical numbers! The orchestral scoring of the show itself is a cappella versions of popular music, and the rival show choir/glee club does a kickin' routine to our favorite rehab-er Amy Winehouse's "Rehab". The pilot ends with the title glee club pulling together a red-shirted rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'". Oh, yeah: They went there!

It's not High School Musical. I wouldn't touch that movie with a ten-foot-pole...nope, better make it a twenty-footer. There's nothing Disney about "Glee". The New York Times said in its preview of the pilot episode, "['Glee'] has a strong satiric pulse that doesn't diminish the characters' identities or dim the showmanship of the talented cast." This right on the tails of calling it "blissfully unoriginal in a witty, imaginative way." Tongue-in-cheek compliment, anyone?

Yeah, it got mixed reviews. Actually, it got rather crappy reviews. Premiering right after the "American Idol" finale (which was supposedly a big deal... "Will it be Kris?" "Will it be Adam?") on Tuesday, May 19th, "Glee" failed to keep the "Idol" audience intrigued. According to, the pilot lost half of the lead-in viewership right off the bat, not to mention the approximated 3.5 million that gave up before the hour was even over. Total bummer, man. But ratings do not a good show make, right?

I don't expect everyone to watch it. I don't expect everyone to like it. But if you've ever stood at a karaoke machine, two or ten sheets to the wind, and belted out, "Just a small town girl / livin' in a lonely world! / She took the midnight train goin' anywhere," then you owe it to yourself (and to anyone in that karaoke audience) to see this show.

*The pilot is available on all through the summer, with at least three more episodes airing this fall in an 8 p.m. CST Wednesday time-slot.

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