April 17, 2011

Gleeful for Glee

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Last weekend, I learned that the first season of Glee had become available instantly on Netflix. As a surge of joy rushed over me, it occurred to me that I haven’t been completely true to myself in my column this semester. That is because since December, I have fallen completely in love with Glee and I haven’t written about it.

Frankly, I was embarrassed about my new addiction. I’ve indulged in plenty of mindless television shows and haven’t been shy to mention those, but I tuned into these shows exactly for the valueless entertainment they were meant to provide. Glee, on the other hand, appears girly, ditzy and silly, yet it’s really not at all. It just seems that way until you get to know it.

At first, nothing I knew about Glee interested me — singing, cheerleaders, twenty-five-year-old actors trying to pass as sixteen-year-olds. Most of all, though, it seemed to me that Glee had been done before. In fact, it seemed to me that it had been done before in the form of a very popular John Hughes film that came out in 1985.

Essentially, I thought Glee was a flashy new version of The Breakfast Club: the age-old tale of a bunch of stereotypical misfits who are forced into friendship. The only immediate differences I could see between Glee and The Breakfast Club were that Glee made the very praiseworthy change of giving the obligatory “bad boy” a Mohawk instead of long, greasy hair, and made the popular jock really, really cute (check out performances by Mark Salling playing “Puck,” and Cory Monteith playing “Finn,” and you’ll see what I mean). As for the singing, I had to admit upon my first viewing of an episode that it was amazing — it was just too corny to take.

But that Rachel (Lea Michele) and her “damn talent,” as Quinn (Dianna Agron) lamented in the most recent episode, got the better of me. After watching a few scattered episodes of Glee with my Glee-loving sister and mom, I soon decided that Glee was only partly what I assumed it to be. I still believe that Glee is a modern version of The Breakfast Club, but a really snazzy, smart and touching one.

The characters of Glee are walking stereotypes, but just like those in The Breakfast Club, when you get to know them, you see that they are actually much more than whom they appear to be. The show taps into their insecurities — the beautiful queen-bee cheerleader, Quinn, struggles with rejection from her parents and peers upon an unplanned pregnancy, while the annoying and self-righteous Rachel snags the handsome quarterback thanks to her singing talent. Each character has a little bit of popular in them and a little bit of loser.

Glee also presents a balanced perspective on the relationship between young adults and their parents and educators. The adults of Glee are key players in the story, and they struggle to be role models for the students while also trying to keep their own lives together. They falter and pull themselves back up again just as the kids do. One day they are one thing and the next day they are another. The most notable example is the cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), who terrorizes the glee club students, but also secretly votes for them to win the regional competition at the end of the first season.

The teachers and parents of Glee are both infuriating and inspiring, much like most real teachers and parents. Of course, there’s also the completely oblivious Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba), a comical spin-off of that stereotypical clueless adult, also portrayed in The Breakfast Club in the form of the ignorant principal. Glee isn’t about to claim, of course, that this type of adult doesn’t exist at all.

And then there’s the singing. It can certainly be cheesy at times, but the actors are incredibly talented singers and dancers, and the song selections are paired with the episode plots so expertly that it’s hard not to become entranced by the performances. The musical scenes are also filmed in a manner similar to the one used for the musical numbers in the film version of Chicago. A scene will cut from the actual performance to an imaginary performance, the latter ranging from students singing in school hallways to  singing in a dream, allowing for a collision between fantasy and reality.

Speaking of reality, Glee stays true to a certain level of it. Though the students grow to love glee club and eventually recognize how it changes them for the better, they do not all become best friends. Many of them still don’t even like each other. Glee proposes that a common interest can allow people to learn to work together and accept each other, even if they do not become actual friends.

Lastly, since the characters evolve from episode to episode, viewers feel like they know and understand them. In fact, I haven’t had such a feeling of camaraderie with the make-believe personas on my television screen since Friends.

I often still feel very, very silly watching Glee. But I believe that the show has a great depth to it that is not immediately apparent, a depth that is both comical and dark, familiar yet cutting-edge. Most of all, though, Glee makes me happy, and there is nothing silly about that.

Original Author: Suzanne Baumgarten