Friday, September 11, 2009

Glee 1.01: "Pilot"

“You’re very talented. . . . I would know. I’m very talented too.”

Even though it was originally broadcast this past spring, I didn’t get around to watching the pilot of "Glee" until earlier this week. I guess I’m looking for a replacement for "Pushing Daisies," my all-time favorite show. "Pushing Daisies" would never fail to put a big, stupid grin on my face, even in its darker episodes. The colors of the world were just so bright, the hyper-reality so mesmerizing, and the characters (especially Chuck) so relentlessly positive. "Glee" seemed like it could possibly fit that mold, given the cuteness with a bit of an edge and the frequency of musical numbers that were apparent from the commercials. "Glee" is an enjoyable show, and I intend to keep watching (and blogging) about it. It’s not quite a "Pushing Daisies" replacement, however. "Pushing Daisies" had my attention fully from the “Pie-lette,” and "Glee" didn’t quite achieve that same level.

First, though, I’ll talk about some of the things I liked. For the most part, I liked that "Glee" also takes place in a hyper-reality. The characters are all a bit more exaggerated than you would find in real life, and when that is done intentionally in a TV show, it can be fun. I also really enjoyed the music. I thought Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” was an odd choice for a high school show choir, but there was so much energy in the performance that I bought it. I also really enjoyed the performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the end of the episode. Broadway veteran Lea Michele, who plays star Glee Club member Rachel Berry, really does have an amazing voice. I was amused by Rachel’s choice to sing “On My Own” from Les Mis as her Glee Club audition piece, because it was so typical. “On My Own” was pretty much the standard talent show performance for all girls in my middle and high schools that thought they could sing. Also in keeping with the music theme, I loved the music playing during the opening scene. It reminded me of the early 90’s “C+C Music Factory”-like dance music that dominated my dance recitals in early elementary school, complete with sirens.

I also like how the show can be subversive, sometimes quietly so. For instance, when Will (Spanish teacher and Glee Club director) told Finn that marijuana was found in Finn’s locker during “mandatory, bi-weekly afternoon locker checks” (he was trying to con Finn into joining the Glee Club), I got the feeling that his description of the high school’s locker check policy wasn’t far from the truth. My high school, when I was there from 1999-2002, especially in the later years, was known to bring in a drug sniffing dog now and then. I can only imagine that security has gotten even more intense since. It always struck me as overkill, and I think that’s the point the "Glee" writers were trying to make with that line. Of course, there’s always the argument that kids who are stupid enough to keep drugs in their locker deserve to get caught, but I digress.

Putting those good things aside, the pilot did indeed have some flaws. The biggest problem for me was that some of the characters were very two dimensional. The worst of the bunch was Will’s shrew of a wife, Terri. She was just so over-the-top disagreeable, complaining about the prospect of cooking dinner after working 3 days a week, 4 hours each day at “Sheets and Things,” and complaining about how she deserves nice things. It was blatantly obvious that the writers want the audience to root for Will and Emma the guidance counselor (played by the talented Jayma Mays, whom I’ve mentioned on this blog before) to get together romantically, and I don’t like when things are obvious. Terri is so disagreeable that I cringe during every one of her scenes. Sure, some of the other characters are exaggerated and bordering on caricatures, but Terri is just one step too far.

I’m also not sure how I feel about the split voiceover technique utilized in "Glee." The first half of the episode featured voiceover narration by Will, and the second half featured voiceover narration by Finn. Even though it’s kind of considered cliché and over-done these days, I generally like the voiceover as a device. I get great quotes from voiceovers! I’m just not sure having two characters split voiceover duties each episode works for me. It’s like a book where the author tells each chapter from the point of view of a different character. I usually admire the author for their ability to create all those distinct voices, but I don’t get as invested in the story. Voiceovers work best when they’re used as a framing device to make us think about the theme of the episode ("Grey’s Anatomy" did this well, especially in its first season), or when they’re used to give the show a storybook, fairy tale feel. "Pushing Daisies" would be a great example of the latter. "Glee" isn’t meant to be a storybook, and when the voiceovers are split between two characters, it’s a little more difficult to use them as a framing device or a means through which to really get inside the head of the main character.

Overall, Glee is a pretty fun way to spend an hour, and it also has some depth and social commentary. That’s pretty much what I look for in a TV show. It also has a very important, positive message. Glee really seems to be all about being comfortable with who you are and not letting others try to define you. The show has some issues, but I think that many of them, especially the characterization issues, will go away as we get more time to get to know these characters. Here’s hoping for a long run for Glee so that can happen!

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