Part of me knows that “Glee” is an attempt by the Fox Network to tap into the High School Musical craze brought forth by Disney a few years ago. Part of me is resistant to such a marketing ploy. But the other part of me, the one who once dreamed of singing “On My Own” from Les Miserables on Broadway, the one who took acting classes in hopes of starring opposite the Coreys one day, the one who participated in every single musical at school and then the ones in the summer, too, abruptly drowns out any contradictory reasoning.
Cast-wise, the show is very smart in appealing to geeks. It’s a pastiche of comedians like Jane Lynch (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Best in Show) and familiar faces, including “Heroes” veterans Stephen Toblowsky, Jayma Mays, Diana Agron, and Jessalyn Gilsig. And, of course, there’s Tony award-winning actor Matthew Morrison as the glee club’s instructor, Will Schuester. The actors playing the students are fresh-faced and cute, but most are seasoned performers and absolutely not teenagers. No worries about kids “growing up” that way. But all in all, the cast is quirky and clever, delivering great lines (“Who is Josh Groban?! Kill yourself!”) and staying (mostly) funny for the entire hour-long episode.
It’s definitely not a perfect show. Some of the musical productions during the show are horrendously dubbed and painfully over-produced. The chemistry between the students can feel forced and unnatural. There’s not so much plot as there is sustained tension as the Gleeks attempt to win the regional glee club competition or face the dissolution of their beloved club. In the process the show explores love, sexuality, bullying, marriage, relationships, and peer pressure, sprinkled here and there with teen angst.
But the thing about “Glee” that keeps me tuned in is that it really puts its finger on what it’s like to be involved in any sort of geeky musical endeavor in high school. What “Glee” gets right is the power of performance. The writers understand, perhaps as grown-up Gleeks themselves, that performance has a remarkable ability to cut through the drear and difficulty high schoolers endure. You can get teased all you want in the locker room, but when you stand on stage you are untouchable. Even if you suck, you feel invincible up there, under the glare of the too-hot lights, the cake makeup melting from your skin, completely wrapped up in the song, in the story.
And it can be infectious and, for me, makes me reminisce. I’ll never forget “converting” my friend Rob in high school, and seeing his face after our first performance of “Guys and Dolls”. He was a jock with geeky tendencies, but he’d never been on stage before. After that first night, he was giddy with it; his only regret was that he hadn’t started performing earlier.