“Glee” seems to be one of those shows that you either love or hate with every fiber of your being. Any mention of the show in a group on campus will either spark a response like, “OH MY GOD I LOVE THAT SHOW!” or “Eww, you watch ‘Glee?’” I place myself firmly in the adoration camp. Maybe it’s my romantic sentimentality or the fact that I’m a musical theater nerd to the core, but “Glee” really speaks to me. So when the show returned from its four-month hiatus on April 13, I had very high expectations.
If you haven’t seen the show, or dismissed it after a few episodes, I urge you to give “Glee” a chance. I understand that not everyone is going to like “Glee,” just as not everyone likes “Hairspray.” Some people can’t tolerate the concept that people will break out into elaborate musical numbers in the middle of their everyday lives. But if you can suspend your disbelief for an hour every Tuesday night, I think you’ll find that “Glee” is pretty awesome.
Speaking of the musical numbers, they are clearly the centerpiece of what the show has to offer. Most of the cast is incredibly talented, particularly lead actress Lea Michele, who plays Rachel (previously, she starred on Broadway in “Spring Awakening”). Michele has one of those voices that almost convinces me to sign up for singing lessons immediately out of shame for my own musical talents. The other cast members have fantastic voices as well (with the exception of Cory Monteith who as Finn, the male lead, is cute, but definitely lacks the singing punch of some of the other guys on the show). The auto-tuning used on the show is a complaint of many “Glee”-haters, and I have to agree it’s a shame. The cast has so much talent; why mask it with auto-tune? Still, the songs are always well sung and often amazing. Aside from the vocals, the musical numbers sometimes feature great choreography as well. One of my personal favorites was “Proud Mary,” in which the entire cast danced in wheel chairs in a show of solidarity with chair-bound character Artie. Each performance is elaborately planned and perfectly executed, which is why the show has taken off so quickly.
The best part of “Glee” is undeniably the villainous Sue Sylvester, expertly played by actress Jane Lynch. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, I guarantee that Sue’s hilarious one-liners will charm you. Sue gets all the best lines on the show, my favorite so far being “You may be two of the stupidest teens I’ve ever encountered. And that’s saying something. I once taught a cheerleading seminar to a young Sarah Palin.” I’ve been a fan of Lynch since I saw her in Christopher Guest’s “Best In Show,” where she also displayed her talent for delivering wacky, eccentric lines with a perfect nonchalant attitude and straight face. Sue’s mission is to take down the glee club, no matter the cost. Yet she isn’t pure evil. Like most of the “Glee” characters, even the villain is multifaceted. In one episode, it was revealed that Sue grew up taking care of a sister with Down Syndrome and she still visits her weekly. Like many other classic TV villains, Sue is the show’s most dynamic character and is always fun to watch.
I think one of the most important aspects of “Glee” is the way the storylines deal with important cultural topics (and this is where the show most obviously differs from “High School Musical,” a comparison I hate so much it physically pains me). “Glee” discusses homosexuality, gender equality, drug use, teenage sex, and pregnancy in a way that isn’t heavy-handed. During the second episode, Rachel stands up to the hypocritical school celibacy club, headed by pregnant cheerleader Quinn, and advocates teaching safe sex. The ninth episode revolves around the harassment that gay club member Kurt faces for his sexual orientation. In the same episode, bad-boy Puck slips pot into bake sale cupcakes to convince more students to buy them. “Glee” doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but doesn’t shove them down the audience’s throats either. This is an important balance to maintain for a show that many people enjoy, whether or not they agree with the underlying political messages. “Glee” has the potential to generate discussion about these issues by presenting them to a diverse and far-reaching audience and normalizing them to the point at which they are not longer taboo.
Because I was so enamored with the first half of the “Glee” season, I had high hopes for its return. The April 13 episode moved at breakneck speed to reacquaint the viewers with the major plotlines (Mr. Schuester’s romance with the school’s guidance counselor, Emma; Finn and Rachel’s budding relationship; the rivalry between the glee club and the cheerleading team) and then proceeding to tear them all down. The show also introduced a new character: Jesse St. James, lead singer of the rival glee club. Jesse’s entrance felt forced and awkward to me—does Rachel really need another romantic interest? And Jonathan Groff, who plays him, doesn’t do much for me as an actor. Still, he adds some much needed strength to the male vocals on the show, and his performance opposite Lea Michele in “Spring Awakening” suggests the two will have some very good chemistry here. I loved re-immersing myself in the “Glee” universe, but the first episode left me worried. Where was the lighthearted, fun high school comedy I had come to know and love?
After watching Tuesday’s episode, however, my fears were assuaged. The episode featured Madonna songs, which makes it automatically awesome. It had some of the most elaborate musical numbers of the series yet, like the amazing “Vogue” video starring my beloved Sue Sylvester or the cheerleading squad’s stilt-walking performance of “Express Yoursef.” Even more exciting was the prominence of the supporting cast members. Characters who had never gotten solos, like Sue and cheerleader Santana, finally got their moment to shine, while the show also resumed minor storylines like Artie’s romance with club member Tina. Finally, the episode had a purpose: to encourage the female characters to take charge and be confident, with Madonna herself as a role model. It was a funny, sweet TV spectacle with a good message—all the things I loved about the show in the first place.
My hope for the rest of the “Glee” season is that it will morph into a true ensemble comedy. I want to find out more about the supporting cast members and see them take on the layered personalities of the major characters. There is so much talent lurking in the shadows of the leads that could be brought to prominence. To reach the upper echelons of TV history, “Glee” needs to start exploiting all of its amazing potential.