It is true in life, especially in high school, that “we’re all here for the same reason. We just want to be good at something.” The lucky ones find their arena early and easily. But really, is anyone lucky in high school? Almost certainly, no one feels lucky. I know I didn’t. Glee’s Rachel Berry (Lea Michele, Spring Awakening, Les Miserables) and Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith, Kyle XY, Deck the Halls) appear sure of themselves and their places in the high school milieu, but both are searching for more. They aren’t the only ones. William McKinley High School is home to a few other outcasts, divas, dreamers and drama queens—“losers”—who find what they’ve been searching for in glee club with the most unlikely group of performers they could have imagined … each other.
New to the Fox fall lineup, Glee finds Spanish teacher William Schuster struggling to keep his school’s formerly national champion glee club alive. In pursuit of this goal, Schuster, played by Tony and Drama Desk nominee Matthew Morrison, encounters a lack of support from school administration and fellow faculty members who don’t see the point of glee club. Even Schuster’s self-involved wife, Terri, (Jessalyn Gilsig, Nip/Tuck, Prison Break) would prefer that he trade teaching for a more lucrative career as an accountant. As he juggles personal and professional pressures to abandon his dream of leading them to Nationals, the members of the McKinley High School glee club begin to jell as a group, leaving Schuster with one more thought to intensify his decision: “it would kill [him] to see [them] win Nationals without [him].”
Glee is the latest offering from Ryan Murphy, creator of Nip/Tuck and Popular, and many of its supporting characters play as entertaining caricatures rather than authentic personalities. Among the best of these comedic performances are Gilsig as Terri Schuster and Jane Lynch (Best in Show, Role Models) as Sue Sylvester. While these characters would be over the top on their own, in combination with the performances of Morrison, Michele, Monteith and the rest of the glee club, they provide a healthy counterpoint that keeps the show from slipping into melodrama.
Morrison is the heart and soul of Glee. He accentuates the drama and authenticity of William Schuster and lets the comedy happen around him. The actors who play glee club members opposite Morrison similarly value the dramatic as they showcase both the humor and the reality of the high school experience. And although the majority of Glee’s cast members are young, they already boast a long list of theater, television and film credits between them. Joining Michele and Monteith in McKinley High School’s glee club are Kevin McHale (Zoey 101, The Office), Amber Riley (Cedric the Entertainer Presents) and Jenna Ushkowitz (The King and I, Spring Awakening). Together, they are more than capable of delivering a mixture of expected humor and surprising depth that highlights a significant life-truth: Only those who aren’t afraid of being called “losers” ever win at anything.
Now maybe you are a person who maintained your distance from the show choir crowd in high school and have not developed a great love of musical theater since. Or maybe you, like me, are somewhat skeptical of projects that receive the level of critical acclaim and media attention that has been generated in response to Glee’s pilot alone. My answer in both cases is: give Glee a chance. It’s not your little sister’s High School Musical. In fact, creator Ryan Murphy has called it “the anti-High School Musical,” an epithet that the pilot episode fully embodies.
At this early stage in its development, Glee is teetering on the edge in the best possible way. In contrast to the many shows that freefall into either bubble gum comedy or dark melodrama, Glee balances precariously on the line between them. Being on the edge is worth the risk—if the show can maintain its balance, it will kill viewers not to see every moment of the journey to Nationals and beyond.
Did you miss the broadcast preview of Glee? Check out Fox’s website or see above to see the full pilot episode and learn more about the show.