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'Glee': The rare TV musical that works

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Maybe it's the power of the title, but every time I think about "Glee" I get giddy. We were introduced to the Fox series in May, after an episode of "American Idol," and it was obvious from the start that we were confronted with something no less than magical.

It's the holy grail of primetime: A TV musical that works.

Oh, many have tried to combine musical numbers and mainstream TV. "Eli Stone" and George Michael - a noble effort. "Viva Laughlin" - a gamble that didn't pay off. "Cop Rock" - the less said, the better.

(I can't resist. Just one flashback. Remember when "Cop Rock" had a lineup of Hispanic suspects sing, "We're the local color with the coppertone skin / And you treat us like we're guilty of some terrible sin"?)

By contrast, "Glee" is pure joy to watch. Is there anything more uplifting than watching a group of teenage misfits belting out "Don't Stop Believin'"?

By setting it in a high school, we are taken back to a more innocent moment in time, when we were still blissfully ignorant as to why we were never chosen for solos in choir. When we believed there was still an outside chance that we would be discovered and chosen to open for the GoGo's. When we danced around our bedrooms singing into a can of mousse, and figured that memorizing all the steps to "Thriller" would come in handy one day.

Or maybe I'm sharing too much.

I don't think I'm alone, though. I just mentioned "Glee" to a colleague, and she got giddy too. "I'm now thinking of the time we harmonized 'Eye of the Tiger' in choir," she said. "'Rising up!'"

But this high school musical isn't "High School Musical" - far from it. There's nothing Disney about it. One of the show's creators is Ryan Murphy, who is responsible for FX's dark and cutting "Nip/Tuck," as well as the WB's cynical, satirical "Popular." As luck would have it, he starred in several musicals throughout high school and college.

Interestingly, another creator is Ian Brennan, who was a member of the show choir at Prospect High School in the mid '90s. And even more interestingly, Prospect High School was at the center of a scandal in the mid '00s, when the popular choirmaster was accused of hitting on a student. The choir parents, grateful for the many awards he'd earned, rallied around the choirmaster. As for the student? She was voted "biggest liar" in the school newspaper.

Which brings us to the second definition of "glee," according to dictionary.com: "to squint or look with one eye." And there's plenty of skepticism, self-deprecation and social commentary in "Glee." The most talented glee club member, who always signs her name with a little gold star sticker next to it, regularly gets Slurpees tossed in her face. The Celibacy Club's slogan is "It's all about the teasing, and not about the pleasing." The cheerleading coach, played by the incomparable Jane Lynch, barks, "You think this is hard? Trying living with hepatitis. That's hard."

The time is right for a musical comedy. As a nation, we've been softened by the charm of the plucky kids on "American Idol." The energetic remake of "Fame" will be in theaters in the fall. We've seen great musical numbers in small doses, on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Family Guy," "Pushing Daisies," "Scrubs," and even in gritty guy shows like "Oz" and "Rescue Me." Who doesn't prefer "The Simpsons'" version of "A Streetcar Named Marge"?

But "Glee's" closest relative is the biting 1999 high school satire "Election." It has the same prickly tone, and "Glee's" resident sweetly dumb, singing jock, played by Cory Monteith, is a dead ringer for Chris Klein. If "Election's" Tracy Flick could sing, she would be the amibitiously tunnel-visioned Rachel, played by Lea Michele of Broadway's "Spring Awakening."

Each episode will have three to seven musical numbers, and so far they've been startlingly original. The first episode treated us to an elaborate production of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" featuring girls in polka-dotted prom dresses. It was fearless enough to choreograph "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" for a lead singer who was in a wheelchair. Upcoming episodes include songs by Kanye West, Rihanna, Van Halen, Barbra Streisand, Beyonce and the Rolling Stones. Eve has signed on for appearance (although Whitney Houston was their first choice).

Count me among the "Gleeks" whose feet are already tapping in anticipation of the new season. "Glee" makes my heart sing - uncharacteristically, on key.

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This page contains a single entry by Paige Wiser published on August 22, 2009 4:07 AM.

Friday night highlights, 8/21/09 was the previous entry in this blog.

An interview with Joan Cusack of Lifetime's 'Acceptance' is the next entry in this blog.

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