GeekPlanetOnline’s resident telly addict, Gillian Coyle, likes to write about the box almost as much as she likes to watch it. From soap operas to space operas, if you need some thoughts on a television show she’s your woman…
Ryan Murphy’s Glee is the latest in a not very long line of attempts to transplant the musical from stage and cinema onto the small screen. That alone makes it a curiosity for fans of television. However, unlike earlier, derided examples like Cop Rock, and shows-with-music like Ally McBeal, Glee seems to have hit on a winning formula.
This column is probably a few weeks out of date, since Glee hit UK television at the beginning of January. I’m sure you’ve all at least heard of it, and are puzzled about the instant, fanatical adoration it has attracted. Glee fever seems to be spreading across the UK in much the same way it infected the States, Canada and Central/South America. However, a lot of you have probably seen the trailers, noted that it contains neither spaceships, nor robots, nor a dystopian future, and concluded that it’s not for you.
I’m here to tell you that while you may not enjoy it, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss it out of hand. There’s a lot for Geeks to enjoy, and you may even find yourself becoming, like me, a loud and proud Gleek.
Let’s start with the cast. Glee is something of a Heroes retirement home (in the same way that the brilliant Boston Legal was a Star Trek retirement home). You’ll recognise Guidance Counsellor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) as Hiro’s tragically lost love, Charlie. She also played Elsa the Windmill Keeper in Pushing Daisies. Diana Agron, who plays Head Cheerio Quinn Fabray, played Claire’s cheerleading rival Debbie Marshall in season two of Heroes. You may also recognise her from Veronica Mars. Jessalyn Gilsig (evil evil Terri Schuester) played Claire Bennet’s biological mother, Meredith Gordon, as well as having had a recurring role in Prison Break.
Skipping back to the fabulous Pushing Daisies, Olive Snook (AKA Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth) turns in a fantastic guest performance in episode five: The Rhodes not Taken. Another Broadway alumnus familiar to genre fans, with a recurring role in Glee, is Victor Garber, Jack Bristow in Alias.
Cory Monteith (quarterback Finn Hudson) and Patrick Gallagher (Football coach Ken Tanaka) duke it out for the title of most appearances in genre shows. Monteith has appeared in shows including Smallville, Supernatural, Stargates SG-1 and Atlantis and Kyle XY. He was even in Flash Gordon, but we’ll try to forget about that. Gallagher plays a recurring role in True Blood, and has appeared in Forever Knight, Earth: Final Conflict, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville and Stargate Atlantis, to mention a few.
While Jane Lynch is not a genre actor, she will be instantly familiar to fans of Christopher Guest films. Her character, Sue Sylvester, is far and away the best in Glee, and arguably the best new character on television in the last year. Her scathing one-liners, such as “That was the most offensive thing I've seen in twenty years of teaching - and that includes an elementary school production of Hair” are fast becoming legendary.
Show creator Ryan Murphy is probably best known for creating Nip/Tuck, but he was also the mind behind the much-loved and –lamented Popular. I know I’m not the only geek who made a point of trying to get up on Saturday mornings to catch that show. Glee has much of the same biting humour as Popular; while it often turns the cheese up higher than Popular would ever have done, it has the same awareness of and playful attitude towards the conventions of teen drama.
Apart from its mainstream fans, Glee has some pretty heavyweight Geek names getting behind it. Joss Whedon is so enamoured of it that he wants to direct an episode. Neil Patrick Harris is rumoured to want to guest star in that episode. After watching the first two episodes on E4, Simon Pegg fell so hard that on his next trip to the US, he downloaded the whole series from US itunes.
Perhaps I’ve managed to convince you that Glee will at least be good for “it’s him off the telly” moments and that it has geeky credentials. Maybe I’ve even made you think that the writing and dialogue may make it worth checking out. However that doesn’t address Glee’s main selling point, and possibly its biggest stumbling block in attracting a geek audience: the songs.
Yes, it’s full of songs. Unashamedly so. I don’t think that should be a problem for the geek viewer though. The links between sci-fi/fantasy/horror and rock music are long established, and I can’t deny that the inclusion of REO Speedwagon, Journey, Heart and Queen songs helped me to fall in love with this show.
They may not advertise it, but I know a lot of genre geeks are also musical fans (you know who you are), and naturally they’re catered for here. More than just the inclusion of songs from shows like Les Mis, Funny Girl, Cabaret and Wicked, I think fellow fans of musical theatre will notice that the structure of Glee owes a debt to the work of Kander and Ebb. In fact, Ryan Murphy has cited Chicago as a direct influence. The Bitter Suite and Once More, With Feeling are often named as fan favourite episodes of Xena and Buffy respectively, and even non-musical-loving geeks often have a soft spot for Little Shop of Horrors, Rocky Horror, Rockula or (whisper it) Repo.
I say embrace the secret, shameful love of singing along! Embrace the surreal, hyper-primary coloured world, the brutal put-downs and jibes, the genre-loving actors and the unrelenting, uplifting beamathon that is Glee.
Go on. Give it a go.Your Gleek card is waiting.