This week saw the return of the phenomenal hit show Glee. Now, for those of you who don’t follow the show religiously, here’s a recap: the post-Superbowl episode featured a Michael Jackson tribute – a zombie-fied, Gleeked-out version of “Thriller.” The episode in the regular time slot on Tuesday bowed to the pressure of the love-crazy public, and centered on Valentine’s day. These episodes are prime candidates for a major criticism of the show; specifically, does it bow to viewer desires too often?
It seems like a silly discussion. What’s the point of television, if not to make the viewers happy? Why on Earth would anyone complain about seeing too much Michael Jackson? Britney Spears? Madonna? Individual music tastes aside, it’s hard to deny the raw talent on display when the characters perform their versions of popular songs. Some critics claim the storyline suffers at the expense of following the whims of the viewers. This would be a perfectly valid complaint – if it weren’t so easily applicable to half the other shows on the air. Does Family Guy have a perfectly coherent storyline? Even those shows that do endeavour to have a more in-depth plot end up coming off as trite: Gossip Girl, anyone? At least Glee is addressing some serious issues in our society (homophobia, teen pregnancy) while entertaining us.
Another complaint that circles around concerns the revolving door of guest stars the show entertains. I think it’s important to realize, though, that these aren’t just random people that Fox thought they could hire on the cheap. Uncle Jessie – I’ll give you that one, the boy can sing, but he’s not exactly a star. In the interest of proving a point, though, let’s go through a list: we’ll start with Jesse St. James, Rachel’s boyfriend from the rival group Vocal Adrenaline. Here’s where it gets good – Jesse was played by Jonathan Groff. Why is this relevant? For the same reason that Lea Michele – who plays Rachel – is relevant. The two starred opposite each other in Spring Awakening, a musical that won eight Tony awards in 2007. They were the original stars in the show and helped bring it to fruition – to put it simply, they made the show what it was. If your eyes are glazing over (although how could that not impress you?), try googling Lea Michele + Spring Awakening – nudity was involved.
Next guest star? Idina Menzel. She played Shelby Corcoran – Mr. Schuster’s love interest, Vocal Adrenaline’s coach, and Rachel’s birth mother (ok, so the triad of roles is perhaps a little convenient). She wasn’t just cast for her startling similarity to Lea Michele, though: where Lea and Jonathan played original roles in one Tony-award-winning musical, Idina has held original roles in two. Maureen in Rent and Elphaba in Wicked were both roles created for and by her. Oh, and she’s married to Taye Diggs.
Her counterpart (in the musical world, that is) comes in the form of Kristin Chenoweth – she played lush April Rhodes in the series. Aside from originating the role of Glinda in Wicked and Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, she’s well known for her television roles in both The West Wing and Pushing Daisies. Kristin is returning this season for at least three episodes; this is excellent, as the girl has some serious pipes.
I could go on, but the eyes of the real Gleeks are glazing over (as they already know all this), and the ones who don’t care have probably already stopped reading. I hope this is somewhat illuminating, though. Glee isn’t just a revolving door of guest stars; it’s a showcase for some of the greatest vocal talent around. Rather than critique it for lack of coherency and depth, why not enjoy it for what it is? Think of it as a modern Dick Clark Show, a place to exhibit great talent and also address some of the pressing issues in adolescent society.