Why I am a Gleek!
In the days leading up to its return to network TV, Glee has become the subject of conversation among reviewers, critics and bloggers. Its fans are rabid, its detractors legion. I am firmly in the rabid camp, and for no other reason than that it would amuse me to do so, I am going to explain why.
In my personal and professional lives (between which the barriers have almost completely evaporated) I am drawn to two categories of texts:
- my stable of childhood heroes—uncomplicated, unfettered by irony or subtext. The good guys beat the bad guys, and justice prevails, and
- texts that get away with stuff—texts that hang the rules like a piñata from a tree and beat them to tears with a stick.
In the latter camp, though, you can’t just hang the piñata for the sake of doing so; it has to be somebody’s birthday. Something original has to be going on. Who gets to decide what texts fit this criterion and which don’t? It is a committee of one. As I look back, there is little about my choices from which to condense a set of predictors. I loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I was bored by Rocky Horror Picture Show. I own three box sets of Firefly and four copies of Serenity, but threw myself under the Doll House bandwagon. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai—genius! Mystery Science Theater—snore.
Glee is the first television show in a long time to excite me on both levels! The fictional high school, in Lima, Ohio (the city of my birth) exists at a confluence of parallel universes. In one the protagonists battle heroically against the forces of tradition, prejudice, power and social deprivation. In the other, the protagonists engage in horrific acts of debauchery, deceit and antisocial behavior. And it is all happening to the same people, in the same frame, at the same time. And it is comedy! In the interest of keeping this essay spoiler-safe, I am not going to list them. Suffice to say that no commandment goes unsullied and no sacred ox goes ungored.
It works (or doesn’t), because these universes collide and occupy the same space in the event horizon that is the halls of McKinley High. Acts of incivility that would make the Simpsons blush go unnoticed. It’s as if the characters in Saved By the Bell already embodied the characters they would play on later life—porn star, pole dancer, gigolo etc but just as innocent as innocent can be. Like in Fear and Loathing, the foreground is so hysterically exaggerated, that normalcy becomes the villain. In a truly insane world, only the lunatic sees the truth. Okay, maybe Arrested Development was able to do it, but on Arrested Development, they didn’t break into song. In this case, not only can the lunatics see the truth—they can sing about it really, really well!
Glee somehow succeeds at all of this while avoiding the self-congratulatory “look what we got away with saying this week” vibe of South Park or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (For the record, I am a fan of both.). They pull it off, because by employing the innocence of the classic pop culture heroes, their world is virtually unbounded. Like Bugs and the Road Runner, they can defy the laws of time and space. In one classic scene, the football team runs a dance choreographed play from scrimmage that begins a good three or four minutes before the ball is hiked. The refs don’t notice. The other team doesn’t notice. The fans go wild. The play clock is nowhere to be found. Regularly musicians appear out of nowhere. The hive mind creates instantaneous troupe choreography. And the ridiculous is always sublime. One villain is brought to “justice” by a paper trail that is almost literally a trail of paper.
The best evidence that Glee has a unique ability to coerce an audience member’s attention is that I watch it uncritically. Ask my kids. You do NOT want to sit and watch an evening of television with me. I am the guy who counts the shots fired. I am the guy who complains that Lorelai Gilmore’s coffee cups are always empty. The fact that in Invasion USA, the terrorists actually blew up the same house from three different angles instead of blowing up three different houses—nailed it. But when I watch Glee it all gets by me. Continuity means nothing in the Gleeverse. Verisimilitude be damned. Of course when the pregnant cheerleader invites her boyfriend who thinks he is the father, because he doesn’t know that the real father is his best friend, and he mentions the baby because he thinks the parents would know, which they don’t, she is going to dance around the table singing “Papa Don’t Preach!”
What would you do?
If you even began to answer that question with a reasonable response, Glee probably isn’t for you. It is however very much for me. So on Tuesday I will record American Idol because the sandwich heads at Fox are starting Glee two minutes early. I will watch it as soon as I get home—probably more than once. After all, in the words of the master:
Gleek! And ye shall find!