I’m a huge fan of musical theatre, so when I first heard about Glee I thought ‘sounds wonderful but it probably won’t last long’. Imagine my surprise when Fox, the network behind the notoriously poor treatment and subsequent cancellation of such shows as Dark Angel, Wonderfalls, Keen Eddie, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and of course Firefly, actually started to promote Glee! Likely hoping to cash in on the success of High School Musical, Fox has promoted the Hell out of this show, premiering the pilot during May sweeps after American Idol (where it was watched by an audience of almost ten million), and re-airing the pilot last Friday while its stars tweeted commentary.
Picked by critics as one of the top new shows to watch, Glee focuses on a high school Glee club in Ohio run by Will (Matthew Morrison), a Spanish teacher hoping to recapture his glory days. The Glee club members include Diva Mercedes, wheelchair-bound Artie, Goth girl Tina, gay teen Kurt, and Rachel Barry, a Tracy Flick character played by Spring Awakening star Lea Michele, as the lead dreaming of stardom. In the pilot Will blackmailed star football player Finn (played by Canadian Cory Monteith) into joining the Glee kids, and faced rivalry from Jane Lynch’s scene-stealing Coach Sylvester, who is not about to let the Glee club steal the spotlight from her cheerleaders.
Don’t let the high school setting, popular vs. unpopular theme, and the likely blossoming attraction between Finn and Rachel fool you though, this is not High School Musical. For one thing the stars can actually sing, and Morrison and Michele are former Broadway stars. The musical numbers range from standard musical theatre songs, like Barry’s audition piece “On My Own” from Les Miserables, to classic songs, such as the Glee club’s first group performance to Journey’s “Don’t stop believin’”, and Top 40 Hits. “Rehab” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”, both performed in the pilot episode, were released on itunes and placed on the iTunes Top Songs chart. A soundtrack will be available November third and the track listing has already been released, revealing other songs to be performed this season on the show. These include Kanye West hit “Gold Digger”, “Sweet Caroline”, Rihanna track “Take a Bow”, and show stopper “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.
Glee has lined up the guest stars, including Tony award winner Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies), Josh Groban, and Broadway alum Victor Garber (Eli Stone), as Will’s dad, but most importantly, the show is funny. I admit that I’ve never seen anything of creator Ryan Murphy’s, so I can’t compare the humour in Glee to say Popular, but it has been described by critics as “cynical”, “biting”, and “snarky”, all good signs in my book.
Understandably, for a show about underdogs, Glee also has a lot of heart. The Glee club remain, at their core, a group of outsiders who want to be a part of something fun and the performance of “Don’t Stop Believin’”, where Will sees what his club can do and everything comes together is a great television moment, but is too much Glee a bad thing?
Although the hype surrounding the show is a great sign, and hopefully it will keep audiences interested and attract more than the niche audience I expected to tune in, is it possible that too much buzz is a bad thing? Buzz doesn’t always translate into viewers and, blame my inner pessimist for this comment, sometimes high expectations are a bad thing.
After the unjust cancellation of Dead Like Me I was thrilled when I heard that Bryan Fuller was working on something new featuring a man who could bring people back to life with a touch of his finger. This was, of course, Pushing Daisies. As a huge fan of anything A) quirky and B) done by Bryan Fuller I expected by have borderline obsessive love for Pushing Daisies. Oddly enough I didn’t, and some of that was due to the huge hype surrounding it. Yes the show was different from anything currently airing and its stars were great, but while I enjoyed Daisies it was never must see TV for me and given the ability to renew one show, I would have picked Kings over Pushing Daisies in a heartbeat.
Or how about Dollhouse? I don’t mean the pilot, which tended to be reviewed by critics as ‘meh but with potential’, but the sixth episode we kept hearing about. “Man on the Street” was supposed to be a huge game changer, the episode where the show turned around and we saw Joss in all his glory… except that we didn’t. “Man on the Street” marked an improvement in the show yes, but after all that discussion and disappointed fans waiting for the magical number six, it just didn’t live up to expectations, much like Dollhouse itself.
Another example from the world of cable is Mad Men. I’ve never watched Mad Men but the sheer volume of critical hype, including its nomination for four of the five writing in a drama category Emmys, has actually resulted in this TV enthusiast never wanting to hear another word about the show, rather than an intense desire to tune in.
Sometimes hype is a great thing that can boost a show from something you don’t have any interest in to something you’ll consider watching, and that’s fantastic, but when it reaches fever pitch, sometimes it creates unrealistic expectations or, worse, becomes an item of pop culture you never want to hear about again. I enjoyed the pilot of Glee immensely, I’m thrilled that Fox is promoting it at all, and I’m certainly hoping that Glee will succeed. I just hope that too much Glee isn’t a turn-off.
Glee airs tonight at 9:00 EST on Fox.