Sunday, 10 April 2011

Glee Gone Wild

The Kids Are All Right

Thursday afternoon in the auditorium at Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo High School in Long Beach, California, and if the twelve relatably attractive young people who play the irrepressible William McKinley High School show choir on TV's Glee are tired—if the pressure of following up a debut season that spawned hit soundtrack albums, a sold-out concert tour, and a crazy-passionate fan base of self-professed "Gleeks" is getting to them, if they feel like they're singing and dancing as fast as they can—it doesn't show.

They're onstage making serious faces while mouthing along to a Glee'd-up rendition of Joan Osborne's God-rides-public-transit hit, "One of Us," which means this is probably the end of an episode in which everybody learns a Very Important Lesson.

But whenever the director calls "cut," a slumber party erupts. Kevin McHale (Artie) and Amber Riley (Mercedes) and Naya ­Rivera (Santana) break into dueling Michael Jackson impressions. Everybody takes turns pushing each other in Artie's wheelchair. At one point, the sound guy pipes in Cali Swag District's novelty-rap jam "Teach Me How to Dougie," and the whole cast does the limb-flapping "Teach Me How to Dougie" dance.

The whole cast, that is, except for Lea Michele. On Glee, she plays the hyperdriven Rachel Berry, a Tracy Flick with pipes, forever scolding her choirmates for their lack of commitment; when everyone starts to Dougie, she whips around and glares at them.

"We're singing for God today, you guys."

For a second, it seems like she's serious. I write down Possible diva moment? Investigate further. Then the giggling resumes.


Baby, I'm a Star

Metaphorically, Glee is about to graduate from Cabrillo. They've been shooting here for two years, but after this week they won't be back. A replica of Cabrillo's auditorium has been built on the Paramount lot, in what Cory Monteith, who plays the dim-sweet jock Finn Hudson, describes as "a testament to the juggernaut that Glee has become."

It's not the only one. There's also the tour, a four-city victory lap for the show, and those soundtracks—to date, the cast has lodged more singles on the Billboard Hot 100 than any other group except the Beatles—and the Emmy Ryan Murphy won for the Glee pilot. The show's also won a Golden Globe, a SAG award, a Peabody, a GLAAD award, and a Worst TV Show of the Week condemnation from the Parents Television Council, which cited "[a] veiled reference to fellatio, a speech denouncing abstinence, simulated sex during a musical dance number, and premature ejaculation." Apparently they missed the episode in which Puck (Mark Salling) laces the bake-sale cupcakes with medical marijuana (and gets away with it).

"I didn't want to do a family show," says Murphy. "I wanted to do my version of a family show. But we try to be as responsible as we can, because we know some young people watch. Some of the humor goes over their head, hopefully."

Meanwhile, on the Internet, where the teenage dream life of the culture really unfolds, Gleek ardor runs hot. Wild and wishful blog-speculation about on- and offscreen couplings. The YouTube tribute videos starring kids in their bedrooms, British hairstylists, and Ben 10 action figures. The self-explanatory Tumblr shrines like Fuck Yeah Cory Monteith. And—inevitably—the reams of NSFW slash fiction in which everybody gets it on with everyone else.

In the wake of last season's episodes devoted to Lady Gaga and Madonna (the first Material Girl–related cultural event in a decade that didn't feel like an extended dungeon session with Madge's titanic ego wielding the whip), rock icons with catalogs to exploit are lining up for the Glee treatment. Paul ­McCartney sent Murphy a mixtape full of tracks he thought would work well on a Sir Paul episode, which means there's a possibility that at some point in the future, Glee will turn a generation of tweens on to "Temporary Secretary" and "Uncle ­Albert/Admiral Halsey."

In short, Glee's got a choke hold on the Zeitgeist, from kids too young to sext to senior citizens who used to play in Wings, which is impressive for a show that's technically in the same genre as Cop Rock. (None of the cast members I talked to had seen Cop Rock. The young: always so ignorant of history's greatest atrocities.) But maybe it's not that surprising—Glee reaches multitudes because it contains them.

Much like Britney Spears—who's getting an episode devoted to her catalog this season—Glee is somehow both baby-deer naive and not-that-innocent. It portrays Christians as hypocrites while subtly pushing values that are pretty Christian, when you get down to it—tolerance, self-sacrifice, giving your baby mama your pool-cleaning money, respecting the songwriting genius of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. It's as anachronistically sweet as Bye, Bye Birdie but gayer than Hedwig. It's a show where Agron, as the conniving cheerleader Quinn, convinces her boyfriend that she's pregnant with his child (it's someone else's), but it's also a show in which Monteith sings a soaring soft-rock rendition of the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" to a sonogram of that baby.

Look at it this way. For about a decade, TV's most popular singing-and-dancing show was Glee's Tuesday-night Fox lead-in, American Idol, in which young people lined up to have their dreams flayed by Simon Cowell, an English millionaire with an $8 haircut and a bottomless reserve of spittle-flecked disdain for weakness and eccentricity. Cowell clearly despised this country, and he felt the same way about the Idol contenders' hopeful little hearts as Jack Bauer did about terrorists' kneecaps, but we put up with him and his show's ruthless winner-take-all competitive-sport pop music paradigm for ten long seasons.

At first, Glee—another show about kids channeling a yearning for specialness into full-throated renditions of pop schlock—looked like a fictionalized Idol, the way Lost was a scripted Survivor (with polar bears). Really, though, Glee refutes Idol's whole ethos. Asked what the difference between the two shows was, Lea Michele tactfully replied that they were too different to compare. "One is about being judged, and one is not," she said—which is actually a pretty elegant comparison and gets at the sea change the Idol-Glee transition seems to represent. Maybe the success of a show like this—gay-positive, anti-gender-stereotyping, as anti-looksist as a show full of good-looking TV actors can be—suggests that America is becoming less judgmental. Or maybe a show that loves losers this much is the perfect American Idol successor for the Obama era because we're all finding out, as a country, how it feels to be the underdog.

No comments:

Post a Comment