After spending the last six years exploring the dark side of happiness via plastic surgery in FX’s acclaimed “Nip/Tuck,” Ryan Murphy has returned to his television roots, namely high school, with his new Fox comedy, “Glee“. And thank goodness he’s back. Murphy, who co-created the WB cult hit “Popular” in the late ‘90s, lets viewers in on his game plan early on with a close-up of the placard on a shiny golden trophy won by the William McKinley High School Glee Club: “By it’s very definition, Glee is about opening yourself up to joy.”
Unfortunately, that triumph was over a decade ago, and since the club has not seen much joy. In fact, it had faded into oblivion, lapped by the sexier cheer squad – that is until Spanish teacher Will Schuester, played by Matthew Morrison, decided to resurrect the good times.
He’s so eager he even fronts the $60 per month needed to keep the club on its feet. He holds
auditions and assembled a group of six misfits, the Bad News Baritones if you will, a star-in-the-making named Rachel who is clearly a Streisand in her own mind; a star quarterback who may have some latent conflicts besides dividing his time between the gridiron and the glee club; a wheelchair-bound kid named Arty (shades of “Malcolm in the Middle”), and more. The best lines in the opening episodes are delivered by Jane Lynch, the cheer squad coach, such as when she barks to her mini-skirted charges during practice, “You think this is hard? I’m living with hepatitis. That’s hard.”
Cheerleading is the money-maker at McKinley, and the Glee Club is its bastard stepchild, so look for gruff Sue to be Mr. Schuester’s foil as the series progresses. That dueling duo should be comedic manna in the hands of a master like Murphy. The ensemble cast blends together nicely throughout the first hour with Cory Monteith (the conflicted QB) and Lea Michele (the young Streisand) showing some serious breakout star potential. The production numbers are highlights.
Bottom line: Muphy has some work to do, like adding some bite to the more clichéd bits, throwing in some more status-conscious snark (hello, Mary Cherry), and uncovering the insecurities and discomforts of high schoolers willing to reveal their passions, especially when they involve singing and dancing. But ‘Glee’ more than lives up to his name with pure fun, ambition and exuberance. The building blocks are there for a hit. Given Murphy’s sensibilities and track record, it’s likely to only get better and funnier. Glee premieres Tuesday, May 19 at 9 pm ET, with a special sneak peak after “American Idol.” Though I’ve only seen the first episode, I think this is a show whose praises can and should be sung!