I was practically designed to connect with all things Waiting for Guffman¹. After last night, I’m thinking Glee just might satisfy as television’s answer to the deadpan musical madness I so connected with in Guffman.
It’s not just because of the singing football team, who pranced around a football, doing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance in order to distract the other team and slip past them to touchdown, and victory. It’s not just because they sing popular music in new ways, and sing it well. It’s not even (only) because Jane Lynch delivers gems like this without breaking a smile, supposedly for a segment on the local news:
I often yell at homeless people: Hey! How’s that homelessness workin’ out for ya? Give not being homeless a try!
And, it’s not just because there are other one-liners in the mix, delivered so seamlessly you almost miss them. For example, as said by Finn, a member of the football team:
I got this at the school library. Did you know you can just…borrow books from there? [insert look of awed wonder] All of ‘em…except the encycolpedias.
No, it’s not just because of these individual things that I’m spiraling quickly into Gleekdom.
It’s because – so far – they’ve done an incredible job of setting up conflict, introducing a large cast of characters, and weaving several story threads together at once. They’ve given us reasons to keep watching: will Jane Lynch’s cheer team (the “Cheerios”) manage to destroy Will’s glee club? Can Will, a loving husband who works incredibly hard, stick with his manipulative wife, even though he’s working extra hours as a janitor in order to pay for a gigantic dream house she wants (but doesn’t need), and to pay for the baby she’s told him they’re having – even though she found out she’s not pregnant, after all? Add to the mix a lovable gay kid, an egotistical prima donna, an insecure football player, a pregnant cheerleader, and other memorable secondary characters whose stories, though we’ve seen only glimpses so far, are compelling.
So, they’ve introduced conflict, and begun to weave a bright fabric out of it. Yes. They’ve also juxtaposed the unexpected, like sticking the lovable gay kid on the football team, having them all dance on the field as a plausible plot point, and having the kid score the winning field goal, thus helping him to bond with his macho father.
I especially love the creative way they flipped the stereotype with two of the main characters, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison). One is a cocky coach, the other is a sensitive music teacher. Putting a woman in the role of cocky coach, and a man as the sensitive type, puts a new spin on old clichés.
Also cool? They support every action and reaction and motivation, and they accomplish this by showing, not telling. There are too many examples to list, but the one that sticks out to me at the moment is their use of popular music. They don’t just stick in a song and dance – they justify it. If not by direct plotting (the football scenario), they justify it indirectly. Like a music video, they let images tell the story during certain songs, showing us what the character is feeling while she sings passionately².
One last thing about Glee in this (very long) post: I know someone’s doing something right when the writing, and the execution of that writing, makes you feel. I feel pain for Will’s marriage, frustration with his witch of a wife, shameful identification with the egotistical prima donna, compassion for the gay kid, and a whole slew of other emotions. Sprinkled in with those is the huh? factor – scenes, settings, and witty lines that are off-the-wall, yet somehow make complete sense in context.
I like shows that make me laugh, feel, and think, all at the same time. Unlike Community, which I blogged about the other day, Glee is teaching me effective ways to go about showing v. telling, expanding characters and their motivations, tweaking stereotypes, and stirring up conflict and tension. If you haven’t seen it, we’re only four episodes in³, and you can click here to catch up on Fox’s website.
¹Small town + musical theater = things I’m all too familiar with. Add in quirky randomness, desperate-for-something-to-live-for characters, and so-bad-they’re-awesome musical numbers? I’ve been a fan since day one.
²The song I’m thinking of here, specifically, was from the episode “Showmance.” At the end, Rachel (Lea Michele) sings a song by Rihanna. Let it be known that I hated this song with a vengeance before hearing her sing it. By the end, I was moved to tears at her performance. I connected with her not only by hearing the passion in her voice but by seeing the video roll clips of other story lines that made her feel like singing with passion. Brilliant. Click here to watch the excerpt from the show.
³In my opinion, the best episodes so far are #2 (“Showmance”) and #4 (“Preggers”).