A Fox summer sensation, Glee follows the occasionally musical adventures at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, centering on the school’s glee club (hence, duh, the title). Led by the school’s Spanish teacher, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), the club combats all the usual stuff — indifferent school administrators, hostile popular kids, et cetera — while singing and dancing their way through covers of songs like “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Gold Digger.”
But of course the success of a high school comedy doesn’t lie in its originality, but in how cleverly it contorts the classic formula.
“There’s no joy in these kids; they feel invisible,” their idealistic young teacher, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), says to the principal. “That’s why every one of them has a MySpace page.”
No high school series can take adolescence entirely seriously — or completely tongue-in-cheek. Just as there was a faint dusting of mockery in Disney’s “High School Musical,” even the full-on send-up “Not Another Teen Movie” had a sliver of sentimentality tucked into its parody.
“Glee” manages the balance well; it has a strong satiric pulse that doesn’t diminish the characters’ identities or dim the showmanship of a talented cast.
“Glee” owes a lot to the past, be it cult television shows like “Freaks and Geeks” or movies like “Pretty in Pink” or “10 Things I Hate About You.” But it is also beholden to “American Idol,” a competition that has stirred the self-confidence and ambition of every teenager who warbles in the shower or gets a standing ovation at Karaoke Night. “Glee” celebrates that obsession, but also puts it in its place.
Even viewers who don’t like high school comedies should savor Tuesday’s episode of “Glee.” It serves as a much needed Armagnac after the gooey chocolate soufflé that is “American Idol”: a digestif that is sweet, but also dry and stinging.