Hitting the tone of high school in a television series is difficult — get too angsty and the family audience tunes out; go for the saccharine “moral of the week” and real-life credibility is lost.
Considering two of the most creatively successful high school-based series in the last decade were Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, and neither aired for even one full season, developing a teen series seems like a doomed undertaking.
So developing a teen series as an unconventional comedy/musical hybrid with Ryan Murphy, the dark genius behind Nip/Tuck, as executive producer must seem like a death wish. Yet that very Murphy-helmed high school series, Glee, is the most anticipated show of the new TV season.
“For me, the challenge is doing something that I think is more mainstream and family-oriented,” admits Murphy, whose other series is about a pair of plastic surgeons and features graphic depictions of surgeries and sex. “I wanted to do something that was lighter and more optimistic.”
In this tale about one dedicated teacher attempting to rebuild his school’s geeky glee club to its former championship-winning glory, optimism comes in the form of choreographed performances to tunes such as Don’t Stop Believin’.
Another positive for the series: The cast recording of the Journey song shot to No. 1 on iTunes after the Glee pilot was broadcast in May post-American Idol as a sneak peek special on Fox.
Anticipation for the comedy has been steadily building since, thanks to cast appearances at Comic-Con in July and an August tour of Hot Topic stores at malls across the country. But jubilant sing-alongs alone do not make Glee the fall’s early fan favourite and critics’ darling; behind the cheery façade of show tunes and jazz hands, the series dissects the complicated caste system of secondary school life.
“(Glee) does have a little bit of subversiveness in it,” Murphy insists.
“It’s not completely bland or too sticky clean. It has an edge to it. The show is about the quest to have a dream — or the quest to realize that maybe you need to get another dream.”
Two stars of Glee
• Will Schuester (The Glee Director) Played by Matthew Morrison
He may be 30, but Morrison considers glee club director Will Schuester his first “real” adult role. “On Broadway you can get away with being a lot younger for a lot longer,” the star of Hairspray and South Pacific says. “I feel like [playing a young teacher is] a perfect role to introduce myself as an adult.”
• Sue Sylvester (The Cheerleading Coach) Played by Jane Lynch
Lynch talks about “Glee” the same way her domineering, over-competitive cheerleading coach talks about her squad: “I think [Glee] is just head and shoulders above anything that’s on TV. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but it’s really good.” She gushes, “The kids are amazing. These are talented people.”
Three stars of Glee
• Finn Hudson (The Jock) Played by Cory Monteith
Though he plays a football standout turned one of the glee club’s stars, Monteith admits he “could never watch a musical” before working on Glee. “… The beautiful thing about this show is (the music) magnifies the plot points the characters are dealing with. Glee is firmly rooted in reality.”
• Mercedes (The Diva) Played by Amber Riley
“I’m not going to say I’m not a diva,” Riley jokes, though the actress with an amazing set of pipes was a professional backup singer — a position her character unhappily finds herself relegated to — before signing on to Glee. “I love the tone of the show. It has this dry comedy; it’s not really punch-liney … It reminds me of British comedy.”
• Arty (The Geek) Played by Kevin McHale
“I forget we’re not in a real glee club,” McHale, a former boy band member, says. “I feel like we’re in high school. We’re on the set all the time, and the scripts are so real … we feel like we’re actually in it.”
• Glee premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Global