GLAD ABOUT GLEE
by Daren Foster
***Glee escapes the clutches of corporate temerity.***
I do not think it an overstatement to declare that in the face of seismic changes of near Biblical proportions to the media landscape, television broadcasters have not wilted in their determination to successfully adapt. Undaunted by the challenges posed by the internet and corresponding digital explosion of alternatives for the consuming public, networks the world over rose to the occasion, bought up everything they could get their hands on and hunkered down in the basement, hoping that the gathering shit storm would blow through without leaving much wreckage in its wake. When they emerged from their hiding spots -- fingers crossed! -- it was with the hope that everything would be exactly how it was during the golden age. Just 3 channels and everybody loved Lucy.
They flinched, Iím facetiously suggesting, and are no more sure of how to proceed than the proverbial babe in the woods. While certainly not on the endangered list like other media outlets (Iím looking at you, old grey lady over there hiding behind that newspaper), broadcasters are swimming in the same shark infested waters as the big record labels. In all likelihood they will be part of the still indeterminate future, but operating under different circumstances.
Summoning their craven best, TV networks have reacted to all the uncertainty by rejecting creative innovation and instead, they embraced the tired, the worn and the annoyingly familiar. Rather than attempt to lure the wandering eyes of fickle viewers with new and original programming, theyíve stuck with what they do best in order to ensure a continued decline in audience numbers. Cringe inducing reality shows. Soul sapping, paint by numbers procedurals. Unbelievably unfunny sitcoms.
Jay Leno for 5 hours a week, Monday-Friday 10-11pm. Thatís right. The man who steered a once towering television institution onto the shoals of irrelevancy has been given a large chunk of primetime real estate to further dull the masses. Why? Because he is so beloved and the fans canít get enough of him? I guess thatís possible but when was the last time anybody, anybody at all, came up to you excitedly spewing Did you catch Leno last night!? No, NBC propped up the creaky Leno franchise for no other reason than getting a whole weekís worth of programming for the same price that it takes to produce a single hour of high end drama.
Follow the business acumen on this. Audience numbers continue to dwindle and the corporate reaction is to put on more of the same stuff that fewer and fewer people want to watch. Keep your heads down, boys, and stand deathly still! Maybe no one will notice that we have no idea how to proceed.
Now I know itís not that cut and dried. The same conglomerates that underwhelm us with endless iterations of CSI and Law and Order also own cable outlets that feature much more engaging, provocative fare. Itís as if theyíve collectively decided to ghettoize their over-the-air operations, keeping it simple for the simple-minded, low brow for the pronounced brow set. If itís quality they want, you can just imagine them barking, let Ďem pay extra for it.
Despite this steep creative downward curve, every now and then something worth watching appears on the salt sprayed, barren terrain of network television. It usually drops in for a quick cup of coffee before getting back on the bus destined for cancellation via a brief stopover in hiatus-ville. Worst Week springs immediately to mind from last yearís crop which appeared intermittently on CBS throughout the season before being garrotted and replaced by the vilely obnoxious and absurdly unfunny Gary Unmarried. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the new Jim BelushiÖ Jay Mohr!!
Fox, one of the prime perpetrators of dangling the occasional interesting show into view only to yank it away at the first sign of non-breakout hit status (how long did they run with Sit Down, Shut Up this spring.. two, three episodes) has dropped a line back into these same waters again. At the end of last season, the network previewed/premiered the pilot episode of the hour long series, Glee. It was a curious move. The cynic in me figured it was a spineless display of caution on Foxís part, tentatively dipping in its toe to test the temperature before taking the plunge. If Glee garnered some favourable attention and numbers, well, see you again in the fall. Anything less and it was buried then and there.
In the olden, bolder days, when the competition was slighter, networks mightíve run a truncated series of, say, 6 or 8 episodes in the off-season in order to try and generate a big enough buzz to warrant a pickup of the show as a mid-season replacement the following year. From there, if the stars continued to align just right, the series might find itself on the fall schedule.
Now the networks canít see past a single episode, throwing Gleeís debut out there like a movie trailer, months in advance of when they actually plan to show the series. Or maybe itís a move chock full of sheer confidence, taunting the audience with a show that is so good, the four month wait will be absolutely excruciating and only stoke the fires of heightened expectations. Maybe, but four months is like 7 years in TV age.
Two episodes in and I must say that while the show is not yet all that and a can of cashews, it is certainly an enjoyable hour. At times very, very funny and well acted, Glee defies easy monikers which usually spells a quick demise for a network television show. A comedy-musical? A musical-comedy? A touching portrait of the trials and tribulations of being a high schooler? Yeah, no. Scratch that one.
In many ways itís a bit of a mystery as to why the musical-comedy format has not taken firmer root on TV. Everybody loves a musical, judging by the multi-platform success of the ever-so slight confection Mama Mia. Yet televisionís junk heap is piled high with the failed attempts at cracking the musical code. Remember Viva Laughlin? Yeah, me neither. Perhaps itís the intimacy of television that dooms musicals, revealing the monumental absurdity of people going about their daily business and then suddenly breaking out into song.
Glee seems to have overcome this problem largely by incorporating its musical numbers directly into the action. As a glee club, there is an actual reason for people to be singing and dancing. They rehearse. They perform. Nothing out of the ordinary with that. Even the more music video elements the show uses arenít particularly jarring since the musical montage device has found a place within all sorts of television formats. (Picture that overheard shot looking out over a beautiful Miami vista. Horatio Cane stands, bandy-legged and dourly contemplative. As the soundtrack plays something heartfelt in a vain attempt to inject a little gravity to the otherwise trite proceedings, he lifts his sunglasses to his faceÖ)
However I think something more may be at work with Glee than simply nailing the musical jackpot. Watching the second episode, I was struck by the notion that it just might have unearthed an even deeper mother lode. Itís what Iíll call Television For Everyoneģ©.
In these days of targeting niche audiences with the hopes of carving out a key slice of demographic heaven, Glee is an old school throwback to the days of trying to please as many viewers as possible. You got your whip-smart if at times broad humour to tickle the funny bones of both the adults and youngsters. Thereís the tightly choreographed dance numbers for those who just canít get enough of So You Think You Can Dance which, not coincidentally, will be Gleeís lead in through the fall. And finally, toss in a song list familiar to anyone who watches American Idol (also not coincidentally the lead in last spring when Glee first debuted). You know, the vapid and emotionally manipulative music thatís been topping Top 40 charts for decades now.
Stir it all together for a family-friendly stew, as long as thereís no one in the house under 12 or so as things get a little bawdy now and then. Presto magico, Fox may well have a hit on its hands. If the numbers remain robust enough. If the show can maintain its delicate creative juggling act. If the network brass doesnít immediately waver at the first sign of trouble.
And if previous experience has taught me anything, it is that last contingency in which I hold out little hope.CLICK HERE and read more TV REVIEWS by Daren Foster
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