I need a moment to appreciate Glee.
Now I can understand how this wouldn’t be someone’s thing. Musicals aren’t most people’s thing. And no, people in real life do not walk around and break into song randomly with perfect choreography; and not everyone knows the steps or the harmonies. They’re unrealistic, yes, but they are also fun. And really, how realistic is most theatre? The medium itself doesn’t exactly lend to realism. I mean, really… soliloquies, aphorism, even exposition are all just devices along the same line as a song. Just a way to let the audience know how the characters are feeling. And, there’s the extra bonus of having a catchy tune. But, like I said, I can understand how they weren’t be everyone’s thing.
So I can understand how Glee wouldn’t be everyone’s thing. The fact that I think those people are likely joyless buffoons is another matter (just kidding! mostly…). But personally I think it’s one of the best things to come out of the television in a long time. It’s so unrealistic. It’s probably about as far from reality as one can get. I saw a Twitter comment saying something along the lines of ‘Hey Glee? I know it’s been 11 years since HS but cheerleaders don’t wear their uniforms 5 days a week’. I nearly died laughing, because seriously, out of all the absurd things to come out of that show they latched on to that? Glee is pretty much a perfect slice of the absurd.
Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, also created a show from when I was in high school. It too was a blend of implausibilities mixed up in a bowl of hilarious high school hi-jinks [ps. Alliteration is a literary device too!!] called Popular.
The show centered around two high schoolers, Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb), the popular blonde cheerleader trying to stay on top, and Sam McPherson (Carly Pope), the brunette ‘unpopular’ who writes for the school newspaper and hates the hypocrisy of the social hierarchy. There are two seemingly contradictory elements of Popular that made it what it was;
1) It’s incredible ridiculousness. First there is the basic plot: Two girls who hate each other for absolutely not reason other than the fact that it’s convenient to the plot and that they stand on opposite sides of the social spectrum are forced into each others lives by the convenient fact that their parents both go on a cruise, meet, fall in love, and get engaged within the course of a week. Second, let’s look at some of the names; Mary Cherry (who’s mother is named Cherry Cherry), Poppita Fresh, April Tuna, Exquisite Woo… Plots were twisted, characters played with, references to wholly obscure things.. In one episode the non-populars donned blonde wigs to prove that blondeness was the only real requirement for popularity. A bet was placed, brunette wigs purchased, and the non-populars probably would have won if Mary Cherry hadn’t bought the competition with her convenient millions. The prize? The losers had to get Mohawks, which they did.
2) Yet, despite all it’s madcap slapstickish comedy there was still something relate-able about Popular. There was a lot about getting pigeon-holed into categories. There was a lot about individualism. It said that anyone could be popular, but that popular is just a word that has very little meaning except to a group of people who have their own problems. And boy did they ever, in true high school dramedy fashion. Brooke struggles with bulimia, Mary Cherry struggles with parental acceptance, mean girl Nicole struggles with the fact that no one really likes her, and she knows it. Popular told us that everyone has issues, and it told us that in a pretty hilarious type of way.
Now, Popular was canceled abruptly after it’s second season on a cliffhanger, and that’s because Popular wasn’t that, well, popular. And I’ll be truthful, because of the reasons above, it was a really weird show. And it was geared towards high schoolers and aired on the WB. It’s not really all that surprising that it wouldn’t reach an audience that would truly appreciate it. But, I will never stop singing the praises of this show. It’s perfect confectionery absurdity, and it’s fun. What’s more, as the series progresses it only gets more ridiculous. Season three would have held many pleasures, I am sure, but it remains nothing but an outline in a random notebook of Ryan Murphy’s, I am sure. Still, I have both seasons on DVD, and I watch them all the time. In fact, I let my sister take them to camp once and pretty much had to pry them away at the end of the camp season (I am STILL missing one disc!!). I’m not saying everyone was sitting around watching Popular all summer, but I think they got some fair play.
Glee picks up where Popular left off. Not literally, of course, the setting is different (Lima, Ohio steps in for somewhere California), the characters are different, the premise is different. But Glee reeks of Popular‘s leftovers. Reformated and polished, but still. We still have the brunette loser, bye Sam McPherson hello Rachel Berry, who’s pretty much tortured by those around her [she repeatedly gets slushie in the face] but who is never swayed from understanding her own self worth, and the fact that she’s probably better than those throwing the slushie. She has a great voice at least. Lea Michele. Oh, Lea Michele I can not sing your praises high enough. I was lucky enough to see her as Wendla Bergmann on Broadway in Spring Awakening. I was impressed with her voice then, and I am even more impressed now. Rachel, like Sam, has a crush on the football player who really just wants to sing (seriously, that’s just recycled, in season one of Popular Josh gets the lead in the musical, his dad is not happy, same plot, still good), and is at odds with the blonde cheerleader who has problems of her own. Okay, so Sam never gets the guy and moves on quite spectacularly and Brooke never gets pregnant, but this is some classic high school stuff here.
There’s an obnoxious, androgynous, teacher. Diane Delano played Bobbi Glass, the student’s biology (and then chemistry) teacher who talked like a man, looked like a man, and… well pretty much acted like a man, while still being obviously female. Jane Lynch takes the part here in Glee, as Sue Sylvester the head of the Cheerios, who apparently get an absurd amount of the school’s budget. She’s rude, brash, sometimes downright mean, while making jokes about her lack of ovaries that leave you wondering if she’s had some sort of surgical issue or if she just classifies herself so far away from female she rejects them. Sometimes I wonder, if the series goes long enough is Mercedes going to help Sue to a GLBT center?
They’re not the same. Not at all, but it’s hard to not notice a few not so subtle similarities between them. And that’s not a flaw because both these shows try to do the same thing; be life without being realistic, and no matter what you think of either of them you can not deny that they succeed in this. I’ll buy Glee on DVD and it will sit beside my copies of Popular seasons one and two and will probably be re-watched throughout my life, just to remind me that the world can be ridiculous, heartbreaking, absurd and just unabashed fun. Until then, I’ll make due with the soundtrack.