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"Glee" on TV: Is It the Best, the Worst or Both?

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Okay, let's talk a minute about my idea of this season's best and the worst television series: Glee. All right, I don't actually think Glee is the absolute best. At the moment the honor goes to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Nor do I think Glee is the worst. Too many others are duking it out for the distinction.

So yes, I admit to stretching in order to make a point. But I maintain that Glee--which is getting a great deal of media attention and a respectable viewership--has frequent superlative moments preceded and followed by deplorable stretches.

It comes down to this: Glee's musical sequences are top-notch. The choice of songs from a wide genre spectrum is expert. One minute you have something country or Heart's "Alone" or Lionel Richie's "Endless Love," and only a few minutes later you get something like a sing-off to Stephen Schwartz's "Defying Gravity" from the Broadway phenomenon Wicked.

The presentation is imaginative. Who will ever forget the group wheel-chair number to John Fogerty's "Proud Mary" or the solo wheel-chair turn that preceded it, Kevin McHale interpreting Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself"? The singing--often by Broadway-trained Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele--is thrillingly first-rate and may account, along with Disney's High School Musical trilogy, for a reawakened interest among teenagers in musical comedy, so long a butt of sitcom jokes.

Since variety hours like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Carol Burnett Show died the horrible television death, Glee is a welcome replacement. And for its high entertainment quotient, many thanks are due the music staff, which includes (or has included) P. J. Bloom, Ryan Murphy and Heather Guibert. Thanks also to choreographers Zachary Goodlee and Brook Lipton.

But uh-oh, too often the music stops and the ridiculous Glee plot elbows its way in. Supposedly set in a high school, it follows the lives of several teachers and students, most of the latter played by actors who haven't seen their high school years for some time.

That's not the worst of it, however. The worst is the idiotic set-up wherein a football hero truly believes he impregnated his girlfriend in a hot tub, when she was actually knocked up by her bf's team buddy. The equally worst is that the teacher played by handsome, abundantly talented Morrison believes his wife is pregnant, although she isn't and is just stringing him along for some foggy reason. Yet another worst is the ruthless cheerleaders coach, played by the stage vet and gotten-up-to-look-butch Jane Lynch, a character softened in a recent episode when she was discovered to have a Downs Syndrome sister filed away in a home. No one seemed embarrassed at the abrupt and blatant play for sympathy.

So many of the other Glee plot turns are ludicrous that a conflicted fan doesn't know what's truly the worst-of-the-worst element. The hardest part to accept in the series, though, is its basic tenet: that the glee club is a haven for losers. This glee club's members are so accomplished, the musical productions so creative and skillfully performed that any student not among their number wouldn't so much mock them--which happens whenever someone has a slushie tossed at him or her--as they would fight tooth-and-nail to join the ensemble. (When the Madonna-songs episode looms--and Madonna herself would be foolish to turn down the guest-star offer that has to have come her way--the glee club should really register as be-there-or-be-square.)

But just a minute here. I'll admit that Glee is so exaggerated it's possible the writers think they're satirizing the form and maybe the lunacies of daytime soaps as well. It might be they see themselves as sending up the High School Musical entries--taking off from them, nudging them farther out on a humorous limb. If so, the satire is so esoteric that most of the audience isn't getting it--isn't noticing that the school in question is (ironically?) named after William McKinley, the country's assassinated 25th president. Instead, most people tuning in--a large percentage of them not especially interested in American history--are taking the unbelievable proceedings as a literal illustration of today's high-school realities. And where does that leave the series creators other than winking at each other over an obscure in-joke?

My guess is that as the series continues, the musical segments will only get better--I'm waiting for versions of my fave rock 'n' roll cuts, the Rolling Stones's "Honky-Tonk Women" and the Ike and Tina Turner "River Deep, Mountain High" with its Phil Spector wall of sound. On the other hand, I expect the non-musical scenes will only become increasingly far-fetched. Oh, well, maybe a love-hate relationship isn't such a bad thing, after all.