From vampire slaying cheerleaders to middle class suburbia, director and writer Joss Whedon has tackled a wide range of characters in his Hollywood career, but it's quirky misfit angst that often works best for the 40-something artist, and this week's episode of Glee has given him the opportunity to delve deeper into the subject.
Looking at Whedon's visual resume, it isn't hard to spot a trend. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse. All of those television shows, which Whedon created and often directed, deal with characters ostracized from society, some so different that they sport fangs or green skin. Wipe the makeup away, and what's left is a bunch of misfits, all finding extraordinary ways to express themselves.
Buffy Summers, at first a popular cheerleader, quickly finds herself shrouded in darkness after being thrust into the role of a vampire slayer. Angel is a vampire that doesn't find it fitting to kill every human that crosses his path; rather he falls in love with a vampire killer. These characters are social outcasts.
Now comes Glee, Fox's hit series about the antics of a high school singing club is full of misfits. There's the wheelchair-bound geek dreaming of walking, a gay teenage boy afraid of being loud and proud, a pregnant cheerleader and a girl with fantasies of becoming the next Barbra Streisand. While there is no blood sucking, there are plenty of social outcasts, all using songs to feel special.
Not only does the entire series follow Whedon's creative tone, but the latest episode, "Dream On," focuses on three of the main characters fantasizing about their wildest dreams.
"I like high school shows," Whedon said. "I think they tap into something very primal. And when you have some elements that take them to the next level, whether it is physical or musical, it is the kind of thing that completely jazzes me."
The director tackles Tuesday's musical episode, written by Glee co-creator Brad Falchuk, with a sense of understanding, not just of the way musicals should look on screen -- he helped create the online musical phenomenon Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog starring Neil Patrick, who makes a welcome guest appearance this week on Glee -- but with a sense that he gets the awkward bunch of high schoolers.
Whedon, when approached to direct the episode, said he wanted to focus on the deeper issues lurking within Glee's characters. "These are very hard, personal things that they don't necessarily talk about with other people," he said. "There is a real thematic coherence about the episode that brought them together on an emotional level."
Those emotions, which pulled Whedon into the episode, are monumental for the three characters taking center stage this week. Artie, the wheelchair-bound character, is forced to deal with the realities of being stuck in a chair for the rest of life. Will Schuester, glee club's adult leader, confronts his suppressed dream of acting on stage. And, the Barbra Streisand wannabe, Rachel, gets one step closer to learning the identity of her mother.
Now that Fox has thrown even more support behind its ratings darling -- the network just announced that Glee will air in the prime slot directly following next year's Super Bowl broadcast -- social outcasts everywhere can rejoice in knowing that they are certain to have an outlet to turn to on TV each week.
Hopefully, Whedon can stop by every now and then to check in on his beloved misfits, because if this week's episode proves anything, it is that Glee, Madonna mania aside, works best when its characters have a chance to battle their misfit ways.
Photo courtesy of Michael Yarish/FOX.
Follow James Sims on Twitter: www.twitter.com/simsjames