It’s extremely rare if not unheard of for networks to premiere pilots for shows months in advance of their actual first runs. “Glee” was heavily promoted and glowingly reviewed before its late May premiere, and it won’t bow again until the fall, airing after FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance” results show. The posters for the show were a bit misleading, featuring its characters making the universal symbol for “loser” above the tagline “a biting comedy for the underdog in all of us.” After seeing the first installment, I think the latter description is appropriate, whereas the show’s focus on its characters being losers isn’t really its strong suit.
What “Glee” has going for it is a strong ensemble that really shines when its members are coming together and performing. The musical sequences, spotlighting Lea Michele as amusingly self-absorbed perfectionist Rachel and Cory Monteith as jock Finn. The show’s best moments showcase the glee club’s teamwork and unlikely success. It’s also satisfying because they’re actually quite talented, and a show with a glee club as its focus will obviously have some terrific musical numbers. From what I’ve seen in the pilot, the music and dance will be this show’s ticket to glory.
Where the show falters is its emphasis on its characters as losers. It’s not quite as bad as I had feared, picturing a sequel of sorts to the horrific FOX spring comedy “Free Ride” from a few years ago that should never have seen the light of day. Watching slackers continue to be slackers while succeeding against all odds isn’t terribly exciting, and it’s only occasionally effective, most notably on “Freaks & Geeks.” Here, seeing newly enlightened Finn protect a kid in a wheelchair from being tortured in a porter-potty isn’t terribly entertaining or remotely funny. Maybe glee club isn’t cool, but this show won’t be either if it remains caught up in portraying its main players as the high school idiots who are the subject of everyone’s mockery.
The main cast members are great fits for the various personalities of the glee club. I’m especially happy with the two arguable leads, Michele and Monteith. Michele is so into herself and Monteith has the greatest blank stare on his face that you can’t help liking these two kids just insistent upon singing their very best during extracurricular hours. I’m not as moved by the unenthusiastic performance by Matthew Morrison as the glee club’s head cheerleader, and just like on “One Tree Hill” I’d rather have a much less prominent focus on the “adults” of the story. Jane Lynch, recently featured on “Party Down,” has too much of a distracting role as a particularly abrasive faculty member, and I still think she’s best suited for recurring comic relief roles on shows like “The L Word” and even “Two and a Half Men,” if need be. The sweet surprise when it comes to the faculty is the adorable Jayma Mays, so great in her arc on “Heroes” and in the 2005 film “Red Eye,” whose role as a germaphobe guidance counselor should provide much of the non-musical dramatic heart of this show.
How will it work as a series? I imagine that, despite their excellent Journey rendition at the close of the pilot, it will still take a whole lot of practicing and episodes for the glee club to actually achieve true success, and that could extend the life of this show a lot. This does feel a bit like it could be a one-shot wonder type, where the pilot feels fresh and creative but its run isn’t nearly as promising or fulfilling. I think it will be a mix of the two, and I think it should be able to coast on its musical greatness for a while.
How long will it last? Continuing along the lines of my above comment, I’m not sure there are many places for this glee club to go once they inevitably come through and win the national championship, or whatever highest level choral equivalent exists. I imagine that the alternative, which would mean repeated failures for the glee club in their quest towards glory, would be simply demoralizing and make this show unappealing. I’m sure the ratings will be good in the fall, but I feel like this show only has one good season in it. I definitely don’t think it has more than two seasons left in it.
Pilot grade: B