Premieres: Tonight (Wednesday)at 9 p.m. (ET) on Fox and Global
Stars: Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Coffer, Dianna Agron, Jessyln Gilsig
Premise: An idealistic teacher (Morrison) signs up a misfit band of high school singers in an attempt to repeat the glee club glory of his own youth. Against him is the highly competitive cheerleading coach (Lynch) and his own narcissistic, scheming wife (Gilsig).
What works: Executive producer Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) has taken High School Musical and given it an HBO makeover. There's an edge to the dialogue, the cutting, the nuances, but the storylines and characters are all very broadly drawn. The glory of Glee is in the details, how Emma, the germ-a-phobe teacher who pines for Morrison's Will (Jayma Mays from Ugly Betty) scrubs down every grape or wipes the germs off every pencil. Sure, the characters are stereotypes--the jocks are all cement heads, the teachers dolts, the cheerleaders princesses--but that is exactly the way it is in high school. Glee explodes all those stereotypes as it reinforces them. High school is a stupid, nasty, ridiculous place--and you'll be talking about it for the rest of your life.
Then there is the music. Glee is American Idol as drama, with hit songs from the past 40 years perfectly mashed into storylines. Tonight's season premiere features everything from Rihanna to Kanye West (Golddigger featuring Jamie Fox) and even nasty songs like Push It by Salt 'N' Peppa; there's Motown and Broadway tunes in this jukebox, too.
The cast, including B.C.-native Monteith as football hero Finn, punch these numbers out with precision (too much precision, according to naysayer Bill Harris at the Toronto Sun, who hates that it sounds like 15 people singing sometimes when there are four or five on stage. That doesn't bug me so much. Glee is larger than life, a fantasy).
Any show with Jane Lynch in it works for me, too. She is a hoot as the She Wolf of a Cheerleader coach. Just as funny is Patrick Gallagher, Glee's third Canadian, as the plodding football coach. He puts the dense in intensity.
What doesn't: I've seen tonight's episode and the fourth one which airs in two weeks (next week's third episode, held back from critics, features Victor Garber as Will's father) and the show has taken a predictable turn toward soap and serialization. I hate to see this series conform to such gotcha tactics but if they help it find a mass audience and last, that's television. The Glee pilot was gleefully unconventional and that's why critics probably liked it more than viewers (we bore easy and are suckers for something different). Too different is often bad in network television so enter the 90210 elements. Still, enough subversion remains to keep critics like me keen.
Bottom line: Glee is fun, upbeat, joyous, inspiring--all those adjectives used in Fox's ubiquitous loser "L" ad campaign. I'm already hooked on these characters and loving the music and I'll be watching and rooting for this show every week.