I know, I know, you love it. Everyone loves it. I'm a scrooge, and a party-pooper, and why can't I just enjoy the music? I get why people like Glee, I do. It's fun! It's harmless! But is it?
There's a piece today on Salon asking why in God's name the appalling Cougartown is a hit. Well, I see that and raise you Glee.Yes, I know. It's a classic high school underdog story and, hey, who doesn't love a musical number? It's got Ned Ryerson - with a Ryerson last name, no less. It's got the peerless Jane Lynch. It's got rapturous reviews. What's not to like, you say?
Some of my gripes are personal. I've never been a big fan of Desperate-Housewives-style broad "satire" nor of the po-mo-atmo of such favorites as Pushing Daisies. The super-produced aesthetic and the overtime Fox-hype-machine have always struck me as a cynical contrast to its alleged support of the Aw-Shucks Other. Also, I don't find it remotely funny. These are matters of taste with which people are allowed to disagree, and clearly do. That it's a smug, G-rated Election on uppers with 2-D characterizations would not, in itself, prompt anything more dramatic than a Tivo thumbs-down.
What gets me most is the portrayal of female characters. Yes, everyone's a cardboard cliche - it's supposed to be "playing with" stock types - but I think things get nefarious where the dames are concerned. We've got Shrewish, Lying Wife; Sweet Perky Neurotic; Bitchy Cheerleader; Tracy Flick-esque Nerd; Strong Black Woman. Sure, Lynch's over-the-top psycho-coach is watchable, but only because she is, not because there's any more nuance to her. And all of whom orbit around Main Guy, who is apparently perfect, and a saint. Also saintly: football QB. Both are being manipulated by women in their lives while worshipful Perfect Women wait in the wings to ease their burdens.
I also think it's becoming irresponsible to reiterate high school cliches, thereby reinforcing them. Nerds = glee club. Popular kids = cheerleaders. A show like Freaks and Geeks or Friday Night Lights plays with these ideas with a lot more nuance and sensitivity, whereas Glee simply adds another brick to the status quo. It's cheap and it's disingenuous. And portrayal of the world of the Dramatic Underclass was done a lot better by the movie Camp, which you may not have seen - but I'm guessing this show's creators did. That film was flawed, but it had ambition and heart. Glee makes a pretense of this, but I never feel it.
Cougartown and Glee are both hits because people watch bad shows all the time. In the case of Cougartown, though, it wears its offensive, repulsive trashiness on its sleeve. Look at the title; this isn't a program that's going to advance women's position in society. Glee pretends to be more, but in its way I find it just as offensive. And the more so because it pretends to care.