When it comes to the musical arts, I have to admit that I am quite lacking. I’m a novice in regards to musical theatre, and I am far from knowledgeable about popular music from my own era, let alone from decades prior. So it might seem unusual that I consider myself among the many who enjoy Glee, a show about a high school glee club populated by misfits which combines both of those elements and adds a large dose of teen drama to boot. But not only is Glee fun, it appeals to me on both artistic and intellectual levels as well.
The vast majority of fictional TV shows and films attempt to mimic reality. This does not necessarily mean that they are realistic or that they could be confused for anything but fiction, but that they attempt to create a simulacrum of the real world to facilitate their audiences’ suspension of disbelief, whether it’s Law & Order, The Expendables, or The Andy Griffith Show. Glee is different. Whereas most other shows want you to ignore their existence as “television programs,” Glee revels in the fact that it is fiction first, a portrayal of high school second. The method of characterization, the cinematography, the storylines, the acting, and, yes, even the music, all work together to create an experience where the viewer can practically see the strings and enjoy it for that reason. Its candor is something I can really appreciate, and when watching it I can feel myself picking up on the clever elements of its production while also engaging its story and characters.
Going back to how Glee fosters its self-image as fiction, I want to highlight how characterization is handled in particular. Let’s take Rachel Berry, the talented singer so driven by the pursuit of perfection that she can be incredibly abrasive even to the few friends that she has. In one episode, you learn that she is so constantly focused that she wakes up early every morning to the tune of Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride” and jumps on an elliptical for half an hour while staring at a self-made motivational note. Here, you can see how the show really exaggerates her personality traits almost to the point of tangibility. Other good examples include Sue Silvester, the cheerleading coach so Social-Darwinist in her beliefs and so ruthless in her methods that she practically comes across as a supervillain, Emma Pillsbury, the attractive guidance counselor whose neurotic obsession with cleanliness leaves her incapable of eating her own lunch without wearing gloves, and Kurt Hummel, a male soprano so accustomed to being bullied that he can plan his day around it and still remain outspoken. However, while these aspects make up a good portion of their characters, it doesn’t dominate their portrayals. They’re still allowed to grow and develop over the course of the series, and maybe learn an important lesson or two along the way.
If anything, the characterization in Glee reminds me of how many anime and manga approaches characters. There is a similar sense of over-the-top portrayals that are still able to create strong emotional connections and give room for genuine character growth that you might see in 70s sports shoujo (Aim for the Ace!, Swan) or the works of Imagawa Yasuhiro (G Gundam, Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still). In fact, I think that if someone were to adapt Glee into an anime, they would barely have to change a thing, and I mean that in the best way possible.
So despite the fact that I can’t recognize songs 9 out of 10 times unless they’re anime-related, I can recommend Glee. Well, at least the first season. I’ve yet to experience the second.