Two years ago, a new word entered the vernacular: Gleek. An American high school musical comedy with a no-name cast from the pen of a man whose last major hit, Nip/Tuck, had been about two over-sexed plastic surgeons may not have seemed like a winner, but since it launched in 2009, Glee has become a global phenomenon. And it’s certainly cashing in on that success: seven best-selling soundtrack albums (and counting), a sell-out US and UK tour, more merchandise than you can shake a stick at. It’s enough to make anyone a little cynical. (Charlie Brooker has been very, very vocal in his dislike of Glee and he’s far from alone).
And, in honesty, there’s plenty to be critical about – if you’re looking. The writers appear to have only the loosest sense of plotting – whole storylines appear, are forgotten, then rather randomly resolved – and the show often favours spectacle over story. It’s also true that the second season has suffered from ‘second album syndrome’: it has clearly struggled to live up to the expectations raised by the first season, something not helped by the spotty characterisation and the fact that whole episodes have seemingly been created to generate media buzz and give good photo rather than actually advance the storyline; sometimes there seems to be very little genuine creative reasoning behind these decisions apart from the need to feed the media machine.
The show also displays an increasing tendency to be preachy in tone when dealing with ‘issues’. This is especially prevalent in the second season, where you feel that the writers are all too aware of their influence and are trying to demonstrate their responsiblity. Particular lows were the ‘Grilled Cheesus’ episode about religion and a recent ‘dangers of alcohol’ themed episode that left me needing a strong drink. And don’t get me started on the episode where, in order to pull volatile cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played with a wonderfully acerbic edge by Jane Lynch) out of a bout of depression, she was taken to a hospital to sing to children with cancer.