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For Science: Experiencing Glee, All In One Sitting

By  · Published on January 11th, 2010

Sometimes, there is work to be done. And sometimes, the world needs a hero. That work is science, and I am the world’s hero. Late in the year 2009, I was reminded of the fact that I run a major entertainment website – a movie blog of sorts. And for years, I’ve steered this flickering ship with a knowledge of film, television and pop culture that is passable. But there is a lot out there that I’m yet to experience. Shows I’ve avoided, movies I’ve passed on, and all for good reason (at the time). And lately I find myself challenged by outside sources (readers, the FSR staff, etc) to get out there and round out my knowledge. To take on the task of watching things that are outside my comfort zone, not in my wheel-house. It has me wondering: what is a wheel-house, anyway?

It brings us to my new column for 2010, For Science. Every Monday I will take on a new task. Taken from reader suggestions (email them to me, folks) and challenges from other writers, I will sit down and take myself to new places. And then I will chronicle that journey, for science. The rules: the task must be able to be complete in one Saturday afternoon (12-hours) and it must be film or television related.

This Week’s Experiment: Journal the watching of season one, volume one of Glee on DVD in one sitting.

The folks at Fox were kind enough to drop this DVD set in my mailbox after its release last week, and like my recent discovery of who the hell Lady Gaga is, I’ve now been enlightened to the phenomenon of a little show about a high school show choir. We had one of those at my high school, so this should be cake. A quick in and out, with no damage to my manhood or my rep as a cool guy, right?

One Episode In…

At its onset, Glee is a schlocky little show. Full of heightened-reality in its characters, its dance numbers and its over-the-top cheerleading coach Sue, played by Jane Lynch. She’s the draw for me, a guy who’s steered clear of this singing, dancing smile-a-thon. But under the surface, I’m finding some energy here. In the first episode, we’re given some things to like. A super-cute Jayma Mayes as a quirky, doe-eyed guidance counselor with a germ problem, a high maintenance student with some MySpace issues and a classic cliche, a jock who dreams of something more. Sure, there’s plenty of schmaltz – and plenty of Stephen Tobolowsky scene-stealing – but I’m beginning to warm. My resolve it still strong through, as Glee is sappy and glossy, but possibly fun. Fun enough to make my way onward.

Two Episodes In…

I find it hilarious that this show is set in Ohio. Seems appropriate. And any show that includes this little exchange is a winner in my mind:

Sue (Jane Lynch): “Have an iron tablet. Keeps your strength up while your are menstruating.”
Will (Matthew Morrison): “I don’t menstruate.”
Sue: “Yeah? Neither do I.”

Jane Lynch is the reason to watch this show, in my mind. I’m searching for more. Still have a giant crush on Jayma Mayes, but there are plenty of the other places to see her. Though in this show, she hits a lot of great comedic beats, as does the show’s star Matthew Morrison. But the one thing that this show is getting right, two episodes in, is the dissection of high school cliches. They’re amplified by the kitschiness the surrounds these characters, but its there – in layers. And I don’t want to be the one to admit this, but the humor and the acapella soundtrack hit the mark. There was, in my watching of this second episode, a bit of toe-tapping and laughter. Perhaps the funniest part of the show is the celibacy club, explored in this episode for the first time. Now that’s good satire.

Five Episodes In…

After watching five episodes of Glee, I can safely say that I can see it for what it really is: Flight of the Conchords for the estrogen set. The musical numbers are energized, and often hilarious. Though unlike Conchords, which rides high on its original music, the characters in this show use pop music to belt out their feelings. But really, can any original piece to “Bust Your Windows,” as performed by the dynamite Amber Riley? And as the season turns the corner there are a lot of feelings flying around – and a lot of social issues being addressed. This show is like a modern day Saved by the Bell, but for the ADD generation that also holds dear High School Musical. And as I return from the trance of watching an episode featuring a guest appearance from the ever spunky (and mind-meltingly sexy) Kristin Chenoweth, I’m aware of not only a lightness in Glee, but a darkness as well. Such a box of gifts, yet to be unwrapped.

Eight Episodes In…

I can feel Slushie on my face. This show has invaded my subconsious, and now my toes tap randomly to the beat of “Don’t Stop Believin’” while I search for my own adorable axe-wielding kid in a wheelchair to be my bandmate. I’m no Finn Hudson, but I do have a few steps down. I’m going to keep on rockin’ Acafellas style as the season rolls into the home stretch.

Nine Episodes In…

Even though the season’s ninth episode is a schmaltz-fest about loving thy fellow man, and helping those less fortunate than yourself (weaved expertly through the stories of both the Glee club and their teacher, Will), I’m intrigued by the darkly comedic elements to this show. It is at times black, and more than refreshing. Who knew that the combination of singing, dancing teenagers and a psychotic wife at-home storyline would be so engrossing. Will seriously needs to learn his better half’s big secret and kick that bitch the curb.

Eleven Episodes In…

I am surprised at how much of a breeze these first eleven episodes have been. This show really moves with an energy that is all its own. I dare not say it, but I can see myself watching these episodes again at some point in the future. Even the filler episodes, like ten and eleven. A full episode dedicated to a girl with a crush on the teacher? Lame. Unless combined with a prior story of a girl who had a crush on the same teacher, leading her to burn a hole in her esophagus. This show continues to prove brave in the places it will go for the joke. And it does so with a straight face and a beat.

Twelve Episodes In…

This show is absurd. Its absurd moments are those that play out subtly, and deliver the show’s dark observational humor. It is also a very sweet look at the modern teen experience. What it’s like to grow up gay with Mike O’Malley as a father. What it’s like to be the head cheerleader, then get knocked up and start a love triangle with two able-bodied, tonally talented jocks. As I said, it is Saved by the Bell with awesome song and dance numbers. And I would argue that Iqbal Theba’s Principal Figgins is a contemporary Mr. Belding. Dennis Haskins would be proud of his Indian brother in educational excellence.

Thirteen Episodes In…

I suppose there’s an expected result as I watch the credits roll on episode thirteen. Glee is a popular show for a reason. It appeals to a wide demo, appearances be damned. It’s a digestible show, but one with layers. It takes on everything we all remember from our high school days. It takes on things that have never, and will never happen in a high school. And it mixes well. It has ridden into the mainstream on the shoulders of fun characters driven by an immensely charismatic cast and writing that is razor-sharp. And as I sit here exhausted, writing out the final words of this monumental first step toward great entertainment-based scientific exploration, I realize that I’ve done so to the sounds of the Glee soundtrack. I don’t even remember buying it from iTunes. Intriguing…

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)