The Wife:

I’d be lying if I said that the pilot of Ryan Murphy’s Glee was perfect. It was far from it, but so much of the show is so winning that it’s easy to overlook its few flaws and fully embrace it. It’s not a silly musical in the slightest. Ryan Murphy has always treated music with much more respect than that, even when he’s being ironic or cheeky during surgeries on Nip/Tuck. On that show, the surgery music is used to dig deeply into something as seemingly superficial as plastic surgery. Sometimes it’s funny (such as the use of Don McLean’s “Vincent” during a surgery in which Rosie O’Donnell as Dawn Budge gets a transplant ear grown on a mouse’s back . . . it’s a long story), and sometimes it’s incredibly moving (to this day, I can’t hear Leo Delibes “Flower Duet” without thinking about conjoined twins Rose and Raven Rosenburg, who died after their separation surgery and asked to be put back together when they were buried).

On Glee, the music functions as it should in any great musical: it’s intended to give us an insight into the characters, and I can think of no better example of this than Lea Michele’s (Broadway’s Spring Awakening) audition song for the new glee club, “On My Own” from Les Miserables. I hate Les Mis, but to hear Rachel Berry sing it while hearing about her backstory was the most sublime use of that song. You see, despite the fact that Rachel’s two gay dads raised her to be an overachiever and to strive to be known in the world because “being anonymous is worse than being poor,” she’s lambasted by her peers for being talented, for being different. She posts daily MySpace videos of herself singing in her bedroom, all of which receive comments from her peers basically suggesting she should kill herself (cyberbullying that would probably destroy someone with less self-confidence). She also often has things thrown at her, because for as much of a type-A personality as she is, Rachel is, in fact, on her own. She might be a little cocky and a little dogged in her quest to be special, as evidenced by her claim that the former glee club director molested the boy he gave Rachel’s solo to, but there is something in her that deserves to be recognized for who she is. And there is a tremendous sadness in the fact that no one sees her specialness but her . . . and her two gay dads.

Glee: what this show will be filling me with Wednesday nights at 9 in the fall.

Glee: what this show will be filling me with Wednesday nights at 9 in the fall.

So with the former glee club director out of the picture and the club in danger of being shut down, Matthew Morrison’s Spanish teacher Will Shuster decides he should take over. After all, Will sees that these kids need a place where they won’t be bullied, and where they can cultivate their talent. But as usual, the activities in which the popular kids reign get more funding, especially The Cheerios, the cheer team coached by Jane Lynch, which receives the bulk of the school’s budget because they keep winning national competitions and bringing the school a lot of press, which ultimately means more funding. So Will is allowed to operate glee club, recently renamed New Directions (which is weird for me, because that’s the name of a counseling center that a friend I know from high school theatre works for), on a $60 budget, which struck me as incredibly realistic given the dire nature of arts education in America, by which I mean, the lack thereof. But even that $60 budget eventually gets cut and Will is asked to run New Directions with his own $60, something that is, for him, very difficult because he lives off his teaching salary and his wife’s 12-hours-a-week job at Sheets and Stuff.

We meet a lot of characters over the course of this hour-long pilot, but even though there are some of the glee kids we don’t know all that well, I’d say that Jessalyn Gilsig’s Terri is the least well-drawn. Terri is obsessed with an idea of womanhood that allows her to contribute little to her marriage and spend all of her time crafting and decorating. She’s largely just a stand-in for the thing that’s holding Will back from what he really wants from life. But that said, I think Jessalyn Gilsig, as always, turns in a brilliant performance of very little material. I mean, this is a woman who nearly suffocated her own daughter in a cargo hold (on Heroes) and, more importantly, a woman who got fucked off a building (on Nip/Tuck). I am certainly not used to her playing someone demure, and she creates a sort of quiet insanity in Terri that makes her seem both utterly unreal and yet absolutely the kind of woman who thinks her life should be what she sees in magazines. She is deeply shallow, and I think there’s something exceptional about placing a character like that amongst so many other deeply real people. She’s a wonderful contrast.

[Husband Note: Gilsig also did wonders with the quite poorly written role of teacher Lauren “The Nun” Davis on Boston Public, as well an incredible job as the oblivious sister-in-law-party-girl-way-past-her-prime on Friday Night Lights. She’s not the best actor, but she’s a serviceable television performer, and that’s good enough for me.]

Because Terri won’t give Will an extra $60 a month to run glee club (as she’d rather spend it on trinkets from Pottery Barn and crafts), he tries to drum up more membership around the school, taking guidance counselor Emma’s (the lovely and talented Jayma Mays) advice to recruit a few popular kids into glee club, and the rest will follow. He tries to get a few Cheerios in the club, but Jane Lynch’s Sue refuses to give up her girls, setting up a rivalry between the glee kids and the cheerleaders that I’m sure will continue throughout the series. But then, by a stroke of luck, he catches football star Finn singing in the shower, and blackmails him into joining glee club by “planting” some weed from the Chronic Lady (the former glee club director’s new profession: dealing weed) in his locker and telling him that he can spend six weeks in detention (which Will is now running, unpaid, due to budget cuts) which will go on his permanent record, or he can join glee. There was a moment in this scene that I truly loved because it was very representative of how Glee likes to play with cliches from high school movies. Will tells Finn that if he chooses detention, it’ll stay on his permanent record and they’ll take away his football scholarship. Finn asks, incredulously, “I got a football scholarship? To where?” And because that’s just something Will said because he heard it in a movie, he continues on, “You could go places, son.”

With Finn in the club, Will takes New Directions to see the current national show choir champions, and Emma decides to chaperone, as Terri has already turned Will down for some crafting-related outing. Emma, who clearly likes Will, is something of a germaphobe, a trait Jayma Mays does not play up for comic effect, but rather allows into the open with a kind of reserved sadness. In addition to cleaning surfaces in the teacher’s lounge with disposable gloves before she eats off of them, she brings her own food, even to public events, ands he and Will have a conversation about the state of his marriage to Terri over a peanut butter sandwich prior to the choir concert. Over that sandwich, which he says he never gets to eat because Terri is allergic to nuts, he confesses that he’s not entirely happy with his marriage. There’s just something about his relationship with Terri that isn’t working, but he rationalizes that it’s okay because he does love her, and he does want to have children with her, even if they aren’t totally happy. If you want to know why they’re not happy, look at the scene in which Terri makes Will do a puzzle with her in her craft room while she tells him it’s important for him to have a creative outlet, while in the same breath telling him that she doesn’t want him to run glee club because they don’t make enough money with him teaching. She’d rather he be an accountant, the epitome of jobs that lack creativity.

The rival choir puts on a ridiculous performance of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” which is stunningly choreographed and sounds great, but is obviously wildly inappropriate for a high school choir to sing and is incredibly funny if you absolutely don’t ever take your mind off of the lyrics. You just can’t do choreographed lifts when you’re singing a line like, “I’m gonna lose my baby / so I always keep a bottle near me.” (On the other hand, though, I think you absolutely can sing “I Kissed a Girl” for a glee club audition, because that’s just funny.) Clearly, a performance of that caliber is intimidating, but that’s not all of the problems facing New Directions. Finn’s teammates find out that he’s been lying to them about where he had to go when he missed practice. They are not pleased that he pretended his mom was having prostate surgery, and pelt him with paintballs. (“Chicks don’t have prostates. I looked it up.”) Finn eventually stands up to his football teammates when he finds that they’ve locked the wheelchair kid in a port-a-potty, telling them that, like Troy Bolton in High School Musical, he’s not going to choose between being a jock and being a singer. He’s going to do both. “Because you can’t win without me, and neither can they,” he snarls.

And when Terri announces that she’s pregnant, Will quits, following his wife’s suggestion to apply for a job at an accounting firm, leaving his newly formed club without a mentor. Emma tries to talk some sense into him, setting him up with a guidance appointment with her when she catches him filling out an accounting application at H.L. Mencken (oddly, named after a writer and literary critic for the Baltimore Sun who had some interesting ideas on elitism within social classes, rather than a traditional class or race-based social hierarchy . . . I must miss Lost a lot if I’m looking for these kind of references on other shows). Emma shows Will a video of the year the school’s glee club won nationals. It was 1993, and Will was in that choir. And he was happy. She asks him if providing money for his wife and child is really the same thing as providing them happiness, but being a man of his word, he heads off, presumably never to return.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Finn have taken over New Directions and have recruited the jazz band to help them stage their first performance, with Mercedes doing costumes, Rachel choreographing and Finn doing vocal arrangements. As Will heads down the eternal hallway, he hears them singing strains of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” another instance of perfect music choice. Not only does it serve as a ballad for these kids who just want to believe they’re good at something, but for soloists Finn and Rachel, those opening lines serve as portraits of themselves. Never before have I been teary-eyed hearing someone sing, “Just a small town girl / Living in a lonely world” or the phrase “S/he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere” until last night. They took that song, and made it transcendent – enough to make me believe in the beauty, sadness, humor and joy of this little show and enough to convince Will not to leave, but to remain with New Directions.

This is a show about lonely, sad people, trying to find something that actually makes them happy, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t made happy by music. So even for those of you who don’t really like or get musicals, know that Glee is simply about people trying to find happiness, and that happiness is achieved through music. I also take that last song as something of a plea to those of us who watched Glee and everyone at FOX, executives who clearly believe in taking a risk like this enough to promote it now and schedule it for Wednesdays at 9 p.m. throughout next season, picking up on SYTYCD results shows and Idol results shows as a built-in audience. FOX wants us to believe in Glee, and I do. Your Journey-infused plea has not fallen on deaf ears, Ryan Murphy.

I believe, I believe, I believe. Oh, I believe.

Some other notes:

  • “I’m Beyonce! I aint’s no Kelly Rowland.” – Really, Mercedes? Because you seemed so happy to be asked to do costumes later in the episode. Are you sure you don’t want to host The Fashion Show on Bravo?
  • For as much of a monster as I think Jessalyn Gilsig’s Terri is, she’s really funny. Two winners from her: “If my diabetes comes back I can’t get pregnant” and “Don’t go in the Christmas Closet!”
  • I’m told the first episode aired in the fall will be a re-edited pilot. My first edit: eliminating the references to MySpace and replacing it with something more culturally relevant. Like the word, “Facebook.” Or maybe even “YouTube” in some cases.
  • Spring Awakening fans, that last line was for you.


The Husband:

I honestly thought we were going to wait to review this show until the fall, but as it stands, here it is.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to find many parallels, mostly in tone and narration, between Glee and Alexander Payne’s biting 1999 high school satire Election. Not only do we get some wonderfully insightful yet overly self-centered internal monologues from our main characters at only the most opportune times, and also revel in both the show’s insistence on clichés and its subversion of them, but Cory Montheith, the actor who plays Finn, bears a striking resemblance to a young Chris Klein. (You know, before Chris Klein started sucking.)

This is quite a show, just from the pilot, what with its heightened emotions, its parody of high school affectations, its very focused jokes and, of course, the usage of Journey. True, there were some considerable lulls, and I thought the Finn transformation happened way too early, but there is definitely something special about this show. A dramedy of the highest order, I hope it helps brings even more respect to the musical form.

And on that, some might argue this isn’t a musical. Yes it is. It’s just not a “traditional musical.” People don’t have to break out into song, but simply have the music define much of the piece itself. And Ryan Murphy, as my wife pointed out, is very specific about his song choices, so “Don’t Stop Believin’” as sung by Finn and Rachel, knowing what we know about them, defines who they are, amplifies their backstory, and fits perfectly into this world. Sounds like a musical to me. Definitely as much of a musical as Cabaret.

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The Wife:

Ah, love! What better gift could I have been given by the CW than a 90210 Valentine’s Day episode? In the spirit of all things lovey-dovey, here are “9 Adorably Lame Things About This Week’s 90210:

1. Silver in love. I’m glad she had a line that explained how being in love was turning her into a “completely different person,” because I would never have guessed from the oh-so-subtle costuming changes or Jessica Stroup’s acting. Since when does being in love make you shed your hardcore rocker chick look and start wearing navy and white striped jumpers and putting your hair up like a little girl? I mean, Stroup looks cute in whatever you throw on her tiny little body, but really, wardrobe folks, your intention surely wasn’t to infantalize Silver, was it? If it was, why? That outfit aside, Silver was pretty adorable in this episode in her foray into being a nice, genuine person who just wants to show Dixon she loves him, Beverly Hills style.

2. I have never heard the phrase “cheesy goober” so much in such a short period of time. That is a truly lame phrase, but despite its appearance 3 times in 20 seconds, I think it worked in service of what was going on with Silver’s character in this episode.

3. Not adorable in any way: talking smack about your ex while she’s in earshot, Navid. That’s really uncool. In fact, it’s a super lame thing to do. However, I think Navid made up for it sufficiently in his very sincere apology to Adriana at the candy shop.

4. And then he follows that up by stopping by Adriana’s place after the Valentine’s dance she declined to go to (you know, due to being pregnant and all), and telling her that she’s a mess, but even so, he still wants her to be his Valentine. Ooh, yay! Now they can be just like Amy and Ben over on Secret Life! And he’ll totally defend her and stuff when people pick on her. And then he’ll get all attached and want to raise her baby with her. And then they’ll have an illegal secret wedding! Honestly, this was very sweet in theory, but lacked any punch due to chronic underdevelopment of Navid’s character on the writer’s part, thus making it ever so slightly lame. But he is wearing a really awesome sweater during this scene. And that’s pretty adorable.

5.  Annie, I get that acting is your passion and you want to be goord at it, but in addition to your acting teacher’s advice about accessing your own emotions to bring the character you’re playing to life, you also need to find yourself some good material to work with. Why in God’s name would you choose a monologue from Les Miserables? Les Miz sucks. It’s quite possibly one of the lamest shows I’ve ever seen. And how can you, at 16, possibly know what the hell Fantine was going through? If Annie, in all her corn-fed senses of quality, taste and style, really wanted to pick something from Les Miz, why not something from Cosette? Or even Eponine? An acting audition is just like a singing audition. You’ve got to have the right song choice. And you’ve got to have the right monologue.

6. Oh, man, could Rhonda’s story about being asked to the school dance on a dare have been anymore melodramatic? Seriously, girlfriend, if that makes you want to kill yourself, you definitely need to be in therapy because you have some serious self-esteem and identity issues. And I fucking adored the lame little inserts of Rhonda telling that story at the Peach Pit as Annie appropriates it to show that she can access emotions from her past in her acting class! Amazing! Truly, the greatest art 90210 has ever displayed is that sequence. And Ethan coming in at the end? Priceless. Just. Priceless.

7. I miss PodPerson Ethan, because Rhonda-loving Ethan is a major downer. Maybe I’m a jackass for thinking this, but even though Rhonda told Ethan and Annie that story “in confidence,” I’m totally fine with Annie using it as a monologue in her class. I mean, clearly the worst thing that’s ever happened to Annie was the thing with her Secret Brother Who Isn’t Her Brother At All trying to swindle her family, so if learning to relate to Rhonda helps her with her craft, more power to her. She never said Rhonda’s name, and none of the people in Annie’s class would ever know that it was Rhonda’s story at all. In a way, she’s really protecting Rhonda’s, uh, “secret,” by turning it in to an artistic endeavor, something that is real without necessarily being true. Whatever. I’m talking out my ass. If Rhonda’s not going to use that story, someone should. It’s a fucking gem of an after-school special if ever there was one.

8. Adorable: Naomi’s crush on the new bartender at her hotel, Liam. Also adorable: Liam. What a nice guy, standing up for the waitstaff and flirting with Naomi. It’s lame that he stood her up for their poolside V-Day date, but even lamer that he somehow blames her for the twist to this plot: Liam is also in high school, and now that he’s been found out, he actually has to return to high school. In summary, Naomi sent a bottle of champagne to Liam’s house, which his mom had to sign for, which is how she knew he was working instead of going to school. What the fuck? Seriously. I appreciate you twisting this around on me, but why spring it on me so soon? And why do it in the most convoluted way? Sorry you don’t really like school, Liam, but seriously, graduate high school. It’s the least you can do. And don’t take the fact that you’re dumb enough to live with your mom and “pretend” to go to school out on Naomi. Your mom was gonna find out eventually. Like when your W2s come in the mail. And when your report card suddenly stopped showing up. Dumbass.

9. I’m glad to know that buying Silver a basic ID bracelet is enough to make her stop freaking out and being mean to wait staff (truly an undesirable quality in a person), but even happier to know that the least thoughtful gift in the world is enough to make her want to have sex with you. And that having sex with you is enough to make her want to do the fucking lamest thing ever and get your name tattooed on her hip. Silver, you are clearly a nutcase. An adorable nutcase, but a nutcase nonetheless. I’ve been with my husband for about seven and a half years, and I do not have his name tattooed anywhere on me. And I love tattoos as much as I love him, so that should tell you how strongly I feel about getting a name tattooed on your person. Enjoy having that lasered off or covered up when Dixon inevitably breaks up with your crazy ass, Silver. Maybe she can get the word “Ticonderoga” tattooed below it and a pencil. Because, you know, she loves writing. It would be like her version of Johnny Depp’s “Wino Forever” tattoo.

Bitch, you crazy!

Bitch, you crazy!

And One Really Awesome Thing About This Week’s 90210:

1. It was just a fleeting moment, but I loved Naomi’s pep talk to Adriana about how her pregnancy is benefiting her, saying that her skin and hair have never looked better, and that her boobs are huge. Here’s hoping we should all get such shiny, thick hair while pregnant, because the boobs are a given.

The Husband:

I don’t have an awesome thing about this week’s 9fneh, but I did amuse myself when I declared that at least once this season, the showrunners should allow the actors to improvise an entire episode. At least it’ll be natural that way. And Jessica Walter will probably end up in the background of every shot going “WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” …and then asking somebody to play “Misty” for her.