Almost every generation of TV watchers relate to a coming of age show that encapsulated their times. In the 50s and 60s shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Leave it to Beaver” mirrored viewers back to themselves albeit, in a more wholesome, sanitized package. In the 70s and 80s we had “Happy Days” with Richie Cunningham and the Fonz. The series put Richie and crew in sticky situations related to sex, manhood, and morality. “Laverne and Shirley,” put women’s situations on the entertainment map with lovable sidekicks “Lenny” and “Squiggy” providing the yang to the yin of the series leads.
Tuning in to their favorite situation comedy, viewers expected to laugh, to be entertained by outrageous circumstances, and to escape their lives for a half an hour every Tuesday night. TV fans today expect the same thing from a situation comedy, but what they don’t expect is to be presented with an uncomfortable issue from the brick and mortar world. Moreover, what show, aiming to keep their advertisers happy, would dare mix entertainment with taboo issues from modern culture, and ask their viewers to think as well as laugh. Unheard of, until “Glee.”
With “Glee” viewers get singers who sing like singing was meant to be sung. The talent is so deep there are moments of beauty that can heal a leper. Ask any “Glee” fan and they will tell you their favorite songs by a favorite cast member that produces goosebumps, a lump in the throat, or a spontaneous outburst of unintended hip shaking. Mine is the duet between Rachel (Lea Michaels) and Kurt (Chris Colfert) when they sang a mash-up of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again,” ala Streisand, and Garland, a piece of music not seen on TV since its original airing in 1963, and up until now only available on “YouTube.”
Justin Timberlake brought back “Sexy,” and “Glee” is bringing the musical back. It made a fan out of me and I hate musicals. However, the show goes beyond entertaining us, and shows us the fumbling tragedy that is teen pregnancy, the anxiety endured by bully and victim alike, and the painful stasis of what it’s like to be the “other.”
Indeed, Glee” celebrates “the other” in storyline, song, and a melting pot of characters that include the cross dressing football coach, the germaphobe student councilor, and the show’s nemesis in nylon, Coach Sue, (Jane Lynch).
For viewers wishing to escape climbing unemployment, a housing market still in free fall, and the entrenched infighting of donkey and elephant, “Glee” is not only a digital oasis of entertainment with moments of sheer beauty, it is also a weekly nod to tolerance and the higher angels of our nature.