Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Joy of Glee

Glee, the hottest show on television, gives us a bunch of self-absorbed bratty high school kids, a deliciously snarky cheerleading coach, a doe-eyed Gene Kelly-wannabe Glee Club director, divorce, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, Jew jokes and Down Syndrome.

And if that wasn't enough juiciness for prime-time it also gives us something rare and unusual: music. Lots and lots of wonderfully arranged and choreographed song and dance renditions of both classic and contemporary hits. A prime example of this genius is Tuesday's absolutely brilliant fusion of "Singin' in the Rain" with Rihanna's "Umbrella," which featured a radiant Gwyneth Paltrow in a surprise television role. This hip-hop mash-up literally got me off the couch dancing like a fool with my 6-year-old daughter, who thinks the Emmy-winning Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester is the coolest person since Elmo.

If Hollywood had a brain in its collective Jose Eber-coiffed head it would take note of the show's ginormous success and understand why 13-million viewers each week flock to their TVs like stray cats to a bowl of milk. It's the music. Americans are starving for musicals, the long-lost art form. While this genre continues to thrive on Broadway, it's all but disappeared in film and television.

Somewhere along the line the arrogant nincompoops who run Hollywood decided that they knew best what audiences wanted, and it wasn't musicals. You can also throw westerns, another dying genre, into this bucket of near-extinction The moguls decided that what viewers wanted was big budget comic book superhero movies and reality shows. 'Just give 'em more Spiderman and Housewives.' And so began the colossal dumbing-down of film and television programming.

Despite experiencing the tremendous success of simple pleasures like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, High School Musical and Deadwood, the industry just falls right back into its pattern of cookie-cutter offerings. It sees the success of these projects as an anomaly, not a trend-setting barometer. It's as if they're saying to us, "It's just a fluke that you like this stuff. We know that what you really want is more Batman and Survivor."

And then there's Glee. Huge kudos to its creators for being truly creative and innovative. For giving people across all generations spectacular, intelligent original entertainment. The program delivers on every conceivable level. It makes you laugh, cry, think, get angry, sing out loud and, well, dance like a fool in your living room. So why isn't there more ground-breaking programming like this on television?

What Glee shows us is that viewers still hunger for quality. For originality. For something different. For shows that break the mold and succeed in turning old-fashioned into new-fashioned. I'm not saying it's easy, but that's why they're sitting on the studio lot and I'm sitting on my couch. They get paid way too much dough to give us so much brainless fare like the Kardashians.

Another distressing sign came this week as CBS announced the canceling of its long running show Medium, another terrific program with almost 7-million viewers. My money's on some cheaply produced reality show taking its place.

Thank God for cable...and Glee.

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