Glee - My big fat teenage crush

Sure, it's derivative and cliched in places. But it is also wickedly funny, unexpectedly moving and subtle. Fiona Sturges explains why she is an unabashed fan of 'Glee'

It was, I should point out, in the interests of professionalism that I first watched Glee. Obviously I would much rather have been cracking open the latest in my prized collection of Tarkovsky films. But as an arts writer it's my job to be au fait with the latest zeitgeist-surfing US television series. It's a tough job, but when it comes to lolling on the sofa and watching teen fluff on the box, you can rely on me.

On paper Glee sounded pretty rotten – an all-singing, all-dancing series about an embattled American high-school teacher called Will, and his efforts to revive his school's musical-performance club with a ragtag cast of geeks and misfits, all the while combating the derision of fellow staff and students.

Surely the last thing any of us needed was another gaggle of dysfunctional, fame-hungry, tone-deaf ne'er-do-wells vying with each other over their best impression of Mariah Carey. Hadn't we just got rid of The X Factor?

But it turns out that the makers of Glee have been brilliantly crafty in their efforts to reel us in, every last one of us. Back in the old days, family entertainment came in the guise of fusty old game shows such as The Generation Game and Ask The Family. Now we have an up-to-the-minute drama series that has in-jokes for the kids, risqué ones for the grown-ups and music for the kidults that we have all clearly become.

While Glee strikes the occasional bum note with its heart-tugging, where-did-it-all-go-wrong solos, it has created some unforgettable set-pieces using some terrific songs including Amy Winehouse's "Rehab", Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and, lest we forget, Journey's AOR classic "Don't Stop Believin'". Through these musical interludes Glee has single-handedly turned the rules of pop consumption on their head: while thirty-, forty- and fiftysomethings are now shaking their booty to Kanye West behind closed doors, tweenies are humming Journey ballads on the way to school.

While Glee utilises the success of High School Musical to ensnare its younger viewers, it awakens feelings of nostalgia in older viewers – or at least it does with this one. When I was in my early teens, the New York-set TV series Fame was at its height. It was series about the power of performance and tapped into every young girl's – and the occasional boy's – furtive desire to stop what they were doing in the middle of the street and jump on the nearest car to belt out a solo. In Glee, of course, they prefer choreographed numbers in the school canteen.

Watching it, I have found myself mourning my own school days, which in my mind are now rendered in dreary monochrome. We didn't have a drama club or a song-and-dance club, and we certainly didn't have teachers to whom we could pour our hearts out. Neither did we have – and this hurts most – long, scrupulously polished corridors lined with lockers, so perfect for re-enacting the latest pop video du jour.

Amid largely positive reviews, there has been some carping about Glee's lack of originality. There are, certainly, deliberate echoes of High School Musical, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Election. But this is a high-school comedy – its success lies not in its originality but in how it subverts the formula. Sure, there are stereotypes, but they are ones with which the scriptwriters enjoy some serious, shameless sport.

And so we have Kurt, the gay guy who is resigned to being thrown into the dumpster by the football team every morning – "One day you will all work for me," he declares as he sinks beneath the rubbish bags – and Mr Figgins, the Asian headmaster whose determination to do everything under budget leads him to turn a blind eye to the political skulduggery of his staff. There's Rachel, a "failed" bulimic and prima donna who ends her signature with a gold star. And, of course, there's the villain of the piece, the cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, who resents anything that draws focus away from her team and sets out to sabotage the Glee Club. "You do with your depressing little group of kids what I did with my wealthy, elderly mother," she tells Will. "Euthanise it."

The one-liners come thick and fast. Much of the humour sails close to the wind, on subjects such as eating disorders, disability, obesity and paedophilia. Even more startlingly, the gags are contained in a strait-laced format, and are often delivered by actors who look like they might have just stumbled out of a toothpaste ad. I nearly didn't catch the remark from Emma, the school's guidance counsellor, when she finds Rachel trying to throw up in the bathroom. "I guess I just don't have a gag reflex" said Rachel glumly. "One day when you're older that'll turn out to be a gift," came the response.

But perhaps the scriptwriters' greatest coup is in pulling off the more moving moments without recourse to theatrics. Glee is silly when it wants to be but it can also deal in subtlety. When Kurt, modelling a black-sequinned unitard, announced to his ex-footballer father that he was gay, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the explosive fall-out. It never came; his dad already knew.

At its best Glee is an impeccable collision of the romcom, the teen soap, the satire, and the late-night drama. In short, I'm hooked. As long as it's on, Tarkovsky will have to wait.

'Glee' is on E4 on Mondays


Will Schuester
A sweetly naive Spanish teacher marooned in a loveless marriage, Will hopes to bring some razzle-dazzle into his life by taking on the musical performance club.

Terri Schuester
The ultimate desperate housewife, Will's shrew-like missus feigns pregnancy to push her husband towards a more lucrative job in accountancy.

Rachel Berry
The hugely talented, monstrously ambitious, relentlessly self-promoting star of the glee club.

Emma Pillsbury
Bambi-eyed, pathologically phobic guidance-counsellor who dons surgical gloves to eat her lunch. Emma secretly loves Will, but will she ever tell him?

Sue Sylvester
Played by Jane Lynch, star of several Christopher Guest movies, Sue is the cheerleading commandant and the repository of the show's best lines.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine