Last Night's Television - The Last American Freak Show, More4; Glee, E4

A school that rocks

Glee is a perfect example of why an ingredients list is often a hopeless way of judging a television programme. Let's see... what have we got on the side of the pack? American high-school setting, Football Jocks (Stupid), Cheerleaders (Catty) High-Energy Cover Versions, and Teen Romance. Exactly the same ingredient list as High School Musical essentially – that grim, Disneyfied version of Strength through Joy. Strictly speaking, it should have the same cloying, aerosol-cream taste. But it doesn't. Glee – offered in a sneak preview of next year's transmission – is terrific, a couple of tiny E number additives, such as waspish wit and camp flair having transformed the basic recipe. Indeed, it's an object lesson in how small the tweaks have to be to turn the predictable into something intriguing. When Mr Schuester, a haplessly idealistic Spanish teacher, drove up to school at the beginning of the pilot, his clunker of a car was trailing sparks from the exhaust – as the clunker cars of underpaid teachers have in a hundred high school movies. But then, as the football team moved in to dumpster an unusually well-groomed student, his plea for mercy surprised you: "Wait," he said, "this is from Marc Jacobs's new collection!" They allowed him to take it off, and then they upended him into the trash.

Mr Schuester, a prince at high school himself, yearns to recover his youthful glories and spotted a chance when the teacher running the school's glee club was sacked. In the teeth of a cynical headmaster's incredulity ("You want to captain the Titanic too?") and despite the fact that he actually had to stump up $60 a month for the privilege, he took on the job, renaming it New Directions in the hope that he could shake its loser status. His early volunteers were all high-school oddities, and included Kurt Hummel, the fey Marc Jacobs fan, Mercedes Jones, a hefty black girl who tortured Aretha Franklin's "Respect" for her audition, and Rachel Barry, an overachieving stage-school monster, who in a more predictable series would simply be an object of contempt. Rachel thinks it's sweet that "to this day" she doesn't know which of her gay dads' sperm donations gave rise to her, a little dab of character that took on extra perspective when she opened her locker and you saw cosy family snapshots of a white guy hugging a black guy. She's a starry-eyed airhead ("These days being anonymous is worse than being poor," she said earnestly) but importantly she isn't just on board to be bullied by writers who are much smarter than she is.

Mr Schuester's home life isn't perfect. His wife is a materialistic craft freak who dreams of being able to afford a working glue gun and doesn't appreciate his vocational commitment to teaching. When he popped into her part-time job to explain that he might have a few more late nights in future she was appalled by his selfishness: "But Will," she said, "I'm on my feet four hours a day, three days a week here! Now I have to go home and cook for myself?" And initially his dream that the glee club might provide a consolation looked a little forlorn. When he tried to strengthen the male voices by appealing to the football team for volunteers the only sign-ups were Gaylord Wiener and Butt Lunch. He was appalled to discover that the competition had toughened since he was a student too, with a rival school unveiling a barnstorming version of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab", a typically funny mismatch of subject matter and bobbysoxer wholesomeness. But there are signs of hope, in his attraction to Emma, a teaching colleague with a bad case of OCD, and the defection of one of the more talented jocks to the cause of close-harmony and choreography. And what you won't find anywhere on the ingredients list is the sprinkle of offhand sight gags and the happy effervescence that the whole thing gives off when you pop the cap. "By its very definition, Glee is about opening yourself up to joy," read the caption on a photograph the camera panned past in the opening minutes of the show. The sickly piety of that line would put a stake through the heart of a mediocre show. Here, it's simply a serving suggestion.

Richard Butchins's film The Last American Freak Show was a documentary road movie, tagging along with a shambolic caravan that aims, in the words of one of its founders, to "celebrate genetic diversity". Or, in the opinion of its many detractors, to exploit the disabilities of its members, who include Lobster Girl (one mildly deformed hand) and Elephant Man (who has neurofibromatosis). "It's Blair Witch meets Animal House," was how the director himself summed it up. He could have added Easy Rider and Mad Max, given the counter-culture vibe and the post-apocalyptic transport. Occasionally a bumpy ride but worth going all the way.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'