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David Lister

David Lister: High-school dramas that always have to contain a lesson

In the final episode of the first series of Glee last Monday, it was revealed that the bitchy teacher Sue Sylvester was writing a memoir called I'm a Winner, and You're Fat. I'd like to think that it was this sort of acerbic humour that has made this series so compelling, and which changed Chris Martin's mind a few days later and persuaded him to let the TV show use music by his band Coldplay.

But it's more likely that he simply realised belatedly that Coldplay should join nearly every other superstar rock act on the planet in craving an episode of the most talked-about show of the year.

Glee has been the perfect recession series. Unlike the beautiful specimens that peopled previous, good high-school series such as The OC and Gossip Girl, this story of a school musical club has a leading lady with a prominent nose, a disabled teenager in a wheelchair, a fat girl, and so on. And it is set not in New York or LA but in Ohio. The students battle against adversities of all sort to put on spectacular song-and-dance numbers, resurrecting a number of rock careers off-screen every time their music is played.

The series is given the vital added ingredient in the often witty script and characters, like the villainous Sue Sylvester, who runs the cheerleading squad. She is determined to see the end of her colleague's glee club, and enlists the help of the slightly surreal Asian-American headteacher, whom she is able to blackmail because he thinks he has had an affair with her after seeing pictures of the two of them in bed.

This is all clearly a cut above your average high-school series, and I've been a fan since day one, but I do wonder if it is now de rigueur for any American TV series to come with messages and stereotypes. We have the disabled teenager, the gay teenager, the pregnant teenager, the black teenager, the teenager searching for her mother. Even Sue Sylvester is given a secret Down's syndrome sister to whom she is wonderful, to show that she has a heart. Heart is what this series is all about. And it can be wearing, as when the pregnant teenager and the fat, black teenager, formerly enemies, suddenly become friends as they realise that they both know what it is like to be minorities.

Perhaps that's why as I watched a re-run of Monday's finale I thought of this week's Bafta Television Lecture. Stephen Fry, who gave the lecture, said that television drama suffered from "infantilism" and that "if you are an adult, you want something surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong".

He wasn't talking about Glee, which fulfils some of those criteria. But I would add to his observations a lament that that even one of the most enjoyable new TV series, which actually is quirky and surprising, feels obliged to ram home its messages and turn characters into stereotypes. That too, even in a light-hearted high school series, is infantilising and misunderstands the true nature of drama. I would love to see an episode of Glee written by Mike Leigh.

Orange protest goes unnoticed

A week and a half on from the Orange Prize, I'm still waiting to see if the committee is minded to set up a debate that I would love to hear following some comments by the revered South African writer Nadine Gordimer.

A winner of both the Booker Prize (in 1974, for The Conservationist) and the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1991), Ms Gordimer gave a talk a few days before the Orange Prize at which she confided that she had previously been put on the shortlist for the award but had told her publisher to take her off. She hated the idea of a prize for women writers, she revealed. "You might as well have a prize for writers with blond hair," she said.

I'm surprised that the Orange Prize organisers seem unaffected by so revered a figure refusing to have anything to do with them. Is that not worth pause for thought? The prize's organisers love arranging talks and debates. Surely they should invite Nadine Gordimer to put forward her view publicly.

A bit of Brazilian sparkle off the pitch

The most thrilling piece of football I have seen during the World Cup was at the South Bank Centre's Brazil festival. In the show Brazil! Brazil!, the champion freestyle footballer Arthur Mansilla gives a solo display of ball control, juggling, acrobatics and what looks like levitation, doing things with a football that Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and co might only dream of. Some of the World Cup TV programmes and chat shows could liven up their coverage by giving this boy a slot.

It was impressive at the same show to see the Brazilian singer/dancer Paloma Gomes doing more costume changes than Beyoncé on a good night. Miss Gomes was the only woman in the show and had to take on a lot of roles. Was this ego, or maybe an exclusivity contract? The director tells me that the reason was rather more prosaic. There should have been three women, but two failed to get past the Heathrow visa staff and were sent back to Rio. That's showbiz these days, I'm afraid.