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

Related Topics

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.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing