This summer I watched the glorious pilot episode of “Glee,” a sharp, funny and moving TV show about a charming Spanish teacher’s attempt to start a glee club from a band of high school misfits. When the choir director is fired, Will Schuester seizes the opportunity to relive his own high school years as a member of the school’s 1993 national champion glee club by starting up a new group. But 1993 is a long time ago, and the cheerleaders (or “Cheerios,” as they’re called) rule the high school now.
Thus, the only kids who show up to audition are those who don’t belong anywhere else, outfitted with all the traditional markers of rejection in a suburban high school: homosexuality, disability, minority, overachievement and a stutter. Schuester takes them all, and together they attempt to make a name for themselves, and for glee. Although the pilot episode occasionally leaned toward the sappy, the smart writing and moments of absolutely hilarious snarkiness (“You think this is hard? Try being waterboarded; that’s hard,” shouts the cheerleading coach during practice) elevated “Glee” from just another “High School Musical” to a witty show full of characters who transcend their stereotypes.
And honestly, even the sap was winning. The first episode ends with Schuester depressed and about to abandon glee club, quit his job as a teacher, and become an accountant to better provide for his wife and their unborn child. He walks sadly down the hallway, making one last pass by the auditorium to remember the glory of his own days in glee, when the faint sound of music makes him pause. Curious, he peers into the room.
Lined up on the stage, in matching outfits, are the kids of glee, and in perfect harmony they’re singing the opening bars of “Don’t Stop Believing.” Finn, the popular football player with a secret passion for music, reluctantly recruited by Schuester, steps up to take lead vocals: “Just a small town girl …” Rachel, the overachieving aspiring star joins in on “Just a city boy …” and seriously, you guys, I’m crying. Add in the kid in the wheelchair shredding a guitar solo, coordinated dance moves, and the tears in Schuester’s eyes when he sees the performance of the glee club he almost abandoned, and I’m so sold on this show I’m already planning my fall class schedule around it.
But then I watched the second episode.
And … it kind of sucked. Okay, it had moments that harkened back to the brilliance of the pilot, mostly featuring Jane Lynch as the demonic cheerleading coach (To Schuester: “You do with your misfit group of kids what I did with my wealthy, elderly mother: euthanize it.”). Mostly, though, I winced my way through the awkwardness of a show that had forgotten the brilliance of its own subtlety.
Most tellingly, the musical anchor of this episode was a far cry from the heartbreaking “Don’t Stop Believing” in the pilot. After attending a meeting of the high school’s popular celibacy club in an attempt to win over Finn, Rachel determines that the entire school is sexually repressed, and she can exploit this weakness to recruit more people for glee club. Fair enough. So she rejects the disco hit Schuester’s picked out for the their performance at the school pep rally, and brings the club together in secret to rehearse a new song. “We’re gonna give them what they want,” she explains, “Sex!”
But instead of actually giving them anything even remotely sexy, the glee club performs a painfully awkward series of gyrations to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It.” Yeah. It reminded me of Abigail Breslin dancing to “Superfreak” in “Little Miss Sunshine,” except with none of the funny and all of the WEIRD.
Weird or not, I will give “Glee” another chance. I saw so much potential in the first episode, and I won’t stop believing — for now.