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“Glee for Glee” by Kavita Ramdya (TV review of Fox show “Glee”)

Glee I can’t help it: I’m a self-confessed “Glee” fanatic. It’s the best show on TV… in my humble opinion. “Glee” is ironic, smart and totally entertaining. While watching “Glee”, I’m always listening for how the dialogue is going to create an opening for a musical number. I love how the cast breaks into song and dance to express teenage angst. Who knows, maybe my appreciation for “Glee” stems from my childhood watching Bollywood movies with my parents…

Click here to read Kavita Ramdya’s review of the FOX show “Glee“.

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“Glee for Glee” by Kavita Ramdya in “News India Times” Nov. 27, 2009

Imagine my surprise when I learned that “Glee”, the funniest and smartest show on television, is a Fox production. The show’s writers take repetitive high school stereotypes much abused in prime-time television and portrays these archetypes in so heavy-handed and hyperbolic a manner that the TV viewer is forced to laugh at the ridiculousness of how teenagers are portrayed in mainstream media. Irony abounds in “Glee”, differentiating it from its peers (e.g. “The Hills”) and predecessors (e.g. “The OC”, “Beverly Hills 90210”).

“Glee” contains the requisite characters necessary for a popular high school comedy including the dumb but well-mannered jock, bitchy cheerleader, goody-two-shoes, punk, flamboyant homosexual, and bossy loud mouth just to name a few. What unites these disparate characters is their membership in and commitment to their show choir, the Glee Club.  These teenagers are unique: they sing and dance like it’s nobody’s business.

Teenagers get a bad rap in mainstream media news, and Fox is no exception. On both sides of the Atlantic, adolescents are in the news for gang and drug-related crime, binge drinking, less-than-average math skills, and teenage pregnancies as a result of pre-marital sex.

“Glee”, on the other hand, celebrates the fact that teenagers “are people too”, not solely bumbling bags of hormones jostling around in human form. Instead, adolescents are what cute babies grow into and are at the awkward larval stage of the beautiful butterfly’s development: one day they will blossom into productive citizens. As revealed by President Barak Obama in his first autobiography “Dreams From my Father”, he, too, was once a teenager. He seems to have turned out okay.

The show’s writers adapt familiar high-school sitcom story lines like the dumb jock torn between dating the catty cheerleader versus the sincere nerdette and the gay teenager on the verge of coming out. However, the scenes are interspersed with short, pithy singing and dancing routines that highlight the confused, exaggerated, and totally nonsensical existence that characterizes one’s high-school years.

Whether you’re the dumb jock, catty cheerleader, sincere nerdette or flaming homosexual, the American high school experience more closely resembles fumbling and tripping through a funhouse for four years rather than smooth sailing from Freshman year homeroom to Graduation Day. The path to adulthood is not a clear one and requires navigation, presumably with the help of adults: parents and teachers. Herein lies the show’s commentary on the American family unit and the role educators play (or fail to play) for their students.

Parents are practically invisible in “Glee”. Finn, the star quarterback, briefly mentions that his mother has advised him to quit doing his homework so he can relax more (time which Finn uses to play video games). Kurt, the flamboyant soprano, comes out to his father who gets less than ten minutes of air time on one episode in the current first season. Beyond these two instances, not much more surfaces in the way of parents guiding and offering ethical, moral, educational and professional direction for their teenage sons and daughters.

Teachers and coaches, on the other hand, play a far more active role for Glee Club members. Mr. Schuester, McKinley High School’s Spanish teacher and director of Glee Club, and Ms. Sylvester, the cheerleading squad’s coach, are the two adults who play the most prominent roles in the teenagers’ lives. Considering how much time high school students spend in class and after-school activities coupled with their double-income parents’ long commutes and high-stress careers which often take them away from spending time with their family, “Glee” reasonably portrays how much more an active role teachers and coaches play in the day-to-day lives of teenagers.

Which is all the more reason why it is essential that parents, administrators and instructors alike recognise and embrace the fact that teachers and coaches inadvertently take on an unofficial responsibility of acting as mentors and role models for teenagers.

However, Mr. Schuester and Ms. Sylvester fail to live up to any standards of adult decorum. The two insult one another in front of their students, shout at each other in front of the principal, volleyball insults back and forth, and pit students against one another. Ms. Sylverster insidiously implants seeds of dissent in Glee Club members by suggesting that Mr. Schuester is racist. “Glee” not only admits but also confronts the fact that racial prejudices abound in American high schools, a phenomenon other high school shows are loath to admit. Additionally, “Glee” illuminates how adults are complicit in creating a toxic atmosphere for students who are ethnic, religious, handicapped, or gay.

“Glee” is not the first example of modern popular culture to expose the challenges in navigating one’s way through adolescence, the emotionally and psychologically damaging role adults can inadvertently play in adolescents’ lives and the unofficial responsibility educators and school administrators have in guiding students morally and ethically in addition to providing the mandatory science, math, and history lessons.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see the Tony-award winning Broadway and West End rock musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s late nineteenth-century play “Spring Awakening”. While a student at New York University, I read the original play in my German Literature class (in its English translation!) and was blown away by the honest and critical approach Wedekind takes in his morality play about school kids whose well being are only second thoughts for parents and teachers in their attempt to preserve customs, traditions and, selfishly, their own reputations.

Who knew Fox would manifest itself as the contemporary Wedekind, critiquing the widespread mis-education of high school students as a result of President George W. Bush’s support of abstinence programs? The prominent story line in “Glee” is how the President of McKinley High School’s celibacy club and head cheerleader Quinn, in a drunken stupor, has sex with her quarterback boyfriend’s best friend, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. Quinn desperately lies to Finn, her cuckold of a boyfriend, and tells him that their make-out session in a hot tub is what baked the bread in her oven. In an attempt to highlight Finn’s gullibility as well as widespread ignorance due to a lack of sex education as a result of eight years of emphasis on abstinence as a viable solution against the spread of STDs, AIDS and unwanted pregnancy, Finn is duped by his girlfriend and accepts her explanation when she tells him that the warm water in the hot tub somehow facilitated his semen entering and impregnating her.

Strong writing, social critique and sexual politics aside, “Glee” is also an exceptional show purely for its entertainment value. The dialogue is hilarious, characters are caricatures, and the intertwining plots momentous. However, let’s not forget the final ingredient which differentiates the show from its equally-exceptional peers such as AMC’s “Mad Men” and ABC’s “Cougar Town”. The TV viewer waits with anticipation for when the Glee Club, without any rhyme or reason, breaks into song and dance sequences much like the stars in a Bollywood movie. And, as in Bollywood films where the leading man and lady are suddenly transported to the green mountains of Switzerland, characters in “Glee” may suddenly find themselves transported from their lockers to the football field. The talent put into “Glee” is not limited to its writers and actress Jane Lych’s comedic relief but also includes the singing and dancing talents of the innocently corrupt members of McKinley High School’s Glee Club.

Kavita Ramdya is author of “Bollywood Weddings: Dating, Engagement and Marriage in Hindu America” www.bollywood-weddings.com

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