The biggest group in US music last year weren’t a band. They weren’t even real. But to the millions of fans of musical comedy series Glee, the boys and girls in the William McKinley High School music club are something special indeed. So much so that 25 of the songs covered in the series have clocked in on the US Billboard Top 100 chart. But there’s more to this fantastic show than a soundtrack CD – here are our top 10 reasons why we think Glee is something special.
1 The joy
As much as we love gritty shows such as The Wire and Generation Kill, sometimes we just want to chill out and enjoy something that’s smart without being serious, and fun without being formulaic. And while there’s no end of drama (both teenage and grown-up) in the show, Glee never lets it become overpowering or maudlin.
2 The sharp scripts
Don’t write Glee off as High School Musical: The TV Series. Its whipcrack dialogue and bizarre side characters (including a thumbless workshop teacher and a megalomaniacal choreographer) are more along the lines of witty sitcoms such as Arrested Development and films such as Mean Girls.
3 There’s music for everyone
You may expect the show to just play the hits, and sure enough Beyoncé’s ‘All the Single Ladies’ and Kanye’s ‘Gold Digger’ pop up in there. But the show has also featured classics such as Bill Withers’ ‘Lean on Me’, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’ (that’s the one with the ‘rollin’ on the river’ chorus) and Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s My Life’.
4 There’s no dubbing
Rather than casting TV actors and dubbing over their voices for the songs, the producers scoured New York’s Broadway theatre district for genuine musical performers. That means every performance – from the smooth crooning of teacher Mr Schuester to the brassy, sassy soul of the Aretha Franklin-esque Mercedes – is genuine.
5 It has the best antagonist ever
Out to destroy the school’s glee club before they eat into her cheerleading squad budget is Machiavellian coach Sue Sylvester, played with relish by actress Jane Lynch. Every line that comes out of her mouth is pure TV gold, but this is our favourite: ‘I never wanted kids. Don’t have the time, don’t have the uterus.’
6 It’s surprisingly human
For a show that frequently paints in broad comedic strokes, Glee puts a lot of effort into making its characters into real, complicated people – including the cheerleaders and sports jocks that would be two-dimensional bullies in other shows. Even the malevolent Sue Sylvester (see point five) gets a moment of humanity before going back to chewing the scenery and terrorising her charges.
7 It battled against the odds
When the series started, the consensus in Hollywood was that it was doomed – too experimental, too chipper for TV. But, just like the talented hopefuls on which it focuses, the show kept plugging away, developing a huge internet buzz that turned into a cultural phenomenon. Doesn’t it make you feel good?
8 It’s unpredictable
Rather than a simple geeks-versus-cliques show, Glee wastes no time in mixing it up, bringing jocks and cheerleaders into the music club and vice versa. By the halfway point of the first series it’s managed to shift the status quo in ways that most shows would take years to do. And that’s not to mention some of the smaller, character-based storylines, which often veer away at the most surprising angles.
9 It has our favourite celeb cameo in years
When we found out that multi-platinum US singer Josh Groban was to appear in the third episode, ‘Acafellas’, we were a little worried – after all, celebrity cameos often grind a show to a halt as the writers worry about making the guest stars appear cool. No so Glee, in which Groban is portrayed as a hilariously cynical sleazeball.
10 It doesn’t feature any vampires
Glee debuts on America Plus on March 6 at 9pm.