Column: Beyond a musical – “Glee” cleverly satirizes high school

Thom Carter | Staff Writer

I often grimace at the thought of musicals, simply because they give me a headache — it’s just a matter of when. It’s saddening really, not being able to appreciate the significance of things like “West Side Story” or “Singin’ in the Rain,” although Gene Kelly’s tap dancing is a wondrous spectacle in itself. The only musical I’ve ever been able to tolerate and watch with some sort of awe and enjoyment was “Moulin Rouge,” although that mainly had to do with the fact that I’m a sucker for films that make me question the sanity of the director.

As you can imagine, my distaste for musicals directly influences my views on “Glee,” a show with a knack for butchering modern pop songs that were already awful to begin with. Don’t believe me? Listen to the show’s rendition of Neon Trees’ “Animal.” As if the song wasn’t bad enough already, it now features a male acapella group that replaces the guitar with a constant “mi mi mi” that might as well be machine gun fire penetrating my thick skull.

Now, despite my all-too-obvious hatred of pop covers, “Glee” still manages to be one of my favorite shows on television. I tip my hat to Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator and executive producer. Behind the show’s musical engine is a near-perfect satire of the teenage drama that week-in and week-out manages to be one of the funniest things on television.

Every cliché of the all-too-predictable teen movie is there and is repeatedly thrown at the audience in an often hilarious and over-the-top sequence. No topic is left unscathed as things like sexual education and raging hormones, and the competitive adolescelent nature of cheerleading become centerpieces for multiple episodes. “Glee” manages to simultaneously poke fun at and glorify a teenage culture that’s chock-full of countless stereotypes, which are both lamentable and loveable.

Rarely do I see something as funny and daring as the editor of the school newspaper ripping his clothes off during a homecoming assembly where the Glee Club happens to be performing a steamy rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Characters support these scenarios perfectly, as their textbook roles are often played with considerable tongue-in-cheek humor. There’s the prissy starlet, awkward quarterback, bumbling cheerleader, mohawk-sporting bad boy, and of course, Kurt. Combine that with Jane Lynch’s role as Sue Sylvester and a slew of guest stars; “Glee” sports one of the funniest casts in recent memory.

While the musical numbers will forever be the staple in a show that is probably close to selling more records than it has average viewers, I view “Glee” as a critique on the many miserable, and sometimes wonderful aspects of teenage life. It’s the only show that is socially relevant enough to include a brilliant narrative on sexuality, and funny enough to depict drunken teens while still appealing to a conservative audience. Take away the glossy vocals and boring songs that dominate each episode and “Glee” has some overwhelming firepower in its writing, and enough laughs to satisfy any number of audiences.