Glee , an unapologetic send-up of Dawson's Creek if they burst into song, is a conondrum. It is frustrating in its conventions. It has catchy music and good-looking cast, but suffers from an overpacked ensemble, thin storylines, and ignorance of reality. But they sure do sound and look good.
Polished within an inch of its life, the music actually spans a wide assortment: the obvious Broadway, the Top 40 hits of now and last year, the classic oldies, and the less-than classic oldies that no one in high school has ever heard of: the Glee kids are excited to hear one of their own sing Neil Diamond. Seriously. And in another sequence, they are all bopping along to Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" as if it was 2002 all over again. Is this popular music of today or what old writers think is the popular music of today?
The show's most prominent tracks are headlined by Matthew Morrison as the show choir director, Lea Michele as the self-determined Idina of the group, and Cory Monteith as the jock turned singer that's nowhere near as good as Glee wants us to think it is. Interspersed are solos by the fantastic belter Amber Riley (the Jennifer Hudson role that's so obvious she even says in an episode "Do I even have to tell you what song?" when alerting the pianist she's about to Effie it out), reedy-voiced Diana Agron the cheerleader, and wheelchair-bound Kevin McHale who sang the catchy but one-note "Dancing With Myself" and then busted out strong bits in "Proud Mary" and "Lean on Me." Kristen Chenoweth, who only appeared in one episode so far, turned out expectedly impressive turns on Cabaret's "Maybe This Time," Carrie Underwood's "Last Name," and Heart's "Alone." Bring her back, Glee, bring her back.
Under-used for the first half of the season is full-voiced Mark Salling, who does pull out an impressive "Sweet Caroline," even if it comes out of nowhere; also Jenna Ushkowitz who did a quiet, beautiful take on "True Colors," which should have been cheesy as hell but instead came out peaceful and sweet.
Glee has maintained a love for mash-ups, mixing it up with Beyonce's "Halo" and Katrina & the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" to reasonable effect, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" and Usher's "Confessions" to better-than-it-should-be appeal, and the best so far, Matthew Morrison's blending of "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police. Not included on the soundtracks is the hideous mash of "Hair" from the musical of the same name and Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." But we still had to watch it.
Morrison's mix of god-awful rap covers ("The Thong Song" is omited from the soundtrack but was a trainwreck on TV; "Bust a Move" is included however) is probably meant to be unconventional and exciting but comes off as desperate and paints the character trying too hard to stay young and With It, when he doesn't really need to. He represents the music department of the producers of this show.
When played giddily as one continous mix on iTunes, the songs are a splash of great and bad decisions and present themselves as more unfocused than the series does. Variety is one thing, but some of the tracks are completely useless and without visuals, that's even more apparent. Aragon's "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and limp acoustic reading of "Papa Don't Preach" are best examples of this. Aragon, as an actress, has shown potential for great depth, but is also stuck in her plotline, which unfairly brands her as weak, selfish or immature too much of the time. She does however have no personality in her voice.
The cheesy, lip-sync smiles on the show however can be distracting, so some tracks fare better without the visuals. The show is full of secondhand embarassment moments
Lea Michele (who's solo album may be out sooner than later) shines on every track she does; she even does Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" with such gusto and sex appeal it completely invalidates her neanderthal status amongst her peers on the show (whoops). She does the Celine well, she does the Clarkson well, and she does Barbra proud. Ok, she does falter on the Lily Allen cover "Smile" but that was a dumb idea, anyway. Even Jennifer's Paige's "Crush," which is so disposable that it wasn't even featured on the show for more than a line, is palatable enough. Her readings of group numbers, including "No Air" and "Keep Holding On" are some of the best of the season. Her read of "On My Own" is a little obvious, but her version of "Take a Bow" (Rihanna) was quite clever.
Amber Riley shows versatility as well, even if the show seems contented to keep her Sassy. She pulls out a soulful "Don't Make Me Over," tough "Hate on Me," embattled "Bust Your Windows," and she even successfully headlines "Imagine," a song that has been done to death. She's not given enough on "Somebody to Love" til the end, but it's a joyful moment. And yes, she pulls out the stops on "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," which suits her perfectly.
Leading highschool boy Cory Monteith is over-processed to hell on most of his tracks; it is not clear whether or not he can actually sing. With nearly everyone else on the cast having a history in vocal performance, he doesn't, and the Auto-Tone is set to 11 on "You're Having My Baby," and "Can't Fight This Feeling." His best is "I'll Stand By You," which is given a sensitive, understated read.
Chris Colfer, as The Gay, shares a duet with Michele on Wicked's "Defying Gravity," but has yet to really show much presence as a lead vocalist. As an actor however, he frequently gets great lines, and has come off as the most endearing of the cast. I can't help but admit however that the Lea Michele solo version of "Defying Gravity" is better than his solo version, or the duet version they included.
TV - Season 1, part 1: B-
Glee's a messy series that seems completely unaware of its inconsistency. Despite powerful moments, and a fantastic actress in Jane Lynch, who has yet to sing but delivers the best parts of the show, it takes too long for some plots and writes other huge events as over and done within 45 minutes. It will piss you off and then bring you back.
Best: Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, one of the great new complicated-evil characters on TV
Worst: Morrison's onscreen wife, played by Jessalyn Gilsig, who is shrill and uncomplicated-evil
CD - Season 1 soundtrack, volume 1: B
A hodgepodge that features some very great moments and some very bad ones. Lea Michele and Amber Riley own this one, and while they don't give up the reins on the second volume, it shares the wealth. The arrangements are all fairly karaeoke, but doable.
Best: Take a Bow, Maybe This Time, Hate on Me, No Air, Keep Holding On
Worst: You Keep Me Hangin' On, I Say a Little Prayer, I Wanna Sex You Up
CD - Season 1 soundtrack, volume 2: B+
Heavy on the self-help songs (I'll Stand by You, Lean on Me, Imagine, True Colors, Don't Rain on My Parade, You Can't Always Get What You Want, [Charlie Chaplin's] Smile) but all impeccably done. Produced with a soft glaze, the soundtrack features better songs than the first one and better readings thereof. A misstep here and there, but forgiveable ones.
Best: True Colors, I'll Stand By You, Don't Stand So Close to Me/Young Girl
Worst: the "this is for you, Artie" intro (crinnnnge) on Proud Mary, You're Having My Baby, Smile (Lily Allen)