The “New Directions” of the underdogs

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“Don’t you get it man, we’re all losers. Everyone in this school, no everyone in this town. Out of all the kids who graduate maybe half will go to college and two will leave the state to do it. I’m not afraid of being called a loser because I can accept that that’s what I am. But I am afraid of turning my back on something that actually made me happy in my life.” –Finn from the pilot episode of Glee

While it may be a cliché statement, no one ever said high school was easy. It is the most awkward time in an adolescent’s life and they have to go through so much. If you don’t believe me, ask any teen or watch an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. It is incredibly hard to fit in, and as a teen that seems to be the most important thing — at least that is what popular TV shows tell us. It seems that every pre-teen wants to have the glamorous life of either Blair or Serena when in reality they can probably identify with a character like Angela Chase: young, angsty, and in the suburbs. However, as we all know, after one season My So Called Life, a show about the life of the everyday teen, was cancelled. The show Freaks and Geeks had the same fate and lighter premise, so I was shocked when a new show Glee hit the airwaves with the tagline “a biting comedy for the underdog in all of us” and was not only a critical success but a commercial one as well.

For those who haven’t seen Glee it is a show about a high school glee club trying to do what they love and survive high school while doing it. If you are doing glee, it means you are a loser and will get a slushie in your face or be dumped in the trash. Not even after the head cheerleader and captain of the football team join does the glee club ever become cool. It is also important to note that every person in the glee club is some kind of stereotype whether it is the gay kid or the kid in the wheelchair. So while at times the show can look like a Benetton ad, it tries to show that it is a show for everyone, and that everyone’s story is being told, unlike Gossip Girl where it is solely Manhattan’s elite.

So why do glee? It seems that the reason so far is because all the kids love to sing dance and be part of something. There is also a sense of camaraderie and that they have to stick together. As we see in this clip, the group sings “Lean on Me” to two of the members who are about to have a baby. The entire school just found out and they are the subject of ridicule ( http://www.hulu.com/watch/112694/glee-lean-on-me ) . Here we see the group telling these two members, the ex head cheerleader and captain of the football team who is now made fun of for joining glee, that no matter what, they are there for them, they are part of something. The show uses group numbers to show this a lot, as seen in this clip right here: ( http://www.hulu.com/watch/112697/glee-keep-holding-on )

While at times this notion of “being a part of something” may come off as cheesy, Glee’s ultra campy format actually makes it work. In recent episodes there have been a few moments that seem a little to after school special, like the character Kurt coming out to his father or the episode where everyone has to “feel Artie’s pain” by spending the day in a wheelchair and doing a wheel chair number ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKuikT2xbAo ), but surprisingly enough these stories come out rather genuine even if they are camped up.

This makes me think about My So-Called Life because it tried so hard to mimic what it was to be a teen at that time, and did it almost too well. However, even with its great job of depicting what it is to be a teen and how relatable its protagonist Angela is, at times it came off a bit more as a public service announcement and less of a teen drama. In shows like the OC or Gossip Girl a character may have a drug or drinking problem, but it is usually solved and forgotten about in the next few episodes, or there is a funny storyline to balance it out. In My So-Called Life the character Rayanne deals with being on and off the wagon throughout its entire series, here is a clip set to music that chronicles it ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-IMtjiMqv4 ). Come to think about there is not one happy ending in any episode My So-Called Life. While it is more true to life, it seems that the audience wants something they can smile about in the end, so when even a character like Kurt from Glee developed a drinking problem in the episode “The Rhodes not Taken”, it was dealt with and over within minutes. The same happens in the episode “Vitamin D” where the entire club starts taking what they think is a vitamin but is really Pseudoephedrine, a performance-enhancing drug. Of course by end of the episode they are all back to normal like nothing had happened.

While it is a show about the underdog, it makes the viewer feel like they are actually the rock stars. It does show them being picked on and ridiculed, but there is never really a super cringe worthy moment. Even when the diva of the series Rachel Berry is getting a slushie in the face, it isn’t as bad as some moments on shows like Freaks and Geeks. In this clip we see the character Bill getting peanuts put in his sandwich by a bully to see if he is really allergic to peanuts ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE65VbUBGbI Only watch the first 3 minutes). As we see, this moment is painful for all involved including the viewer. While the show is considered a comedy, the entire series banks on these moments that make us go “NO NO NO! AWWW! REALLY?! AWWWW!” Even the worst moments of the show, that usually happens to Rachel, never make us want to close our eyes and, well, cringe. It may be because there just aren’t any of those moments, or because we know that Rachel is the most talented person in the glee club and when she says she is destined to be a star, we believe her and know that these are just bumps in the road.

While I can’t exactly pinpoint why Glee is as successful as it is and shows about other underdog groups weren’t, I do have a few ideas. For one, the show tends to be like its title, gleeful and upbeat, and in a time where we are in a recession and feeling down isn’t that what we need? I mean who can resist a happy go lucky show about the underdogs rising up with musical numbers? My second idea is that even though these kids are supposed to be the biggest losers in school, I totally want to be friends with all of them as well as be in New Directions (that’s the glee clubs name). Plus, Glee sort of says that it is okay to be loser and that you should celebrate unlike My So-Called Life or Freaks and Geeks.

Even when it seems like they hate each other, they always have each other’s back, like in this opening scene from the episode Preggers where two of the girls in the club help Kurt convince his dad that his outfit is for football (http://www.vureel.com/video/5920/Glee-1×04 Watch the first 2 minutes), or in the clip above with the wheelchairs when Finn screams out happily “This one is for you Artie!”. Another example is in the season finale Rachel is willing to give up her solo twice to her rival diva Mercedes. In the end Mercedes says that even though she doesn’t like Rachel very much, Rachel deserves to have the spotlight. Again, corny I know, but after the episode you are just so happy you don’t even really notice. If there is one important thing to take away from Glee, which I also think is one of the reasons why it is doing so well, it is to let your freak flag fly. I don’t know how long it will last, but I can say this: Glee isn’t just waving a freak flag, it’s waving a freak banner and I totally love it!

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