Talk about one-hit wonders. The promise and energy associated with the debut of “Glee” last spring largely evaporates in previewing two additional hours, where the musical numbers — generally less infectious and buoyant than the first time out — can’t compensate for overly broad characterizations and absurdly soapy situations. A few genuinely human moments emerge, but the series too often undermines the likability quotient of its cast, leaving the audience relatively little to latch onto. Put simply, “Glee” strikes too many sour notes for a series with precious little margin for error.
Producer Ryan Murphy’s look at romance and longing through a high-school glee club — divided between the hormone-hyped teenagers and their equally dazed and confused teachers — keeps coming back to awkward triangular relationships. Misfit singer Rachel (the wildly talented Lea Michele) pines for star quarterback Finn (Cory Monteith), who has joined the celibacy club because of his cheerleader girlfriend Quinn (Dianna Agron). Meanwhile, glee club teacher Will (Matthew Morrison) keeps engaging in lingering stares with colleague Emma (Jayma Mays) while trying to mollify his nut-bag shrew of a wife (Jessalyn Gilsig).
Will also finds his show-choir program under siege from the tyrannical cheer squad counselor played by Jane Lynch, who chews through her material so relentlessly as to be fitfully funny but usually just plain annoying. Before long, issues of pregnancy will assail both generations, giving birth to subplots that become so credulity-straining it’s hard not to yearn for another song to relieve them.
“Glee” occasionally bursts to life thanks to the occasional incandescent moment, such as the gay kid (Chris Colfer, another wonderful discovery) who wrestles with cruel teasing, an emerging identity and a gruff dad; and pretty much every time Michele unleashes her soaring Broadway belt. Yet those interludes simply reinforce the sense that a whole lot of talent, both behind and in front of the cameras, is being squandered by the show’s jokey, cartoonish, wildly uneven tone.
Given its merits and unique attributes, there’s a strong desire to root for “Glee” in spite of its failings. But the bottom line is that to survive, given its high costs and the nagging doubts about whether network audiences will buy into a musical — a genre with a shaky TV track record — the show’s going to have to croon a tune a helluva lot better than this.