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Upbeat Shows About Downbeat Subjects


 

an gleeThe first new episode of Glee performed well in the ratings. If the ratings hold in the coming weeks (they don’t always, of course) this could be a sign that the show’s unusual conceptual mix is what audiences are looking for right now. That is, it’s a show with an upbeat tone but a rather downbeat world — the characters aren’t very happy, their relationships tend to be kind of screwed up, and the show is really kind of a downer if you describe it scene-for-scene. That’s nothing new with a high school soap, which is what Glee is, story-wise. But the peppy tone, stylized jokes and, of course, all the musical numbers give it a coating of happiness and joy; it’s a celebratory, fun show even though most of what happens to the characters isn’t terribly fun at all. There are a lot of movies that have that kind of tone; indeed, that’s the style of 95% of all quirky independent comedy movies, the stories of sad people told in a happy way. It’s less common on television, where happy shows are usually about happy people, and shows about sad people, even comedies, tend to have an air of melancholy (a la Cheers or The Office). For all Glee‘s debt to Idol and High School Musical, if it succeeds, its greatest debt might be to American independent film, and that basic idea of telling stories of quiet desperation in the loudest, boldest, wackiest manner the producer or director can imagine.


 
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Upbeat Shows About Downbeat Subjects

  1. Well, the theme of last night's show seemed to be guys cheating on their partners, how can that not be upbeat! ;)

    I'm a little confused by the character Tina (the Asian punk rocker girl). Is she a main character or not? I don't really recall her having any lines, which seems a little odd given how many scenes she's in (maybe I should say how many scenes she's present for). I can't really recall other examples where a main character's job was to stand around and be present.

  2. I think this show is a rare example of how an American TV show can actually lose a lot in the translation to Canadian culture. Glee clubs and socially-dominant cheerleaders really and truly still exist in the US, whereas in Canada we are seeing it as a caricature of the stereotype and not the caricature of real people or real situations.

    It seems this show still has to establish a baseline between the regular and ridiculous versions of its humour. Quirkiness is a lot of fun, until the audience has to constantly guess at whether a scene is actually meant to be quirky and not just clumsy regular humour.

  3. Since I know one of the writers is from the area where the story is taking place – Lima, Ohio – I know exactly where the humor is coming from – the little city in nowhere filled with people living in desperation. The football player's "Everybody in this town is a loser" speech in the pilot pretty much describes the setting for this show.

    But, to be a hit in America, this show has to connect to the American big city markets, starting with New York. Viewers in those cities don't want to watch small town losers, so there has to be a likable quality. It's a balancing act, and it doesn't always work. (ie: "Friday Night Lights") But I give them credit for trying.

    BTW: In US schools these days, they're called show choirs, or maybe swing choir. Part of the show's joke is that they call it a glee club. My high school hasn't had something called a glee club since the day Elvis went in the Army.

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