The TV world is starting to shape up into two camps:
Those who get Glee and those who need to.
It's easy to understand why some insist on resisting the quirky charm of Fox's spunky new series about a dysfunctional high school glee club. Some people can't stand musical numbers, no matter how slyly they are weaved into dramatic action, and the story of high school misfits trying to make good can feel old as outtakes from Justin Timberlake's Mouseketeer auditions.
But, as the series returns to new episodes at 9 p.m. Wednesday after a baseball-inspired hiatus — and the new Glee sound track gets my tween kids humming Don't Stop Believin' like I never dared when it was first a hit — it's time to challenge the naysayers. Because this show keeps raising the bar for what's possible on a series that mashes up musical numbers, absurdist comedy and straight-up sentimental drama into one outrageous stew.
(And I'm not just saying that because Glee creator Ryan Murphy was briefly my boss as arts editor of our college newspaper at Indiana University eons ago.)
The latest, best example is this week's episode, "Wheels," centered on plucky paraplegic guitarist and singer Artie (Kevin McHale).
Convinced that riding together in a bus to sectionals is the only way to bond the team — and unable to secure the cash for a special bus Artie can board — teacher Mr. Shuester (Matthew Morrison) comes up with fundraising ideas that lead to a musical number in wheelchairs.
If you still can't get someone in your life to get on the Glee bandwagon, try these arguments for size:
Don't judge the music until you've seen the numbers. Artie's version of Billy Idol's Dancing with Myself sounds a little geeky on the sound track — until you see McHale croon the tune Wednesday while whipping around on his chair within a darkened theater.
Sue Sylvester rules the world. Showbiz veteran Jane Lynch (Best in Show, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) brings a careermaking turn as the deliciously ruthless cheerleading coach dedicated to tearing down the glee club. Lynch can chew scenery with the best of them, but she can also handle dramatic scenes revealing how a thwarted love connection fuels her anger.
The dramatic moments work, too. Watching out-and-proud club member Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) struggle with how his sexual orientation impacts his macho, yet loving dad (Mike O'Malley) feels like watching a page from Murphy's own history.
The other characters are cool, too. The singing football star who struggles to stay cool while performing in the glee club. The pregnant girlfriend who lets her boyfriend believe he's the father of her child, when his best friend actually did the deed. And I haven't even mentioned the guidance counselor with obsessive compulsive disorder who loves the married glee club teacher who doesn't realize his wife is lying about her pregnancy, too.