Here’s how the TV viewing week goes. Monday night: get to the gym, because then at least you’ll have that under your belt when the health kick goes tits up on Thursday. Tuesday night: guiltily skulk at work pretending you have to work late to avoid going to the ‘Business Chinese’ or ‘Spanish for Holidaymakers’ class you signed up to as part of your New Year Resolutions but you got so far behind with the homework you’ll never catch up again. Wednesday night: legitimately watch TV and feel smug that you didn’t go out on the lash. Thursday: go to some semi-cultural event as a cover for being out on the lash. Friday: go out on the lash. Saturday: go round someone’s for a party and get lashed. Sunday: lie on the sofa wondering if it is truly possible that ‘Dancing On Ice’ is still on.
It is, then, somewhat unfair that your one night of good intentions should currently provide such excellent TV viewing. Yes, of course you can Sky Plus it, but Plus-ing removes some of the joy of having an official weekly date with a particularly hot TV series. So if you forgo dinner you can get to the gym early and be back for 9pm to make a Sophie’s Choice over Glee (e4) or FlashForward (five). FlashForward is the new Lost, without polar bears but with Jack Davenport (of MasterCard ads fame) and Joseph Fiennes (of not-being-Ralph-Fiennes fame). FF launched with a hugely successful pilot, and five immediately started broadcasting it just weeks behind the American network, only for the writing to get so spectacularly bad that the US network yanked it and knocked some heads about until they started coming up with something that wouldn’t shame a 5 year old at Show & Tell – or ‘the show went on hiatus’, in the parlance, returning only this week. In the meantime another program launched in the same timeslot – the insanely compelling and addictive Glee.
Set in a Midwest high school, and focusing on its show choir, Glee is not a keeper. Glee will not age well. Glee is Baywatch, Glee is The A-Team, Glee is the original 90210. Take a deep breath, try not to think about David Hasselhoff singlehandedly bringing down the Berlin Wall, or excreting this on a – to be fair, by now quite suspecting – world:
Cast your mind away from the Face in the Australian Jungle contemplating the consumption of cockroaches for cash. Remember how you loved those shows back then and they seemed so right at the time? Midwest high school glee clubs? No weirder than Vietnam Vets rolling round LA in a transit and renting themselves out to wreak strangely bloodless revenge (if you can find them.)
Glee’s surface originality appears to lie in the fact that it is a TV musical series. Each week, the members of the choir New Directions find themselves in a variety of situations that require them to perform a hugely entertaining and enjoyable version of a familiar song. This week, filming a mattress commercial (too long to explain), they banged out a cheery, multi-part harmony version of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, complete with a mid-air splits performed by Quinn the pregnant cheerleader. “This song’s about suicide” murmured a viewer. Which only made it BETTER.
Glee made its first misstep into hammy territory this week as square goody goody and daughter of ‘my two gay dads’ Rachel announced she was going to teach top jock and purported cheerleader babydaddy Finn to smile for his yearbook photo, before launching into Lily Allen’s ‘Smile’. But generally it steers clear from such turgid predictability and uses the musical format to nicely play off its plotlines.
At the centre of events is Mr Schuester, a former glee club standout who, failing to find stardom in the bigger bad world, has returned to the scene of his former successes as Spanish teacher and glee club leader. Around him are arranged some classic characters – the gay high schooler, the prom king and queen, the minority outcasts, the ‘cheerios’ and, of course, the other staff with their various levels of for-our-entertainment insanity.
Dispensing with any pretension of reality by adopting the musical format has freed Glee to pretty much take its cast of traditional characters down the yellow brick road, over the rainbow, and back again in time for tea. So, when the flamboyantly camp Kurt decides to please his father by getting on the football team, he not only makes the team but also gets the jocks to perform the ‘Single Ladies’ routine on the pitch as it’s the only way he can kick a field goal. When cheerio coach and nemesis Sue Sylvester confides in her journal after another joyous victory over beleaguered Mr Schu, she writes ‘one day I will be able to afford that hovercraft’. No, there is no reason she should want a hovercraft, she just does, and this is GleeWorld, so she can.
Although the songs themselves are usually well-arranged, the singing itself might be an acquired taste for some, tending as it does towards the Hannah Montana cutesey-girlie style. ‘Why do they all sing like chipmunks?’ complained a viewer. Well, charitably we could say because it’s a bunch of twentysomethings pretending to be Miley Cyrus’ age. Uncharitably, we could say Americans like people to sound like chipmunks. The cast also features that rarest of creatures, a seemingly hot bloke who actually gets less hot when he sings and dances (although clearly someone thought he was good at something, or surely he wouldn’t get the job.) Poor old Finn - the leading male of New Directions and prime crush for Quinn, Rachel and Kurt - suddenly transmogrifies into a not-too distant relation of Quasimodo when he starts to move.
The songs of Glee are, of course, available to download on iTunes each week, which can surely only set an excellent precedent. Woo hoo! Downloadable DNA testing after CSI! Downloadable legal arguments after The Good Wife. Or maybe downloadable hookers, which just might be more of a money spinner.
The Good Wife (C4) is the switch-to when Glee’s final chorus fades away. It’s another legal drama, but it combines this with the high-concept overarching storyline so popular with American drama producers. Conjure, if you will, the thought of a gripping offspring of a crazed gang bang between the second half hour of Law and Order, Boston Legal, Prison Break and, what the hell, ER, because Julianna Margulies is in it. Margulies’ character Alicia has to begin a career as a junior litigator after her State Attorney husband, Mr Big, is convicted of corruption and getting it on with ladies of the nuit. Yes, that Mr Big. Not just a Mr Big in the criminal sense, but actually, you know, Mr Big. Chris Noth for god’s sake! Mr Big! Finally.
The Prison Break element is provided by the ongoing revelations about Mr Big’s hookers, whether he was framed, effect on his nutty mother, etc. The Boston Legal heritage can be seen in the wacky characters populating the offices of, and seeking the services of, Alicia’s employers. Law and Order’s DNA is present in the litigation procedures that form the backbone of each episode and, of course, because Mr Big was in Law and Order, before he was Mr Big.
Julianna Margulies, the one that ended up with Doug Ross (eeek! George Clooney! Squeal!) on ER, has a kind of aggressive, determined serenity that makes her character utterly convincing. The writing tantalisingly reveals hints of directions to come, while throwing in enough twists and the aforementioned wacky characters to keep each 50 minutes compelling. Plus there’s a hot young blonde guy, Christine ‘Mamma Mia’ Baranski, a maybe-lesbian, Josh ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ Charles (he was in Law and Order once, you know) and – did we mention? – Mr Big, to keep everyone happy.
Tuesday night you may as well go to the gym or the Chinese lesson, because frankly the Tuesday night schedulers are the TV equivalent of BA scabs - i.e. not that great at their jobs and providing extremely limited service. Richard Hammond’s Invisible Worlds? Law and Order UK? One Born Every Minute? (If you’ve got kids you don’t want to watch it in case it’s too emotional, if you haven’t you couldn’t care less.) CSI: CSI without William Petersen? Edward VIII Prince of Pleasure? ‘He’s always been an enigma, ‘ entreats the Channel Guide. Well, someone should sort that out, certainly, but it’s probably best left to the OU at 6 in the morning. Even the normally reliable Ice Road Truckers is set in the US this season, which means way more health & safety and tragically fewer drivers sounding like Ian Paisley’s North American lovechild.
This means that one might end up viewing the alarmingly compulsive ‘What Katie Did Next’. Yeah yeah, I’m Team Peter and everything, but really. Always a drama with the Pricey! (or the Reidy, as she apparently is now.) That’s what she says anyway, but over 3 episodes the total drama has been Katie and her entourage having to land at Stansted instead of Gatwick and get a taxi home. “This kind of thing always happens to me! Always a drama with the Pricey!” Well, how exciting, because similar things happen to me, if not a little bit more thrilling, like the time when I was standing at the bus stop and totally had my hand out and everything, but the bus driver just went straight past even though he wasn’t full and was in service (I am open to offers from any interested production companies.)
The most notable characteristic of Katie and her assorted hangers on and vital acolyte Gary the make-up man (who has a bit of a penchant for applying eyebrows with one of those machines that paint lines in the road) is that they have a weird habit of talking in mid-nineties slang. “Aaawwww, yer such a bloody wind-up merchant!” says Diana-the-PR-woman.
The big defence of Katie Price Reid Jordan, for those who care, is ‘she’s really smart, she knows what she’s doing’. Or ‘she’s smart, she just pretends to be dumb.” Well, I can definitively say, Hell no, she’s thick as pig shit. As new husband Alex left for a wrestling session, she told us “he’s going to roll about with other people, and they’re not me.” Yes, she’s a genius. On the other hand, no one has any such doubts about the very straightforwardly thick Alex.
“What am I in your phone under?” he asks piteously. “Could it be…hubby?” Yes, Vinnie Jones and Dane Bowers, even Stephanie Beacham, be very glad you didn’t win CBB. She might have married YOU.