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Published: Saturday, 5/16/2009

Glee series set in a Lima high school has Toledo connection too

BY MIKE KELLY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

What s the best way to launch a new TV series that s scheduled to be part of the Fox network s primetime schedule next fall? Why, run the premiere episode in the middle of May, of course.

That may not be the most orthodox promotional plan in the world, but according to Fox, the new series, Glee, which is set in Lima, Ohio, is not quite orthodox either. An hour-long musical comedy-drama, the ambitious new show will follow a hopelessly optimistic high school teacher who tries to resurrect his school s worse-than-pathetic glee club by challenging a bunch of rejects, dorks, and social outcasts to unleash hidden star potential. It premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on WUPW-TV, Channel 36, in Toledo.

The series is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy, best known for creating the dark and twisted cable drama Nip/Tuck on FX. But Murphy also brought to television another, lighter series called Popular, which ran from 1999 to 2001 on The WB. Though it lasted only two seasons, the quirky Popular was a big hit with teenage girls, regularly drawing more viewers in that key demographic than better-known series such as Friends and The WB s own Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Glee is set in the fictional McKinley High School in Lima, and its exuberant young cast includes mostly unknowns from the world of musical theater, although a couple of Broadway veterans, Matthew Morrison (Hairspray) and Lea Michele (Les Miserables), may be familiar to some.

There s a Toledo connection to the series as well, with three of the show s dancers hailing from the Glass City: Audra Griffis, of St. Ursula, Class of 04; Jessica Elliott, St. Ursula, 05, and Katie Chaka, an 07 grad of Anthony Wayne. All trained at Toledo s Hot Shot Dance Co. before heading off for careers in Los Angeles. Look closely during a big production number in the pilot episode and you may catch a glimpse of them.

The unusual strategy of airing the new show s pilot episode months before it s placed on Fox s fall schedule is unprecedented on commercial TV, but it s a calculated move by the network. Glee has been given the best of all time slots, immediately following the network s 800-pound ratings gorilla, American Idol, and the new series features a similar type of inspirational, follow-your-dream storyline as the hugely popular singing competition.

In the past, scripted, music-themed series haven t done particularly well on television. Remember Cop Rock, or even worse, Viva Laughlin? (It s a wonder Hugh Jackman s career survived that one long enough for him to grow claws and become Wolverine). But Glee has little in common with those flops. Its characters don t just break into song anytime or anywhere. They re onstage when they sing, and mostly the singing is in context.

If the series could be compared to anything, it would be a spirited mishmash of High School Musical, Friday Night Lights, Fame, School of Rock, 90210, and Freaks and Geeks.

According to McKinley High s cruel but inevitable caste system, athletes and cheerleaders are the stars of the school, while glee clubbers have long been relegated to the sub-basement of popularity. One character refers to them acidly as "tone-deaf acne factories."

When teacher Will Schuester (Morrison) himself a veteran of the glory days of high school glee clubbing agrees to take over the dormant glee club, he finds a meager and motley crew waiting for him. There s Mercedes, a would-be Beyonce; Arty, a guitarist who uses a wheelchair; Kurt, a fashionable male soprano; Tina, a punk rocker, and Rachel (Michele), a self-proclaimed star. (We know that because every time Rachel signs her name to anything, she sticks a little gold star next to it.)

Hoping to swell the club s ranks and boost its "cool" factor a bit, Will goes recruiting among the school s more popular students, and thanks to a little creative blackmail, he manages to land the biggest A-lister of them all, Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), the football team s star quarterback.

Well, it turns out that Finn can really belt out a song surprise, surprise and eventually he teams up with Rachel to create the most dynamic jock-cutie pie duo this side of HSM s Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

Despite all the roadblocks that will doubtlessly be thrown up by Finn s teammates, Will s narcissistic wife, the school s evil cheerleading coach (played by a hilariously self-involved Jane Lynch), and who knows who else, we just know that the members of the McKinley High glee club are going to follow their dreams for all they re worth. Maybe they ll even make it to gulp Nationals.

Glee may sound like little more than a series of bad cliches, but the pilot has a lot of funny little moments in it, and a few big ones, too. In one scene, a rival high school s singing group bops its way through a rousing, lavishly choreographed, hand-clapping, song-and-dance rendition of Amy Winehouse s "Rehab" "They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no "

The first episode of Glee may or may not grab a solid audience from its American Idol lead-in, but it doesn t much matter. The series is guaranteed a spot on Fox s fall schedule, no matter what the reaction is to the pilot. The network will make the initial episode available on Fox.com, Hulu, and other Web outlets after it airs, and spots will be shown during Fox s summer series So You Think You Can Dance.

Glee might be a show about a bunch of underdogs, but with all the pre-launch hype, the series itself is anything but an underdog.



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