Hating Glee, But Loving The Glee Project: A Viewer's Dilemma
Jane Lynch | Photo Credits: Adam Rose/FOX
When Glee first premiered, the show-tunes nerd inside me was thrilled. I've always been an avid fan of special musical episodes, so the prospect of having a weekly series that was a musical each outing made my heart grow three sizes.
For most of the first season, Glee lived up to all my expectations. The songs were fun, the dancing was great and the characters were just campy enough to suspend my disbelief at the show's more unrealistic aspects (for a club with no budget they sure have access to a lot of nice costumes). Unfortunately, by Season 2 Glee had lost its edge. Enter Oxygen's reality casting show The Glee Project. Premiering only a matter of weeks after the finale of Glee's second season, The Glee Project accomplished all Glee originally set out to do.
Here's an examination of what should have been two of Glee's greatest strengths, but unfortunately became its downfall... and how The Glee Project stepped in to become the true star of the feel-good underdog musical TV genre:
Assignment No. 1: Subverting Stereotypes
How Glee Failed the Test: The series began focusing so much on how eclectic the characters were in an effort to promote diversity, that instead of subverting stereotypes, it achieved the opposite. Glee soon became overly preachy, with the quirky outcasts that once butted heads now sentimentally embracing each other's differences, promoting a magical, clique-free world where the evil cheerleading coach reforms, bad boys sing Bob Marley for community service and a jock becomes stepbrothers with a flamboyant theater boy. Case in point in is how the show fails in its depiction of paraplegics. Wheelchair-bound A/V nerd Artie (Kevin McHale) never truly accepts his disability, despite Glee's repeated message to embrace everyone's individual differences. Instead, Season 1's episode "Dream On" chronicles his dream to become a dancer... but he doesn't achieve it by learning new ways to dance with his chair and accept his condition. No, instead we get a dream sequence in which shy, disabled Artie regains use of his legs and becomes a much more stereotypically masculine dance leader of a flash mob.
How The Glee Project Made the Grade: The contestants featured on the reality competition show are real-life versions of the underdogs that Glee attempts — and fails — to celebrate. The current season features a transgender male, a blind performer and contestants of various body types. Because these aren't successful actors pretending to outcasts, The Glee Project is able to actually inspire its audience to accept their cast's individual differences instead of making them simply groan with clichés. In contrast to Glee's Artie, Glee Project's wheelchair-confined Ali doesn't display any desire to conform to the traditional notion of what makes a dancer and while she seeks to be more than just "that girl in the wheelchair," she never shows any bitterness towards her disability. Her inclusion on the reality show teaches paraplegics and viewers alike that, unlike on Glee, you don't need a dream sequence to dance or be a star. If you're talented and work hard, you can be just as tough a competitor as everyone else.