Thursday 23 November 2017

Last night’s TV: Glee

Last night’s opener was one of the strongest episodes in Glee’s short history says Diarmuid Doyle

Of all the theories about Glee, perhaps the weirdest is that it is part of a plot by Hollywood to pollute the minds of America youth with left-wing or communist ideas.

In the run-up to season 3, which started on Sky One last night, just two days after it kicked off in America, all the focus was on the character of Sue Sylvester, whose run for Congress will be one of the recurring plotlines of the next few months.

Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, who presented last week’s Emmy Awards, has never been a fan of liberal values, and is running against the arts in public schools. “I need to find something everyone hates”, she says in the first episode. “People want a candidate who’s against something”.

She’s clearly a satire of extremist Republican candidates like Michele Bachmann, and a very funny one too, so it’s understandable that some people might be offended.

But to suggest, as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro did last weekend, that Glee has “become the most subversive show in the history of network television”, is taking it a bit far.

“When conservatives watch this show”, he went on, “it will be clear that the creators hate our guts”.

It’s a theory, I suppose, but you could just as easily argue that the gay characters, and the lampooning of right-wing politics, are all part of a plot to get liberals on board with Glee’s all-singing, all-dancing positivity.

In Glee everything is possible; no matter how untalented, disabled, useless, unlikeable or poor you are, you will always be able to rise above whatever life throws at you.

Like The Simpsons, which is as powerful an ad for family values as has ever been seen on television, it flies the flag unashamedly for optimism and the power of positive thinking, traits Americans have always seen as their own. People like Ben Shapiro should be singing its praises.

As the third season opened last night, members of the Glee club were returning to school after the summer break. Their appearance in the national finals at the end of season two hadn’t gone very well (they came eleventh), and they are determined to do better next time.

New blood is required, they are told by Will Schuester, the teacher in charge of the club.

This is all part of a process where Glee will be given a much needed transfusion of novelty.

The last season felt a bit tired. The main characters from the first series continued to do all the heavy-lifting in terms of plot. The few new additions were under-developed and unsympathetic. As a series it was quickly running out steam.

By the end of this season, however, some of the main characters will have been written out. There will be new arrivals. One of these will be Damian McGinty from Derry, who won a seven-part role in the show in The Glee Project reality show during the summer. (In typical Glee fashion, all four finalists were given some kind of a role).

The decision to make changes seems to have had a positive knock-on effect on the whole show. Last night’s opener was one of the strongest episodes in Glee’s short history.

The humour was sharper, the energy levels higher, the musical numbers exciting and dramatic. Four numbers – The Go Go’s We’ve Got The Beat, Tom Jones’s It’s Not Unusual, You Can’t Stop The Beat from Hairspray and Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead from The Wizard Of Oz – were easily accommodated in an episode that also had to set the scene for a number of storylines coming up.

It was skilfully written and expertly executed, and augurs very well for the months to come.

As Glee began its latest journey, Monty Hall was finishing his six month trip to the west coast of Ireland. The story of that visit - Monty Hall’s Great Irish Escape - was told over the last few weeks on BBC2 and turned out to be possibly the greatest ad Irish tourism has ever received on a foreign television channel.

The scenery was from another world, the weather – bizarrely, given where he was – seemed to be bright and sunny for most of his six months – and the dramatic, crashing waves will tempt every surfer who sees them.

Hall was so enthusiastic about his stay that he bought a house near Roundstone, Co Galway, so he can continue to visit. His enthusiasm was infectious, particularly during a time when the news about Ireland is so relentlessly negative.

As you looked at the ragged scenery, the derelict, abandoned houses, and the sea stretching into the distance towards America, you were reminded that Ireland had survived worse and will, eventually, get through the current mess as well.

For reminding us of some of the beauty in our midst, Monty Hall deserves our thanks.

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