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Rejoice! musical monster glee is back

The second series of Glee throws up a question: what do you do next with a programme that has become so successful so fast that it's in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own popularity and its audience's expectations?

The answer, for the moment, is you keep moving; you keep raising the game; you keep ramping everything up. You make the cover versions that have become both the show's lifeblood and, thanks to those chart-eating albums, its cash cow, bigger and bolder than before.

That's precisely what Glee's producers have done for this second series. A future episode features a full-scale Rocky Horror Show tribute; the word is that this will be turned into a whole soundtrack album in its own right, which sounds dangerously like a case of overkill.

Mercifully, for those of us who don't really watch Glee for the songs, they've also upped the programme's other winning ingredient: the pitch-black, bad-taste, politically incorrect humour that makes it a cross-generational joy.

Take this snippet from last night, uttered by the wheelchair-bound Artie's girlfriend as she dumps him: "You're a terrible boyfriend, Artie. All you wanted to do was watch Coming Home all summer."

In case that one sails over your head, Coming Home was a mawkish 1978 Oscar-winning movie starring Jon Voight as a paraplegic Vietnam War veteran.

The Glee Club is reeling from its failure to win the regional finals at the end of last season. Hapless teacher Will Schuster (Matthew Morrison) is expecting a flood of new applicants, but they fail to materialise.

The wonderfully malicious Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is having problems of her own, in the formidable shape of a new rival, a female football coach called Beiste, pronounced "beast".

"A female football coach," observes Sue, "is like a male nurse: a sin against nature."

Beiste (Dot Jones) is indeed a beast of a woman, massive and intimidating. On first sight, in fact, it's difficult to tell if she actually IS a woman, something that causes her to throw quarterback Finn (Cory Monteith) off the team when he addresses her as "dude".

But in the Glee tradition of yanking the rug from under our feet (as it did last year when we learned that Sue has a Down's syndrome sister she dotes on), Beiste is as emotionally fragile as gossamer.

I don't know how many series Glee will last before it eventually runs out of juice, which is what happens to most successful TV series long before the end, but I'll keep watching as long as the writers feed Sue Sylvester lines like: "Not everyone wants to be a champion. Not everyone SHOULD be a champion. We need fry-cooks, we need bus drivers." Priceless.

And, speaking of political incorrectness, can you get away with using the word "cripple" in a history documentary?

It turned up in the first episode of 1916: Seachtar na Casca, with narrator Brendan Gleeson describing the seven signatories to the Proclamation of the Republic as "a tobacconist, a cripple, a headmaster, a university lecturer, a piper, a socialist and a poet".

The subject in the first of these seven profiles was the tobacconist, Thomas J Clarke, although his Dublin tobacco shop was merely a front for the Irish Republican Brotherhood. A polished mixture of documentary and dramatic reconstruction, it brought Clarke -- who is regarded as the brains of the operation, but whose presence in the GPO has often been eclipsed by James Connolly and Padraig Pearse -- out of the historical shadows. TG4 has a knack for making excellent history series on a tight budget and this is a fine example.


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