A year ago, Glee was so hot it sizzled. Unleashed by Fox after a shrewd marketing campaign, it had instant acclaim and a loyal following. You just had to experience it because explaining Glee was a tad tricky.
No synopsis did it justice. A high-school drama-comedy with singing and dancing. Jocks, nerds, nice teachers and mean teachers. Cheerleaders and bullies. A gay kid with a sharp tongue. A diva with two gay dads. The kid in the wheelchair with a melancholy view of life. Every few minutes, it turns into a musical.
You had to watch it to understand the sharp black comedy at work and grasp that both students and teachers felt real. The show was grounded in reality and often as poignant as it was slyly satirical. Then came the hiatus. The first batch of episodes had been made long before it aired, free from press and public response. When Glee returned this past spring it was on a wave of hysteria. What songs would be included? Would pop music superstars make cameo appearances? And what unfolded in the new episodes was strangely tame, as if the zest had been sucked out if it because of its success.
Glee (Fox, Global 8 p.m.) returns for its full second season tonight and, while it's still a hot show, it has obviously found a format and is sticking with it.
This happens in network TV. A show arrives as a challenging, original production. It clicks with viewers and those viewers see it as a safe-harbour viewing. A place where you know what's going to happen and the predictability is comforting. So it is with Glee now. It's the same old song, but a song that viewers want and need.
Things at the glee club are in crisis, as usual. Funding is cut. There are no students who want to sign up for it. Rachel (Lea Michele) is a self-absorbed diva. Teacher Will (Matthew Morrison) is nice and well-meaning. Finn is conflicted about his status as football star and glee Club star. Artie has dreams that take him beyond his wheelchair-bound limitations.
The new twists, such as they are, arrive without any zip. There's a new football coach, a woman, no less! That's Coach Beiste (Dot Jones) and that means Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) has a new, serious enemy. It also frees Sue to do her often hilarious, sometimes utterly incoherent insult-riffs. Also arriving is a very cute football player who sings. That's Sam (played by the gloriously named Chord Overstreet, in Justin Bieber haircut). More impressive, vocally, is the astonishingly voiced character Sunshine Corazon (played by Clarice Pempengco, the Filipina singer who became famous on YouTube) though it's not clear if she'll stick around.
There are a few musicals numbers. Some rap, some rock 'n' roll, some show tunes. It's what is expected, but not what's needed. Glee fanatics won't be disappointed. The rest of us are.
Raising Hope (Fox, 9 p.m.) is not a musical but it has the energy and rhythm of a rock 'n' roll song. Created by Greg Garcia who brought us the great My Name Is Earl, it's an outstanding new comedy.
Lucas Neff plays Jimmy Chance, a hoser living at home with his mom (Martha Plimpton), who cleans toilets for a living, a goofball dad (Garret Dillahunt) who cleans pools for a living, a stoner cousin, (Skyler Stone), and a senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman). Long story short - Jimmy decides to take care of a baby he didn't know he had fathered. Everybody is poor here. Not cute-poor, but definitely on the margins. The comedy is deadpan, snappy and rich.
Recently I read a Canadian review of Raising Hope that referred to "quirky blue-collar characters," which annoyed the heck out of me. When Jimmy's mom is getting a ride to work, she ambles out, cigarette in mouth and shouts at the car, "Keep your pants on. We're going to clean toilets. Who wants to hurry to that?" That's not "quirky." That's how a lot of people live.
ALSO AIRING TONIGHT
Rick Mercer Report (CBC, 8 p.m.) is back. Mercer is in Shanghai for Expo 2010 and the Canadian Pavilion. He meets Dashan, a.k.a. Mark Rowswell, the most famous Canadian in China - a Mandarin comic genius, apparently. And Mercer's rant is about the re-opening of Parliament. Darn right.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC: 8:30 p.m) returns too. Mark Critch spends time with Rahim Jaffer and MP Helena Guergis talking about the past year, "covering everything from strip clubs to shoe throwing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper." And Critch is also with Michael Ignatieff "discussing his recent image change." What, he went from khaki's to blue jeans? My.
Being Erica (CBC 9 p.m.) starts its third season. At the end of the last season, CBC says, "Erica walked through her door, ready to face whatever was on the other side." And now? "Everything in Erica's life - her job, her love life, even her therapy with Dr. Tom - starts anew, and gets turned upside down in the process." Ain't seen it yet but adorableness abounds, no doubt. Which is just fine.
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