Upbeat Shows About Downbeat Subjects

an gleeThe first new episode of Glee performed well in the ratings. If the ratings hold in the coming weeks (they don’t always, of course) this could be a sign that the show’s unusual conceptual mix is what audiences are looking for right now. That is, it’s a show with an upbeat tone but a rather downbeat world — the characters aren’t very happy, their relationships tend to be kind of screwed up, and the show is really kind of a downer if you describe it scene-for-scene. That’s nothing new with a high school soap, which is what Glee is, story-wise. But the peppy tone, stylized jokes and, of course, all the musical numbers give it a coating of happiness and joy; it’s a celebratory, fun show even though most of what happens to the characters isn’t terribly fun at all. There are a lot of movies that have that kind of tone; indeed, that’s the style of 95% of all quirky independent comedy movies, the stories of sad people told in a happy way. It’s less common on television, where happy shows are usually about happy people, and shows about sad people, even comedies, tend to have an air of melancholy (a la Cheers or The Office). For all Glee‘s debt to Idol and High School Musical, if it succeeds, its greatest debt might be to American independent film, and that basic idea of telling stories of quiet desperation in the loudest, boldest, wackiest manner the producer or director can imagine.

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