GLEE marks the first time that I've ever truly enjoyed anything that resembles a musical. Perhaps I had not been watching the right ones in the time leading up to this TV show hitting the airwaves, but the high quality that this show maintains over the first half of its first season is quite remarkable.
On the surface, one might make comparisons to the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL franchise, and they wouldn't be entirely incorrect, as after all, both are technically musicals and both take place in high school settings. That is, however, where the similarities end. GLEE is a melting pot of various different genres, combining elements of comedy (and over-the-top, outrageous comedy at that), drama, romance, and, of course, musical theater. At first glance, such a combination might not really work, and it's true that there are times during the season where the attempt to juggle some very serious storylines with some ridiculously over-the-top antics doesn't feel completely meshed together, but on the whole it really does work.
The reason that it does work, however, is the extraordinary talent of the cast. Most TV shows, films, etc. feature a weak-link somewhere, be it someone in a very minor part or just somewhere in the grand scheme of things. GLEE has no weak-link. Every member of the cast plays their characters extraordinarily, even, at times, making us like what should otherwise be a rather despicable character.
The scene-stealer in GLEE is Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester, the head coach of the school's cheerleading team. Most of the show's over-the-top antics come from her, often during her interactions with Matt Morrison's Will Schuester, the sponsor of the glee club. The "chemistry" (or lack thereof, as it could be considered as the two characters bicker non-stop during the show) between Lynch and Morrison is spectacular, better than most of what can be found in either other television shows or in the cinema. Jane Lynch proves herself as a comedic genius with her performance in the role, and Matt Morrison, who hails from Broadway, is always up to the challenge of standing toe-to-toe with Lynch in their scenes. The result is superb.
The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, and as an ensemble, they rival the casts of every other TV show currently on the air in terms of quality. Former Broadway star Lea Michele is pitch-perfect as Rachel Berry, walking the delicate balance between playing an extremely arrogant and sometimes self-centered character all while making the audience actually like her. Lea Michele also has some serious vocal ability, and could be a hugely successful solo artist should she so choose. She is one of the best female vocalists currently recording music (if we're considering the iTunes tracks from the cast to be recorded music).
Cory Monteith plays the object of Rachel's affection, and does so quite well. Monteith doesn't have the vocal chops that Michele does (nobody on the show does, really, but that's not a criticism of the rest of the casts' vocal ability, but rather just a sign of how good Michele is), but his voice blends very nicely with hers during the duo's many duets over the course of the first half of the season. Their work on "Don't Stop Believin'", "No Air", and "Somebody to Love" stand out as being particularly stellar.
Perhaps the best actress, or at least the best up-and-coming actress, on the show is Dianna Agron, who has the hardest job of anyone on the cast. While Jane Lynch gets to play a rather unlikeable character with the goal of the character being unlikeable, Agron has to play what should be, at least on paper, an unlikeable character, but one that can be identified with. Agron plays Quinn Fabray to absolute perfection, making the audience actually sympathize with a character who is constantly manipulating those around her and lying to one person after another after another. Agron's absence from the Golden Globe nominee list came as a disappointment, as she has done quite easily some of the best supporting work in a TV show this year.
What makes the cast truly great is that one gets the sense that they're just one big family. Off-set, it seems as though they all enjoy one another, and that spills onto the set and into the episodes themselves. It's also evident that these are some very hungry actors who are really trying to make names for themselves, and it's a pleasure to watch them on their journey towards that. Even the show's biggest star, Jane Lynch, hasn't really had that one role (until now, anyway) that she was instantly recognized as. Now all of these actors are on the map, and it's a joy to watch them take the entertainment world by storm.
Last, but certainly not least, is the music. In a word, it's superb. Sure, there are some missteps ("Jump" comes to mind), but on the whole, it's excellent. The cover of Journey's classic "Don't Stop Believin'", led by Lea Michele and Cory Monteith, breathes new life into the song (not that it really needed it), and the casts' cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love" is sublime. Some of the musical numbers even rival their original counterparts in terms of quality, even besting them in some instances ("No Air", "Taking Chances", "Crush", and "Take a Bow" instantly come to mind).
GLEE is a much different show from anything that has been on TV in quite a while. While some of it's novelty comes from its freshness, it's still a show of unbelievable quality that should stick around for quite a while, and should make superstars out of its cast of talented performers.