secret sauces

The 5 Things Keeping Glee So Awesome

When compared to other shows in primetime, Fox’s Glee is a ratings winner. When compared to other shows where the cast would burst into song-and-dance, Glee is a homerun. NBC’s Fame? CBS’ Viva Laughlin? Bombs from the start (though Fame was a bigger deal on the international market). The Los Angeles Times‘s Donald Liebenson chronicles the hits and misses in the musical-on-television category, and Glee really is the standout. But what’s the secret formula keeping it afloat?

Here’s how Glee has succeeded in keeping us riveted:

• Current Top 40 pop ballads are de rigeur. Unlike American Idol forcing young viewers to endure unknown Broadway numbers and Beatles hits, Glee‘s cast is only performing numbers the kids can sing along to. Put a ring on it, bitch.

• It’s more than a show. Their performances are available on iTunes, and fans uploading karaoke versions of themselves singing the songs aren’t being yanked from YouTube. This is the way viewers watch television now, and for a show like this to succeed, it must be interactive. Glee continues to nail it.

• The actors are accessible. While conjuring the glee club’s cast, producers really did rope in every high school stereotype: the jock, the fat girl, the cheerleader, the nerdy overachiever, the gay, the disabled. But these characters aren’t stock roles just for the sake of it; they’re caricatures of the types of people we expect them to be. Which means they can be outrageous, and we appreciate it as camp, not over-reaching theatrics, like …

• Those melodramatic high school shows, which Glee is not. This isn’t 90210 or (the soon-to-end) Melrose Place, where you’ve got your typical high school and college age characters. On those shows, the mean girls rule. On Glee, mean girls become compassionate (see: cheerleader), and the real villains rotate into that role only for an episode’s story arc before returning to level (see: nerdy overachiever).

• Jane Lynch.