Joshua Alston: FOX Series "Glee" Hits the Jackpot

They say there's no fool like an old fool, but to let pop culture tell the story, it's the singing fool who has the most egg on his face. There's Greg Gregson (Chris Lilley), the deluded high school drama teacher in Summer Heights High; his forebear Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) in Waiting for Guffman; and the tone-deaf hit parade of American Idol for the past eight seasons. In 2004, the WB ran Superstar USA, an Idol spoof in which the judges convinced the most awful contestants that they were talented, having them compete for an imaginary recording contract. (Live audiences were told the contestants were terminally ill.) Our biggest buffoons, both real and imagined, express themselves in shoddy song.

We had settled so deeply into the idea of the caterwauling loser that when Susan Boyle stumbled onto Britain's Got Talent with the look of a lady lumberjack and the voice of Charlotte Church, the shock of an inelegant person with talent propelled Boyle into the viral-video elite. After years of being drunk on snark, it seemed we were ready for an honest-to-goodness ugly-duckling story.

If that's indeed the case, then Fox is about to hit the jackpot with Glee, its musical comedy series about a high school glee club. Granted, there are no Susan Boyles in scripted network television—the glee club's fresh-faced "losers" don't look the part of social outcasts—but the framework is the same. When your dream is to sing, everyone thinks you're lame, and only through toil and talent can you prove them wrong.

Matthew Morrison plays Will Schuester, a Spanish teacher trying to withstand his relative poverty and stave off ennui because he knows there's potential to do good. When the glee club's adviser gets fired, Will fights to rebuild the club and ends up with an all-singing, all-dancing Bad News Bears. Because of the setting and the nonstop music (Les Mis, Journey and Amy Winehouse get equal time in the pilot), there will be inevitable comparisons to the tidy High School Musical. But Glee, improbably co-conceived by nip/tuck creator Ryan Murphy, bears far more resemblance to Alexander Payne's caustic Election. Rachel (Lea Michele) is a searing overachiever a la Tracy Flick, while Finn (Cory Monteith) is the popular jock who, thanks to Will's nefarious methods, is diverted into the glee club despite the risk to his position atop the high school caste system. And not unlike Matthew Broderick's character in Election, Will overinvests in his students lives' as a distraction from his mundane one.

The most prominent theme in Glee is the importance of having a purpose, a goal in life, even if it's an unattainable one. The arc of the season will ostensibly be the glee club's path to the glee championships, and it's to the show's credit that despite its group of genetically fortunate kids with massive voices, there's still the feeling that they may not win the big game. When Glee returns in the fall (this premiere is just an appetite-whetter), we'll have a gang of pseudo-Susan Boyles to root for. Here's hoping they win, because as Rachel says in a chipper voiceover, "Nowadays, being anonymous is worse than being poor. Fame is the most important thing in our culture now, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that no one's just going to hand it to you." Out of the mouths of babes.