… the most joyous, exhilarating, fresh new series I’ve seen in a long time.
For me, I saw elements of the movie Election, plus Fame and Friday Night Lights, with a bit of The Wonder Years thrown in, only it’s not nostalgia. Glee is all the best parts of all the above, plus music and dancing and great characters and really witty material.
Glee is the story of a high-school glee club full of “losers” who undergo growth and transformation and shit after a gorgeous white-boy footballer and a gorgeous white-boy teacher report for saviour duty.
Glee features a feisty big black girl who wags her finger and says “I ain’t no backup singer”, a stage-struck self-centred manipulative white girl who wants to be the star of everything, a high-voiced campy white boy who loves designer clothing and gets bullied in the playground, a stuttering Asian lesbian – and a nerdy bespectacled boy who uses a wheelchair and plays the guitar.
The character who uses a wheelchair, Arty, is played by an able-bodied actor, Kevin McHale, so we’ve got that problem right there. Crip-drag isn’t a great place to start. But what bothered me the most about this first episode? He doesn’t push the damn chair himself. He can play the guitar, he’s written as having paraplegia not quadriplegia, there is no suggestion that his arms don’t work. (If he did have quadriplegia high enough to not push a chair, I would still hope that he would have a power chair, not be pushed around.)
But he’s just used as a prop. Arty gets shoved into a piano in a “hilarious” bit of choreography slapstick, he gets pushed into the teacher who catches him and makes a face, he gets pushed into the rehearsal room, he gets pushed here, he gets pushed there. He gets trapped in a port-a-loo by footballers just so he can be rescued by the footballer-turned-chorister who is having a Personal Growth Moment. In the big final number of the pilot, he sits with the band playing guitar while the walking choristers dance around together in the middle of the stage.
And yes, it’s Fox.
To casting people: Cast actors who can use wheelchairs in the role of people who use wheelchairs. The simplest way to do this is to case someone who actually uses a wheelchair in real life. Yes, they exist. Actors with disabilities. I realise it’s a novel concept for you. Here’s another novel concept: Cast people with disabilities in roles that weren’t written specifically about people with disabilities.
To writers: Don’t use people with disabilities only as hilarious comedy props. Don’t write them stories that are only about their disabilities. Don’t make them helpless pawns put there only to illustrate the personal growth of other characters.
Aside to set design/props departments: If a person who uses a wheelchair is also a guitar player, you might be better off getting a wheelchair without armrests.
To everyone else involved: Please call a halt to this sort of condescending, ill-informed shit wherever and whenever you see it.
A few clips. This first one is the only part of the entire show where I saw the actor lay hands on the wheels at all. (If you’re on a slow connection, skip the last one, which is longest.)