Glee is a trashy US teen drama populated almost entirely by ridiculous caricatures and pantomime villains. It's sort of brilliant, honestly.
The show centres on the Glee Club of a high school in Ohio or somewhere. Apparently, 'Glee Club' in this context means much the same thing as 'show choir' - we're talking about pop hits and occasional show tunes performed very competently, accompanied by frequently elaborate dance routines which the cast perform with no visible prior choreography or practice, like characters in a musical. The campness and the melodrama come straight out of musical theatre, too, and the whole thing is such a hit that I wonder why it's taken so long for a popular series with a premise like this to come along.
When it's at its best it's really very entertaining indeed, and the rest of the time it's still quite good fun in that bubblegummy teen drama sort of way. It's generally not the kind of TV you watch for its thought-provoking social commentary, but having said that it's less stupid than it probably wants you to think, and its self-conscious unrealism doesn't always get in the way of engaging with the characters and stories. It's almost too silly to even count as self-parody, but it obviously knows it, and it knows how not to let that get in the way even when it does want to say something serious.
It definitely has what you could call an ensemble cast, though a few of them stand out as getting more of the plots and screen time than the others - while several regular cast members almost never get any lines at all, and seem to be there strictly to make up numbers for the Sectional, Regional and National Glee competitions. They sing all their own songs, sometimes producing versions interestingly different from the originals, although the music is often not to my taste.
A run-down of the characters will probably give you more of an idea of the sort of show it is than any kind of in-depth analysis I might attempt, so here are the main players, awkwardly arranged very roughly in order of how much we see of them. I've linked their names even though we probably don't have entries on them. That's just the way we do things round here.
- Will Schuester, or 'Mr. Schu'. Leader of the Glee Club, and irrelevantly a Spanish teacher. One of the only characters who isn't a shameless caricature, but sadly also one of the least interesting. Tries to be a good teacher, a good husband, a good leader of Glee, a good person, and so on. Sometimes fails.
- Rachel Berry. Born star, or so she firmly believes. One of these people who is inherently dramatic. Obnoxious and self-obsessed, but her vulnerability makes it possible not to hate her. For some people, at least. Also genuinely talented, which helps.
- Finn Hudson. Quarterback. A nice Jock, torn between various social pulls and struggling to get the hang of being an all-round good guy. Also a particularly good singer, though not much of a dancer. Two or three of the other characters are in love with him.
- Sue Sylvester. Eeeeeevil leader of the mostly-evil cheerleaders, or 'cheerios' as she likes to call them. Mr. Schu's arch-nemesis, bent on the destruction of Glee Club, possibly because she hates Schuester's hair so much, or maybe just because it looks like it must be fun. Occasionally we see a human side to her, but it seldom gets in the way of the plot.
- Emma Pillsbury. School counsellor. Obviously in love with Mr. Schu, obviously afflicted terribly by OCD. Awfully nice.
- Terri Schuester. Mr. Schu's eeeeeeevil wife. Pretends to be pregnant because she briefly thought she was, and then thinks he'll leave her if he finds out she's not. Imagines this scheme actually has some chance of succeeding. Shallow, manipulative and habitually dishonest, but Mr. Schu loves her so he is blind to her obvious evilness.
- Kurt Hummel. Token gay guy. Impeccably well-groomed and well-dressed, in an outré sort of way. Wears an air of superiority and outfits that wouldn't look out of place in a marching band. Sings high, but doesn't get the girls' vocal lines even though he could. Comes out as gay after a few episodes, surprising almost nobody except those who assumed he'd come out already. To be fair to the writers, his sexuality and the reactions of others are dealt with surprisingly sensitively.
- Quinn Fabray. Stock Popular Girl, head cheerleader, big in the Chastity Club. Pregnant: Oops! Finn's girlfriend as the series opens. Not very nice, but not one of the pantomime villains either - actually has more human depth to her than much of the cast.
- Noah Puckerman, or 'Puck'. Stock Bad-Boy, Jock. In common with Quinn, kind of nasty but more human than you might initially expect.
- Artie Abrams. Token disabled guy, wheelchair-bound. Nice fella, and funny. Sings and plays guitar, wishes he could dance.
- Tina Cohen-Chang. Token Asian girl. Stammers. Comes out of her shell a little bit later on, as you would expect.
- Mercedes Jones. Token black girl. Sassy. Gets the parts in songs that go 'yeeeeaa-aaay-aaaay-yay-yeay-yeaaaah, ohh'.
- Santana and Brittany. Cheerios sent by Sue Sylvester to spy on Glee Club, along with Quinn. Santana is a stock Bitch and committed cheerio, Brittany is a stock Dizzy Blonde who basically seems to be quite sweet when left to her own devices. They are almost never seen apart.
- Principal Figgins. Kind of grumpy, incongruously Christian. Seems to be fairly well-meaning but exists mainly to be blackmailed or otherwise manipulated by Sue Sylvester, and consequently to threaten Glee Club with destruction.
- Ken Tanaka. Gym coach. Friend of Schu, but inconveniently in love with Emma.
There are a few other recurring characters, but I'll stop there.
It's a fun show, if irritating at times, and I'm glad it doesn't take itself too seriously. If you have a high tolerance for US teen drama, a great love of modern pop music and aren't in the least bothered by tokenism, I would recommend it, but then I suppose you're probably watching it already. If you deviate too far from that description you'll probably hate it - but then, I thought I was probably going to too, so it might still be worth a try.
I will say this for Glee, as well: According to something I heard on Radio 4 it has sparked a lot more interest in glee clubs of various sorts in countries where it has aired, and that is an excellent thing. People should get together and sing more, whether for performances or just for fun. I first noticed Glee, the show, because I've been involved with 'glee' in a more-old fashioned sense - mostly sitting around singing folk songs, with people from my camping organisation - so the title jumped out at me. I honestly think group singing is one of the best things for humans to do together, and one of the rubbish aspects of late 20th century life in the rich world was that people had practically stopped doing it outside of churches and camp sites. If this helps turn that around, it'll be more than worth all those stereotypes and clichés that it sometimes too-timidly undermines.