True to Yourself
Why rush Omega Sigma? As the only fraternity with no awards or achievements listed in the official rush pamphlet of Indiana’s fictional Hayes University, the Omega Sigma of Glory Daze appears at first glance to be indistinguishable from misfit groups in films such as King Frat, Animal House, and PCU. Omega Sigma is the fraternity of last resort, but they throw great parties. Based on this start, you’d think that TBS’ new sitcom is offering nothing new, only reproducing the conventions of campus comedies without distinction.
New student Joel (Kelly Blatz) is similarly familiar. Arriving at Hayes burdened with eccentric, overbearing parents (Brad Garrett and Cheri O’Teri) and a nerdy roommate (Josh Brener), Joel wants to break free from the expectations of others. And as he and three fellow freshmen embark on a set of adventures, Glory Daze follows suit, beginning to challenge stereotypes rather than relying on them.
Set in 1986, Glory Daze features wall-to-wall pop music hits from the era, forced references to dawning technology such as e-mail, and occasional “wacky” clothes and hairstyles. Despite such superficial attempts to wear the era convincingly, the majority of the episode is shot and directed in a decidedly contemporary style. Unlike Freaks and Geeks, which combined makeup, production design, and cinematography to create a raw 1980s pallor, Glory Daze outfits its actors to look hip and frames them with soft lenses.
The series also tries, with mixed results, to comment on the campus’ social culture. Initially, this means more clichés: Joel is a naïve pre-med student with a Jesuit school background and his new friends include some well-known types: Brian (Hartley Sawyer) is a baseball player fulfilling his father’s dreams, Jason (Drew Seeley), a young conservative who sleeps with a framed photograph of President Reagan, and Eli (Matt Bush), might be best, if simply, described as being the Jewish and libidinous kid. After failing to attract the interest of other fraternities, they visit the Omega Sigma house, and this is a turning point for both the undistinguished characters and dull script.
The heightened energy of fraternity life, including the rushing and pledging processes, injects a lively spontaneity into the script. Although there are some overly familiar gags (one featuring an exaggeratedly large beer bong device), Glory Daze effectively establishes the fraternity house as a passageway to finding one’s identity and becoming part of a desirable tradition. A stoner known as “The Oracle” is so committed to Omega Sigma and its history, he’s been in the house for a decade. He is also a character type that we’ve seen before, but the writers and actor Chris D’Elia grant this would-be philosopher/shaman of the house a measure of couch-bound authority. His passive contribution to rush week is to inspire a future pledge to pay respect to a fraternity forefather.The pledge’s ensuing crime spree (breaking and entering a sacred hall in order to install the forefather’s portrait) instigates the episode’s most consequential conflicts and tests the characters’ emerging independence.
Predictably, by episode’s end, the four friends at the center of the show form a closer bond and also develop individually. The effect is to call into question the roles they thought they fulfilled (and by extension, the stereotypes the audience expected at the beginning of the episode). If the first episode of Glory Daze never achieves what might called complex storytelling or character development, at least it begins to explore the question posed at the show’s beginning: “How can you be true to yourself, if you don’t know who you are yet?”
So why watch Glory Daze? The first episode offers little to recommend. However, if the show can keep up with the boys as they undergo their own awakenings, then it might eventually offer something fresh to the campus comedy canon. If not, the series will become a comedy of last resort.