If you’ve never heard of Glee, it’s probably because you don’t own a TV, have never seen the front of a magazine,e and place your fingers in your ears anytime you’re near a radio. If that sounds like you, let’s bring you up to speed: It’s a cultural phenomenon created by Ryan Murphy, a director intent on breaking social barriers and removing the word “taboo” from our collective vocabularies. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Murphy is a one-trick pony. While Glee might be one of his best-known projects, he’s been the puppet master for a bevy of hits with even more in the pipeline. Is this guy ever going to slow down?
It all started with Murphy’s first cult hit, Popular, which aired on the now-defunct WB. All about crazy cheerleader Mary Cherry, Murphy nailed high school politics right on the pom-pom with his show that lasted a mere two seasons. Murphy fared much better with his foray into adult drama with Nip/Tuck, a show about the underbelly of plastic surgery. The show earned his first professional accolades, scoring him an Emmy nomination in 2004. From there, he went back into the world of high school by creating the smash hit Glee. Glee, a show in its fourth season about high school misfits forming a glee club, manages to continually use pop culture to keep the show relevant. Other successes Murphy has kicked back and enjoyed include a new comedy – The New Normal – and the opportunity to direct the high-profile HBO flick, The Normal Heart.
While it might seem that Murphy can do no wrong, you should know that he hasn’t been completely perfect. Among his successes have been two failed projects – St. Sass and Pretty/Handsome, neither of which made it past pilot status. And Murphy’s own reputation has been fairly wrought with controversy, often stemming from the cast of Glee themselves. Some have alleged that Murphy uses unfair working practices and makes the actors push themselves too hard. Others have accused him of shady firings – the characters playing Rachel, Finn, and Kurt were all on the chopping block with a spinoff in the works before Murphy restructured the show around high school and college.
Murphy has also endured some controversy when it comes to content. In Glee, the teens are regularly depicted having sex and Murphy has also been the proud purveyor of some of the first gay teen love scenes on TV. When the Parent’s Television Council (PTC) blasted Murphy for his use of gay sex on the show, he responded by saying “I think what it says to a lot of young gay people who are confused and ashamed is that you can get love and are worthy of love.” Murphy himself is married to his husband, David and recently had a child born via surrogate.
While Murphy has worked in a number of genres – he’s the director of American Horror Story on FX as well – there are a few things that continue as a common thread through each project. Murphy loves strong characters and diva and writes central and complex roles for gay characters. He also enjoys a certain degree of theatrics, whether it’s a musical number or the perfect soundtrack for a horror story. While some directors stick to their comfort zone, Murphy has transitioned from drama to comedy, variety show to horror and back again while juggling multiple projects.
There’s more on the horizon, too. In the midst of casting his HBO movie, Murphy has other shows in the words, including three movies – one called Face, centered on plastic surgery, a favorite topic for Murphy.
Ryan Murphy might not be anyone’s favorite director – just ask the people from the PTC. But it seems like they’ll need to get used to his themes and content, because Murphy isn’t going anywhere other than awards shows anytime soon.