Because you probably haven’t seen any ads for it or anything, I should remind you that Fox’s Glee returns tonight, after American Idol, at I-kid-you-not 9:28 p.m. E.T. Get out your scientific calculator and set your DVR.
Glee ended its fall ’09 run on a strong note, so to speak, not just with the finale but the “Wheels” episode, which seemed to mark its passage from Entertaining Novelty to Actual Good Show. Not that it wasn’t good before, but it seemed to have found a voice and the ambition to be a show that treated its characters seriously while still having a good time.
I wish I could say that the new episodes (I’ve watched two of three so far) meet and exceed that standard and find that Glee has worked out its kinks. I can’t say that. I’m not saying that it’s jumped the shark, either. Rather, I may just have to accept that Glee will always have kinks; that, in a sense, they are the point of the show.
There are certain early problems that Glee has fixed, or improved on. There’s less character drift so far—by which I mean the tendency of early Glee episodes to whiplash its characters around, changing their desires and even personality traits, sometimes within the same episode, to suit the needs of a plot twist. The episodes (again, what I’ve seen so far) have stopped overloading themselves with storylines; it no longer seems as if Glee is trying to tell three seasons’ worth of story in half a year. And the adult’s storylines, especially those surrounding Will, no longer weigh down the show, mainly because there are fewer of them. (I.e., no more Fake Baby.)
What’s replaced that baggage? Songs. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of songs. Honestly, in the Madonna-themed April 20 episode, it seemed as if Glee was trying to make a double album of soundtrack choices. People love the songs, they help sell CDs and iTunes downloads, and someone seems to have sent the memo: More music!
Now I love a good Glee song as much as anyone—when it works, as in a good musical, in the narrative flow of the story. Chris Colfer’s “Defying Gravity” still makes me verklempt. But when the producers cram so much music in per episode, inevitably a lot of the numbers start to feel emotionally unearned, as if they’re just there because, well, people love to hear those Glee kids sing! I love Glee as a TV show. I do not want it to turn into another American Idol theme night. Likewise, I hate to say it, but it may be time to dial back on the Sue Sylvester. My worry is that Glee wants to give fans twice as much of the crowd-pleasing stuff they responded to in the fall, but in the process could make it less special.
That said, I still admire and enjoy Glee’s ballsiness, because its commitment to more and more music means that it’s even more structurally unlike any other drama or comedy on TV. (Watching the Madonna episode, Mrs. Tuned In remarked, “This is basically an opera,” which was only a slight exaggeration.) It’s quirky and experimental and playful and I never want the show to lose that. (And funny: the new episodes show that Brittany, played by Heather Morris, is its new breakout character. Every word from her mouth kills me.)
I just hope that Glee doesn’t lose the emotional resonance, and sometimes darkness, that made its music (and comedy) work so well. And that may mean giving the people a little less of what they want.