When I started my junior year in high school, I imagined that when I looked back on my four years there, I’d reflect upon it bitterly and with a lot of spite. Of course that wasn’t healthy, but up to that point, my school life hadn’t exactly been rosy.
I grew up in a small town where I fell outside both the religious and political majorities, and my life outside of home was affected because of both. I wasn’t talented athletically, or a social butterfly, but I always had a close group of friends who had similar interests and were pushing for the same thing—to be recognized and respected in the school. By my senior year, I had achieved that more than I would have imagined a year earlier.
Perhaps my trials in high school were what drew me to a pilot that aired after American Idol my junior year, and those experiences are why I continue to have blind faith in that same show — Glee — one that I both admire and loathe at the same time.
There’s not a show on the air that I have a more complicated relationship with than Glee. My roommates will often ask me why I keep watching it when it only leaves me angry and frustrated at the end of every episode. I’ve expressed on this very website some of my biggest complaints about Glee, but since that was posted, my issues have only grown tenfold. A show that once suffered from a minor identity crisis became one that doesn’t remember any of its previous identities at all.
I was finished in May. I had reached my breaking point with Glee and wasn’t going to look back. If I never had to watch Matthew Morrison on a screen ever again, I’d have died satisfied—but here I am, reflecting on the season premiere. And it’s your damn fault, Glee. You got me again.
Last season’s finale, the magical New York adventure that Glee briefly reminded us that it’d been building to all season, was largely a disaster. It brought out the most inconsistent qualities in the show, and settled multiple story arcs in a haphazard and unconvincing manner.
In a perfect Glee, New Directions would have won nationals and had to deal with the aftermath and fallout of reaching success in season three. Instead, they lost, and the show set a giant reset button. The episode ended, the season was over, and then I looked at my watch— there were still ten minutes left. I wondered what kind of wheel-spinning the show could pull to pad out an undercooked finale, and then…
…I was taken aback. Glee spent its last ten minutes of an abysmal season focusing on small character moments that tied every disparate thread up with a bow. It was wonderful, and it was the Glee I remembered from the first season. It remembered that it was a show about high schoolers, trying to find their place and get out of their tiny Ohio town. It was, in short, wonderful.
Here we are, four months later, with the third season premiere, “The Purple Piano Project.” All the promises about character work and smaller moments over the summer have seemingly been abandoned.
Sue Sylvester is again a villain, this time running for Congress on a platform of banning arts in public schools. Why would she revert to this, after the emotional turnaround during her sister’s funeral? Because Ryan Murphy said so.
Sam “Trouty Mouth” is gone, as is his budding romance subplot with Mercedes. Ditto for Lauren Zises, who even started to become a three-dimensional character by last season’s end. Why? Because Ryan Murphy said so, and because he ran out of borderline-offensive weight jokes.
Will Schuester is back to being a scab, becoming a white knight of sorts against Sue’s campaign, complete with viral videos and “glitter bombs.” He’s also making jokes about morning wood while cohabiting with Emma, and presumably, once again, not getting laid. Why? Because Will Schuester is one of the most infuriating characters on television, a cad and a liar who has lost any redeeming qualities he had in the pilot. Oh, and because Ryan Murphy said so.
Lest I forget, there’s also a new character who is immune to auto-tune and has “self-diagnosed Asperger’s.” You know, funny!
Even though Glee is, by large, taking few steps forward and a good many back, there’s something beautiful brewing under the surface, and it’s focused on Kurt, Rachel, Finn and Quinn. With this season as these four characters’ final one (at least on this show), the writing staff finally seems to be taking them seriously.
Kurt has always been serviced well by Glee, and Chris Colfer’s awards are well-deserved. He nails the nuances of his character’s confusion and inability to adapt to his surroundings. He was the one bright spot among the mire of season two, and that looks to continue, with his now-boyfriend Blaine transferring to McKinley, providing for less of a storytelling barrier by separating the action between two schools. While I don’t necessarily buy that Blaine would hang up his Warblers uniform, not to mention that it’d be quite the leap from a private academy to a middle-of-the-road public, Kurt deserves a win—and I’m sure this story will go somewhere solid.
More important is the Kurt/Rachel story that will likely drive the season forward. Their quest to be accepted to a prestigiously generic New York arts school took a great step forward in the premiere when the two visit a mixer for potential applicants. Kurt and Rachel exist in a bubble where they’re the most talented people in the room (even though Kurt had a bit of a reality check when he met Blaine), but the mixer provides a scene in which the two are not the stars, and their fears finally feel legitimate. Glee just got some stakes, and I’m ecstatic to see where it goes.
Conversely, Quinn and Finn are again questioning what they’re doing in Lima, Ohio, and where they’ll end up once high school is over. Quinn’s transformation into an extra in a Ramones video is complete, and her story this year will undoubtedly focus on her finding a reason to become upwardly mobile again, a journey that will likely drag Finn along. This story will become much more concrete in the coming weeks, I’m sure, and it’ll look to add some real tension to a show that needs more of it.
My high school experience followed a pattern over the four years: anonymity, failure, rebuilding, and finally, respect. Glee spent its first two years following that same path, although its popularity shows that it didn’t completely fail. If the groundwork laid in this admittedly messy premiere says anything about the new season, this will be a year of rebuilding leading to a wonderful sendoff for the show’s seniors. Hopefully, this season’s ending will leave me satisfied enough to finally leave Glee, and leave it with some respect.
But seriously, this is Glee’s last chance.
I mean it this time.
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