Sunday, September 16, 2012

Checking In: Glee Season Four Premiere

Glee (Thursdays at 9:00 on Fox)

First of all, let's take a look at the above photo. LOOK HOW MANY CAST MEMBERS THIS SHOW HAS! It's overcrowded and has been for the past couple of seasons, thanks in no small part to the introduction of winners/runners-up from The Glee Project, but this is just ridiculous. And it doesn't even feature all of the recurring characters! Missing from the above eighteen (!!), just from what I've gotten off the top of my head, are Emma, Quinn, Roz, Figgins, Jacob Israel, Sugar, Wade ("Unique"), Joe, and whoever the second season winner of The Glee Project will be playing. So many characters!

The solution? Not everyone will appear in every episode. As a concept, I think that's extremely smart. A lot of the reason why last season was so weak was that there were dozens of characters all fighting for screen time, so their stories were either lost or non-existent at times. Like with Quinn; they couldn't really figure out anything for her to do, so they turned her character into a walking PSA about texting while driving. So rather than have her play out ridiculous storylines like that, or trying to get her baby back when she legally gave her away for adoption a year previous, Quinn will be appearing in fewer episodes. Great!

The problem with that is that now we will have to keep thirty characters' stories straight without being reminded of their presence every week. Why not just cut them out of the show completely? Quinn has graduated and gone on to great things; let that lie. Why force a story on her and us, the audience? There are plenty of other plots to focus on. It's already becoming a problem; the first episode of the season was overpopulated with new characters, and several returning ones fell by the wayside because of it. Finn didn't appear at all. Remember that at one point Glee was essentially his story? From the beginning, he and Rachel were the primary focus of the show.... and now he's just not there. I can accept some characters not being in the first episode (I didn't miss Quinn or Emma), but Finn's absence was strange.

Other problems with the first episode:

1) The introduction of "the new Rachel," Marley. The girl playing her, Melissa Benoist, is extremely talented, but her backstory is forced and silly. Her mother is the obese cafeteria lady everyone makes fun of, a kindly but unattractive and impoverished woman who sews J. Crew labels into her daughter's thrift store clothes. Marley hides her mother's identity from everyone, because apparently she was laughed out of her old school for it. Now, if this is such a problem... why doesn't her mother get a job at another school?

2) The way the Glee Club's newfound popularity is handled. They are apparently superstars now that they've won Nationals, and they (of course) let it go to their heads. When it comes time to audition for the New Directions, they accept two new members from the dozens who audition. Even though they've lost Kurt, Finn, Puck, Quinn, Rachel, Mercedes, and Santana... and even though it has always been a huge deal that they have just enough members to compete. But they only take one person from auditions, plus Unique, who has transferred schools (that happens a lot in Ohio when it comes to talented singers...). But you just lost seven members! You need five more!

3) The introduction of Rachel's potential new love interest, Brody (Dean Geyer, Terra Nova). He's gorgeous and in every way the antithesis of Finn, which is a good thing and makes him interesting to the audience and, especially, to Rachel. But he spends the episode borderline stalking Rachel and spewing inspirational messages like he's Rachel's own personal Hallmark store.

4) The competition the New Directions have to find "The New Rachel," AKA the new lead soloist. There shouldn't even be a question about this considering they have Unique, who was the MVP at Nationals so clearly well-liked by judges; and if they don't want to go with that option, Rachel herself wished for her successor to be Tina. So why are Brittany and Blaine competing too? And then the fact that Blaine wins is utter crap. He is by no means as talented as people on this show seem to think he is, especially singing next to Alex Newell, who plays Unique.

5) The handling of Kurt's character. He's basically not even the same kid we all fell in love with three years ago, and I can accept that because, like people, characters change. But turning Kurt from a true fighter, someone who never settled for less and always did exactly what he wanted, into a directionless Lima Loser is terrible. It's pathetic to see him hanging around the halls of his high school, sitting in on Glee Club auditions, taking orders from the bitchy new head cheerleader. I mean, for sobbing out loud, even Puck managed to get out! I'm hoping that with his arrival in New York at episode's end that the writers will be doing something redemptive for him; they've screwed Kurt over enough in the past, let him get something for a change.

6) The handling of Unique. Ryan Murphy doesn't seem to understand that not everything that's different has to be treated as a problem. Last season featured two episodes of Unique dealing with her situation of discovering her trans side and acting on it. And two Glee members, Kurt and Mercedes, were so accepting of her that Unique started to feel comfortable being who she really is. But then that's all rejected by the remaining members of the club who encourage Unique to only perform as a girl and to otherwise be a boy. First of all, that's not how trans-living works. Secondly, it's obnoxious. Why is this suddenly a problem? It's explained away as the Glee members letting the popularity go to their heads, fearing anything "other" may relegate them to being freaks again. But just because Unique is outside the norm doesn't mean she has to be treated as a freak. That has always been a problem with Glee, where the term "freak" is tossed around so easily and applied to so many different people. But not everything that's different is problematic, and it doesn't have to be characterized as such. Because that just means we'll have to struggle through some sappy moment of redemption or realization when the difference is finally accepted, and that's not something Glee has done well recently (see: Karofsky).

There were some high points, however:

1) Kate Hudson as Rachel's dance teacher, Cassandra. Her character is saying all the things I've believed about Rachel since day one: she's great for her little club, but she's a dime a dozen outside of it. She can't dance a lick, so it's great to have her primary challenger come in the form of a self-important ballet teacher. And Kate Hudson is just great spitting barbs at Rachel.

2) The time spent in New York. It's more interesting to follow the characters we've watched grow for three years as they pursue the dreams we've heard them talk about all that time. It's a big dose of reality for them, and the moments in New York are some of the most honest the show has had in a very long time. To see Rachel struggling in classes, feeling insecure about her talent, second guessing her decision to leave home... these are all things that real freshmen go through, and it's a stark contrast to the cartoonish aspects of the high school scenes.

All in all, Glee had a rough start to its fourth season. It wasn't entirely a failure, but it wasn't by any means a smooth transition. It has its problems, as it almost always has, and it seems to be creating more for itself with this new format: one location is more interesting than the other, and some characters are more interesting than others. Plus... there's still too damn many of them.

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