Review: Glee’s fall season

As the title would suggest, last’s night’s fall finale of Glee, “Sectionals”, saw the McKinley High glee club finally perform at the first level of competition. It seemed like a logical point for the series to temporarily leave off at, and the episode satisfyingly tied up some loose ends, but it will be a long wait until the show returns in April (yes that’s right, April) of next year. In the meantime, I thought I’d give my thoughts on the first 13 episodes of the hit Fox show. I’ll be talking about different storylines from all of the episodes, so if you haven’t caught up on the series yet, you might not want to read much further.

Glee earned some great buzz for its pilot, which originally aired after the American Idol finale, last spring. Momentum continued through to the fall, when the show re-aired the pilot, and had its “series premiere”. I think that one of the things that caught people’s attention most about the pilot was the satirical, surprisingly dark edge to the show. With pot-dealing teachers, gay dads, and slushies to the face, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be some second-rate High School Musical.

With such a strong pilot, I was uncertain as to whether the show was going to be able to keep up with the sharp writing. For the most part, it has. I can always count on seeing a one-liner from last-night’s episode of Glee as someone’s Facebook status on Thursday morning. But while the humour of the show is still there, but I do feel like Glee has become a bit uneven in tone throughout the season. I think that part of the problem is that the show set itself up for dramatic situations that weren’t consistent with its otherwise tongue-in-cheek style. When Will Shuester’s wife, Terri, faked being pregnant, and schemed to “adopt” cheerleader Quinn’s unwelcome baby without Will’s knowledge, it was played as an exaggerated, humorous situation. Which is was. But then it was inevitable that Will would find out at some point. Which he did. The show may be a satire, but it still has some basis in reality, so obviously they couldn’t have him laugh the bizarre situation off. And while Will’s freak-out in last week’s “Once Upon a Mattress” seemed very realistic (and it had some surprisingly good acting from Matthew Morrison), the kitchen scene felt more like it was from an episode of The O.C.

That being said, I have no problem with a little melodrama, which is fortunate, because there was plenty more of it this week when Rachel revealed to Finn that he was not, in fact the father of Quinn’s baby (the honour goes to Finn’s best friend, Puck). Finn’s subsequent blow-up was undeniably intense, and it added some great tension to the already exciting episode. But I couldn’t help thinking, when did this show get so serious?

I really do enjoy the show overall, though. Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester is arguably the best part of the show. Her biting, relentless quips are always hilarious. The writers have done a bit to humanize her (“Wheels” contained an unexpected, poignant moment when Sue visited her mentally challenged sister in the facility that she lives in), and I like that all of the characters are starting to become pretty three-dimensional. One of the season’s best episodes came early on, and it centred on Kurt, New Directions’ flamboyant soprano. His reluctant fight to join the football team in order to prove himself to his dad was handled with the just the right balance of humour and human drama, as was his eventual coming out to his father. That storyline was revisited later in the season in “Wheels”, when Kurt’s dad received hateful phone calls about his son, and Kurt had to decide whether or not to compromise who he is to give his dad some peace of mind.

While Kurt’s storyline has been carried out nicely over the course of the season, a few others have felt a bit more fragmented. There are a lot of characters, so obviously not everyone is going to be the star of every episode. But there have been so many one-episode storylines that don’t seem to go anywhere. The Tina/Artie romance seemed to stall before it even got started. And Kristin Chenoweth’s debauched character was a lot of fun, but she arrived and left in the course of an episode. Same goes with the Rachel/Puck romance, and Rachel’s crush on Mr. Shuester. Some of the storylines work as being self-contained episodes, but those kinds of complicated relationships probably would have been better served over the course of a few episodes.

Although I’m not really a fan of musicals, I always enjoy Glee‘s performance numbers. Maybe it’s because they’re actual performances on a stage, so it makes sense in the context of the show. With the talented cast and fun song choices, it’s not surprising that Glee, and its musical numbers, have become such a hit. Here are five of my favourite performances of the season, so far (with links to the audio on YouTube):

  1. Don’t Stop Believing (“Pilot”) (We first heard it at the end of the first episode, and I think it was the moment that a lot of people were hooked on this show)
  2. Somebody to Love (“The Rhodes Not Taken”) (You can’t beat Queen)
  3. Hair/Crazy in Love (“Hairography”) (Great mash-up. It reminded me that “Crazy in Love” is a stellar pop song. “It’s your boy, Artie!”)
  4. Don’t Rain on My Parade (“Sectionals”) (I’m not a huge fan of Rachel’s singing style, or show tunes. But this number, from last night’s fall finale, was undeniably impressive)
  5. Sweet Caroline (“Mash-Up”) (Puck’s voice is great, and I liked his “impromptu” moment to shine)

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