“The Purple Piano Project”

Posted on September 21, 2011

If there’s one thing Glee (sometimes inadvertently) does really well, it’s coming up with episodes that clearly delineate what does and doesn’t work about the show. You can look at last night’s episode and see certain things being checked off a list; Will & Emma, the Senior situation (as in, who’s a senior in the cast and who isn’t), Blaine & Kurt’s relationship, Rachel & Finn’s relationship, the shuffling off of dead weight (goodbye Sam and Lauren), Quinn as the most put-upon and publicly humiliated pretty blonde cheerleader in the history of high school, Sue’s latest jihad against the glee club, and a roundabout return to the show’s earliest and potentially most interesting theme: the hopes of high school coming up against the crushing reality of post-high school life.

Of all the storylines put into place last night, it was the idea planted in Kurt and Rachel’s head that they’re not such hot shit outside the walls of the choir room, let alone Lima, that has the best and most potential to pay off big by the end of the season. The problem with Glee has always been that, unlike most TV series, it really only has one story to tell: a hodge-podge mix of losers and outcasts of various stripes navigate the deadly social constructions of high school, learn to believe in themselves, and grab a shot of glory before moving on. You can tell it in one two-hour movie. But Glee has to tell the same story over and over, week after week; shuffling the aging characters around the board, introducing new ones along the way, and switching up only the songs and romantic pairings to make it interesting. The problem with the highly problematic season 2 was the erroneous thinking that adding theme episodes and a whole lot of social commentary to the mix was the way to go to keep things fresh. The only true thing you can do with Glee – the only thing that doesn’t feel like a waste of time to the viewer – is to take that theme of going for the glory to its conclusion. Firmly declaring which characters are seniors, and thus, up to bat (so to speak) in terms of dealing with the major over-riding theme of the show, is the best thing that can happen from a story-telling point of view. Kurt, Rachel, Quinn and Finn have one final season to figure their shit out and get that big trophy before they exit the stage.

It may just be that the writing team will focus solely on these four characters for the rest of the season. Even though we’ve complained as much as anyone that Mercedes and Artie don’t get enough solos or storylines, we think a tighter focus on those 4 main characters is what the show needs right now. They have never learned how to effectively divvy up the spotlight for the large cast and it’s possible that they’re not even going to try that hard this year. It’s the 4 main characters, with everyone else in a somewhat supporting role. That’ll piss off quite a few fans of Mercedes, Tina, Artie, Santana, etc., but sometimes (we would argue all the time) a creator has to give his audience not what they want, but what they need. In order for Glee to survive, the show needs to tighten its focus and return to its themes.

Of course “return to its themes” meant a return to a bunch of stuff we’ve seen before, like Sue’s latest jihad, the Rachel and Finn relationship, and Quinn trying on the Bad Girl mantle again, and we admit, very little of it (okay, none of it) felt very fresh to us. In fact, that’s our main complaint about last night’s episode: it all felt a little stale and generic. But if you look at it purely from a writing perspective, in light of the critical lambasting the show got last season, and taking the long term goals into consideration, then last night’s season opener took the highly unusual step (for a season opener) of doing a “housekeeping episode.” Instead of starting off BIG! and NEW! and FRESH! like one would expect a Glee season premiere to do, the show was more about laying out the status quo and to do that, it was more important to check things off a list rather than dazzle the viewer with any newness. As strange as it sounds, checking things off a list and showing us stuff we’ve seen already was the boldest move the creators could have made; a way of saying to bitchy reviewers like us, “We have a plan; we’ve always known what it is; no more fooling around.”

Did this make for an electrifying hour of television? Sadly not. There wasn’t too much in the way of LOL moments and the numbers were energetic, but not spine-tinglingly so. At the end of the hour, we had a “Is that all there is?” moment, but in the light of day, having thought about it, we’ll take one underwhelming hour of Glee if it means they’re taking time to line up the chairs for the rest of the season. So no spontaneous applause in our TV room last night, but a lot of food for thought as to how focused the creative team is getting and whether they can pull off the trick of concluding the main story for half the cast while nurturing the other half for the season(s) to come.

Unfortunately, Hulu costs money now and we can’t insert videos of the musical numbers like we normally do. Pout. You’ll have to sing at your desk by yourself to relive the Glee experience. Do it quietly if you’re at work right now, okay?

[Photo Credit: fox.com]

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