The Fox series marches on, in all its uneven glory.
Season three of Glee has so far been ... ambitious. Two couples have gotten engaged, one character came out of the closet, New Directions staged an entire production of West Side Story, hosted a strange '50s-style Christmas special, and paid tribute to Michael Jackson despite the fact that one of its brightest stars was nearly blinded by a slushie spiked with some sort of elicit weaponry. Sometimes ambitiousness pays off. In the case of Glee, it often hasn't.
The show aired its winter finale Tuesday night, and will take a seven-week hiatus before finishing out the season. Just as the episodes before it, Tuesday's outing was brimming with plot developments. There was a time when Regionals wasn't just focus of one episode, but the entire season. This year, the event was stuffed in the middle of an episode that also covered, with mixed results, gay bullying and teen suicide, the dangers of texting while driving, Sue's implausible pregnancy, and Rachel and Finn's rushed wedding. Now, the impending hiatus provides the opportunity to reflect back on what Glee has done well so far this season—and what it's done so, so poorly. As we embark on the long, Glee-less stretch of late winter, here are reasons to both dread and be hopeful for its return in the spring.
REASONS TO DREAD
1. The show has jumped the shark
There are those who may argue that Glee jumped the shark (that term pointing to the moment when a TV show is so desperate for buzzy story lines that it resorts to an uncharacteristic, ridiculous plot twist) in its first few episodes, when Mr. Schuster's wife faked a pregnancy, or when Sue married herself in season two. But those things happened when Glee was a different show, a cartoonish soap opera that thrived on in its own winky ludicrousness. Over two and a half seasons, however, Glee has evolved into a series that takes itself very seriously, in which every scene has a moral and every moral applies to Teens of Today. That's why the Finn and Rachel's wedding signifies Glee's grand jeté over that Great White.
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The pending nuptials are an affront to viewers who have respected and followed these two characters' arcs. There's no way that a teenager as level-headed and driven as Rachel would sidetrack her life in this way, nor would a person as grounded as Finn be delusional enough to think marriage is a good idea. It's a bizarre, soap operatic twist for a show that had stopped being a primetime soap and has instead, for better or worse, embraced its status as a teen drama modeled after '90s after school specials. And that final cliffhanger, with its game-changing twist before the cut to black, is a move more suited for Melrose Place than Glee. It's further proof that Glee's creators have opened the floodgates, and these whiplash-inducing plot developments, designed to accrue fan buzz and Internet chatter, will now be drowning us all.
2. Mr. Schuster is the worst
Heading into the third season of Glee, Mr. Schuster was insufferable. Now he's intolerable. It's part the writers' fault: Because the character is rarely integrated to the more interesting teenage drama, he's often saddled with unfathomably stilted dialogue that exists solely to move the plot along—a problem that reached new levels in Michael Jackson week with the line, "Unless you have proof that he tampered with the slushie, the police aren't interested in getting involved." But Matthew Morrison is also to blame. His performance is so earnest and boring that you just want to roll your eyes anytime he's on screen.
Case in point: During New Directions' synchronized swimming rendition of Rihanna's "We Found Love" that served as Will's proposal to Emma (a moment so deliciously ridiculous and wonderful and nonsensical and so unabashedly Glee), viewers implausibly find themselves getting lost in their enjoyment of this batshit crazy song concept, against all odds. And then Mr. Schuster makes his grand entrance in a white tux and tails and it just elicits this visceral reaction, a desire to boo him until he goes away. The song was serving as Will's marriage proposal, and the mere presence of Will was so off-putting as to ruin it. When a character reaches that level of unlikeability, he is beyond saving.
3. And Kurt's not far behind
What has happened to our beloved Kurt Hummel? Not too long ago, the fun-loving free spirit flitted through the halls of McKinley High as the essence of fabulousness, self-confidence, and sass. He was quippy and joyful, and, as a character in our cultural consciousness, he was important. Now he's just a drip.
Think real hard: When was the last time Kurt Hummel smiled? Instead, he's spent season three complaining that Blaine is being boring, then complaining that Blaine is being too sexy, then complaining that Blaine got near-blinded, then complaining that New Directions gets no respect, then complaining that Rachel is being a fool to get married, and now complaining that no one understands why he's so upset about Karofsky. It's been a one-note character arc all season, and that one note can be characterized by a big ol' frowny face. More tragically, the creative team seems to mistakenly think they can make up for his lack of personality this season with an outrageous wardrobe of crocheted bibs, leather capelets, and indoor furry hats. Make it stop.
REASONS TO BE HOPEFUL
1. Rory's leaving
When babyfaced leprechaun Damian McGinty was announced as co-winner of Oxygen's The Glee Project, he was granted a six-episode guest arc on Glee as a prize. And so he arrived at McKinley High as Irish exchange student Rory Flanagan in an early November episode... and never left. We've now endured 11 episodes of his impossible-to-understand line readings, his humorless personality, and his uselessness to plot development. Basically, he just hangs around in the background, busting out Gumby-noodly dance moves that make Cory Monteith look like Savion Glover and surfacing sporadically to squint through random treacly ballads about how much he misses his home. If we're to believe the news from the last episode, he's finally leaving, and not a moment too soon.
2. Sebastian Smythe
Sue Sylvester's devious machinations were wickedly entertaining to a point, but it's about time New Directions had a nemesis it's own age, and for whom a motive to destroy the glee club actually made sense. Enter Sebastian Smythe. The smarmy head of The Warblers is so good as a villain because viewers can actually recognize his character from their own high schools, the guy who seemingly already has everything—looks, talent, confidence—which is why he must work so feverishly to achieve more. Played by Grant Gustin, Sebastian has proven the perfect foil to the New Directions with his blind ambition, slimy line readings, and underlying bad-guy charm. He softened his edge a bit this week, but considering the character's popularity—not to mention bonafide song-and-dance chops—I wouldn't count him out as an adversary to New Directions or Kurt and Blaine's relationship just yet.
3. Naya Rivera is killing it
Just as Jane Lynch emerged as season one's breakout star and Chris Colfer stole the season last year, Naya Rivera is proving to be revelation in season three with her performance as Santana. She's stepped up to the forefront as one of New Directions' most exciting soloists, with a raspy, powerful belt that adds more grit to any performance that any of Glee's other talented singers can muster. Her brutally hilarious one-liners remain one of the show's major highlights, but Rivera has added depth to Santana this season, emerging as a formidable actress capable of much more than snark. She's deftly handled a difficult, emotional story line as she portrays Santana's struggle to accept her sexuality. More than that, she's anchored the season's finest moment: the Adele mash-up. It's not just her vocals, but her acting during the song that helped it become the year's most exhilarating number. In a perfect world, she, not Lynch, would be on this year's Emmy shortlist.
4. It can still stage a damned good number
There's a lot of griping to be done about Glee. Then Amber Riley shows up and torches a rendition of "I Will Always Love You" that's so poignant and beautifully staged that is sends shivers up and down your spine. And you remember, this is why I still watch Glee. It's a feeling you probably got watching Rivera leave her soul on the floor while belting Adele, or while getting whisked away in the whimsical ambition of "We Found Love." During New Direction's performance Tuesday night at Regionals, Rachel took the stage as backlighting formed a glowing halo around her silhouette. She unleashed a stratospheric high note just as the camera athletically swooped around her in an aerial shot. It was musical theater, and it was exciting. As long as Glee doesn't lose those goosebump-inducing abilities, it's a show worth tuning in to.
REASON TO DREAD AND BE HOPEFUL
This is one bold show
Glee is the rare show that, for all its Emmy Awards and the spirited debate it incites amongst TV critics, is enjoyed chiefly by middle schoolers and young teenagers. And it's certainly taking advantage of that platform. It was a truly daring move to have Karofsky, once the show's biggest villain, attempt suicide as a result of gay bullying. The shocking nature by which Karofsky's decision was revealed should be enough to, at least for the short term, jolt young viewers into thinking twice before ridiculing their peers for being gay, or for any other reason. Credit is due to the show for tackling such a sensitive topic, and covering it in such a true-to-life way.
Everyone, from teachers to classmates, immediately began either blaming themselves or assigning blame to someone else, desperate to find a reason why this happened. Quinn even calls him selfish for wanting to take his own life. We also learn, unexpectedly and realistically, that things aren't just going to "get better" just because Karofsky survived. His mother thinks he has a disease, and he will have to switch schools to dodge the bullying. It was an intelligent way of handling a pressing social issue, a noble purpose that treads a precarious path, as Glee has a tendency to become maudlin and unproductively sappy when it attempts "lesson" story lines.
That's why, for all the awareness that final cliffhanger will raise about the dangers of texting while driving, viewers may need to brace themselves for an onslaught of related Public Service Announcements masked as story lines when Glee returns in the spring. And as the show's characters make the trek towards graduation day, Glee will be consistently hitting the ball right up the foul line. The show is at its best when its teenagers act like teenagers, meaning episodes involving senior prom, graduation day, and saying goodbye to classmates all have potential to be home runs for the show. But the ample opportunity for more lessons—about drinking and driving on prom night, making the most of your high school experience, preparing for college—means the show runs just as much risk of veering into foul territory. We'll have to wait seven weeks to find out which way the ball goes.