I'm writing this on the night of the third season's third episode, and I should let you know that so far I've only seen the season premiere. And a part of me only wants to see that episode and be done with it. There's a lot I didn't like about the episode, but there's also parts of it that I did like and renewed my hopes that this was going to be the show the pilot had promised.
You see, at the end of Glee's extremely-uneven second season, I had resolved that I'm no longer going to expect this show to be the one we saw in the pilot. It's not even going to be a shadow of that program. Instead, I was going to embrace it as the train-wreck it had become, and hope that the writers would too, instead delving into high camp to turn this show into High School Musical on acid. It'd be trashy, but it'd be so much fun.
Then came "The Purple Piano Project," an episode that somehow manages to do everything that season two did wrong and the pilot did right. Let's start with what they did wrong. For one, Sue Sylvester is still around. Yes, Jane Lynch is a brilliant actress, but her character, as I've bemoaned many times, isn't a character anymore so much as a mustache-twirling comic villain al a Wile E. Coyote. She worked as a Big Bad in season one, but every year since has felt strained. There's no reason for her to still be around. Sure, her political-campaign arc this year is meant to lampoon to the current Republican race (which, really, is it's own embarrassing three-ring circus of ignorant clowns more interested in upping their own profiles than actually running for president), but it still doesn't justify, say, Sue gutting a random piano in the hallway with a pair of hedge-clippers (which she pulled out of thin air!).
Instead, the show should be focusing on a new Big Bad, and it seems to be suggesting one in this episode: post-graduation life. We've been told for a while that Finn will probably never leave Lima, and I for one hope that that's true. Rachel and Kurt take a trip to a mixer for a prestigious New York arts school, but they're blown away by how many truly talented kids they're competing against. Now, they're already hinting at the idea that one of them will probably get in and the other won't, which is a cliche way to go, but if that's what they're going to do I hope it's Rachel who doesn't make it. Why? Because that would fit best with what the show has always had as an underlying theme: dreams are great, but you may have to adjust them. We can't all be world-famous; sometimes we have to settle for what's given to us. Of course, the show will likely find a way to give everyone everything they've ever wanted, because optimism, yeah! But it would resonate more if Rachel was playing Fanny Brice in a Cleveland Regional Theatre production of Funny Girl rather than on Broadway. The cruelty of fate would make a more interesting - and pertinent - Big Bad than Sue could ever be at this point.
Of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that even with a full writing staff this year, there's only a handful of characters they even know what to do with. Quinn's gone off to become a scene kid (or at least the Glee version of a scene kid) because, you know, why not. It's become clear at this point that Quinn was created as the pregnant cheerleader/social martyr, and as soon as she gave birth to the child at the end of season one, there was no reason to keep her around anymore. So instead they've let the very-talented Dianna Agron flit about, having go from nice-girl to Queen-Bitch and back again, sometimes in the course of a single scene. The same goes for Mercedes, who they've finally let be happy but are sure to just ignore/tear that happiness away like sick sadists. And then there's the adults: even in a relationship, Will Schuster is annoyingly passive, and Emma is still annoyingly precious. The crowning example is when, in the midst of a confrontation about keeping the arts in school in the principal's office, he breaks down and bemoans his sex life (or lack thereof). It's a bizarre moment, both in terms of the writing and Matthew Morrison's performance. And the glitterbomb is a wholly-underwhelming and stupid-ridiculous moment.
And yet my faith in the store was cautiously restored. First, the musical selections were surprisingly diverse, consisting of more Broadway and less '80s tunes/Top 40 hits. And they made sense in terms of the show, which is to say they didn't make much sense other then "let's put on a show! It's been 10 minutes since our last song!" Though that may sound like a backhanded compliment - it kind of is - it's also an improvement over the "we have the rights to this, so here it is" approach that the show often falls into the trap of. Then there's what I mentioned earlier: the show, however sketchily, does seem to be making an attempt at grounding the stories in the fear of post-graduation. It's something that every high school senior goes through, and it's great that the show is at least pretending that it's going to address it throughout the year.
But will they? That's what makes me most nervous: history suggests that they're going to either burn off these ideas early or they'll just drop them and pick them up again at the end of the season (we'll call this the Sunshine Approach). I hate myself for believing that there will be consistent storytelling this year, because I know so much better, but damn if Glee doesn't play with my emotions. That's why I almost want to stop watching right now, and just let the rest of the season play out in my head, where consistency is key. But of course I won't stop watching. Even with all my friends telling me you're bad for me, I just can't quit you, Glee.