Friday, 23 September 2011

Review: GLEE, 3.1 - "The Purple Piano Project"

Friday, 23 September 2011
written by Brad Falchuk; directed by Eric Stoltz
starring Leah Michele, Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, Diana Agron, Jayma Mays,
Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Heather Morris & Darren Criss

Glee returns for its third season with promises of reinvention after a creatively troubled sophomore year, that sought to maintain its self-made phenomenon by making things better (Broadway's Kristin Chenoweth? Pah! Try Hollywood's Gwyneth Paltrow in an Emmy-winning recurring role), but not necessarily better. Now that two of its three co-creators are splitting their time between FX's American Horror Story, they've wisely brought in actual staff writers, and this is a key reason why I'm hopeful an outsider's perspective will fix mistakes the show's been making—or at least give us storylines and characters that have cohesion and longevity.

However, on the evidence of season 3 premiere "The Purple Piano Project", I was perhaps foolish to get my expectations up. It's business as usual, with a few changes having occurred off-screen—like the loss of Sam (Chord Overstreet was let-go); the rekindling of Mr Schue (Matthew Morrisin) and Emma's (Jayma Mays) relationship; Mercedes (Amber Riley) getting her biggest storyline while we weren't looking, landing herself a gigantic boyfriend; and Quinn (Diana Agron) turning from sugar-wouldn't-melt cheerleader bitch to purple-haired leader of a rebellious girl gang known as the "Skanks". The episode also took the time to bring Blaine (Darren Criss) into McKinley High from the prestigious Dalton Academy, such was the impact of the actor last season as a love-interest for Kurt (Chris Colfer), and someone appears to have realized that Lauren Zizes' (Ashley Fink) prominence as a gleester and unexpected girlfriend for Puck (Mark Salling) wasn't working one iota.

The problem with Glee (rather like Heroes, actually) is that it's a show that can only really sustain one season because of its basic concept of a struggling glee club and its outcast members rising to the challenge and becoming winners. To try and keep things going, they had the club fail at Regionals in season 1, and then fail at Nationals in season 2, and each time the show has basically reset to square-one. Best exemplified by crabby Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) trying to once again destroy the glee club, this time by getting political support to cut funding to the arts in schools. This after last year's apparent breakthrough when the club performed at Sue's sister's funeral.

The saving grace, just about, is that the cast are incredibly talented when it comes to singing and dancing. I could personally listen to Lea Michele sing and watch Heather Morris dance for an inordinate amount of time, and the best moments of this premiere were the musical numbers. Plus, the show continues to deliver some lovely quips and snatches of dialogue, with the best delivered by Sue and Brittany (Morris). But everything else is now on very shaky ground after two years of repetition, not helped by the show attempting to franchise itself into a 3D movie and reality-show (The Glee Project) over the summer. There comes a time when even passionate fans start to feel manipulated and overwhelmed, or start asking questions the rest of us have been asking for months, like: isn't this show just repeating itself every other week? The answer is "yes", because there's only a finite number of storylines with a show so tied exclusively to a glee club, rather than being a high school comedy that happens to include musical elements.

It's early days, so maybe the new writers will prove they've been able to get their voices heard in the writers' room (enough for the show to develop stories and character arcs in a compelling way this time), but I have strong doubts. A good premieres should be a statement of intent for the year, and "The Purple Piano Project" confirmed that Glee's going to continue doing what it does best, and worst, until the ratings hit too many bad notes and Fox turn off the spotlight.

22 September 2011 / Sky1