Glee returns tonight with a beastie and a pre-emptive backlash
Executive producer Ryan Murphy and the fine minds behind Glee already know that folks who aren’t waiting in breathless, fan-drenched anticipation for the return tonight of Fox’s cheeky musical dramedy are probably waiting for another reason.
They can’t wait to start the backlash.
That’s what happens when you win a few Emmys, help save the comedy genre on network television and get an hour devoted to you by the Queen of All Media, Ms. Winfrey herself. Simply, put, that kind of success puts a serious target on your back.
Which explains why Murphy kicks off tonight’s Glee episode with a bruising series of puts downs from nerdy gossip monger Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman), who shoves a video camera in the faces of our favorite gleeks, TMZ-style, to ask probing questions like why “glee club selections sound like they come from a drag queen’s iPod…100 percent gay?”
It’s a quick way to update us on what Israel calls “Glee’s Big Gay Summer” supposedly the time between last season’s finale and now. So we learn, as a new school year starts, that stars Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn (Cory Monteith) have been dating all summer; Tina (Jenna Uskowitz) broke up with Artie (Kevin McHale) to date hip hop dancer Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr); cheerleader Santana (Naya Rivera) had her girls, um, expanded and her partner in crime, dim bulb Brittany (Heather Morris), spent the summer lost in the sewers, though everybody assumed she was on vacation.
Yup. Murphy’s going to hate on Glee before you get a chance to. But the sequence also gives an awkward start to what should be a triumphant return for one of network TV’s most promising new shows.
One thing lost in all the love for Glee is how uneven last season could be – a brilliant episode followed by one much less so, followed by more brilliance. At times tonight, that history seems scrunched into a single episode, with moments of transcendence (a group sing on Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys; new castmember Chord Overstreet’s soaring version of Travie McCoy’s Billionaire) and spots of nonsense.
One questionable move: Giving Jane Lynch’s brutal cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester and Matthew Morrison’s glee club teacher Will Schuester a common nemesis, masculine-looking female football coach Shannon Bieste (armwrestling champ-turned-actress Dot Jones).
Having two former rivals become frenemies to deal with Bieste – pronounced as you might expect; the coach says its French -- might have been entertaining, if the football coach seemed worthy. But Bieste reveals her soft heart by the episode’s midpoint, leaving Mr. Schu and us audience gleeks unsure of who the real villain is supposed to be.
In the end, tonight’s episode suffers a bit from the same syndrome hobbling many returning series this week; the less-than-compelling need to set the scene for a season’s worth of new stories.
So we see new challenges for Finn as an athlete and Rachel’s attempt to misdirect a potential rival blow up in her face, as both characters face the appearance of new kids ready to outshine them in the places they feel most comfortable.
Given that Glee works best when tackling big event episodes and next week is the highly-anticipated Britney Spears episode featuring Morris’ desperately dead-eyed Brittany, my hopes are high. Toss in upcoming appearances from John Stamos, a Barbra Streisand tune, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and negotiations to get Gwyneth Paltrow onboard (can she bring hubby and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin along?) and my gleek-itude rises more.
In other words, hold off on the backlash just yet. i've got a feeling brilliance is just around the corner, yet again.