FOX’s Glee began its final season with two episodes this past Friday. In the first, “Loser Like Me,” Rachel (Lea Michele) sees her Hollywood dreams crash and burn. Returning to Lima, Ohio, she realizes the program that inspired her is no more as well, so she petitions the superintendent to revive the arts at McKinley. He agrees – if she will run the show choir. The story continues in the second hour, “Homecoming,” in which many of Rachel’s fellow alumni return to help her recruit.
I’ve been pretty critical of Glee in recent seasons as the quality of the show, never consistent, noticeably declined. The bright spot was whenever the series moved to New York, with the Ohio plots being much lamer. Unfortunately, this sixth (and final) season pretty much eliminates New York altogether, as there is no one left in the Big Apple to follow.
That being said, something Glee usually nails is emotional heft, and season six is already showing greater willingness to use this hammer. The story may not be entirely believable (Sue’s antics so ridiculously misrepresent what would be allowed in education that I want to scream) nor make total sense (why did Chord Overstreet’s Sam decide to move home and become the assistant football coach?), but “Loser Like Me” succeeds in making me feel something for the characters again. Many of them, especially Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer), are at a crossroads in their lives. Things haven’t exactly turned out as they’d hoped, something many young adults face, and they may need to readjust career goals and priorities.
Adding to that is this desperate crusade in the final war against Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) to save arts education. The New Directions did something very special for all of the core characters, and Rachel, Kurt, et al. want to make sure that tradition continues. This is an idea many fans of the show can get behind, and it makes it all the more special when old friends, including Puck (Mark Salling), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Artie (Kevin McHale), Quinn (Dianna Agron), Brittany (Heather Morris), Santana (Naya Rivera), and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), come together to help one another.
A quick note on casting. I’m glad to see Riley back to full-time status, and the promotion of Dot-Marie Jones’ Coach Beiste makes sense, as well as being very satisfying. But why is McHale sticking around, given that he should be the only one left in NYC? And it’s with great regret to note that Rivera has been downgraded to guest star, though she’s expected to appear in several episodes.
The final season will not only see people come together in opposition to Sue, but it will also test the bounds of new relationships. Kurt and Rachel are heading up the New Directions, and two of their loves ones are now coaching their own glee clubs, Will (Matthew Morrison) having been hired for Vocal Adrenaline and Blaine (Darren Criss) returning to his Warblers. This will provide needed drama, which already begins in “Homecoming” when one of Blaine’s students switches to McKinley. But Kurt and Blaine are destined to repair their relationship and Will clearly isn’t happy with his less chummy group, so those are all just obstacles to overcome, rather than signaling an unhappy ending.
Speaking of Kurt and Blaine, their breakup, shown in flashback in “Loser Like Me,” is incredibly sad. I get why it happens, and I think it’s one of the better fleshed out developments in Glee recently, but it’s still incredibly hard to see this “perfect” couple fall apart. I enjoy Karofsky (Max Adler) getting into the triangle, but I have faith the series will bring Klaine back together in the end, which is how it should be.
The evolution of homosexuality in Glee‘s six short years on the air has been astounding. In the beginning, Kurt is bullied for being gay, and Karofsky certainly can’t bring himself to admit who he has feelings for. In “Loser Like Me,” we are introduced to Spencer Porter (Marshall Williams, How to Build a Better Boy), who is “post-gay,” meaning he doesn’t fit into any of the stereotypes gay boys usually fit into, and hardly anyone has a problem with his sexuality. I don’t think the world has changed quite that dramatically in six years, but it certainly has moved majorly in that direction, thanks in large part to shows like Glee and Modern Family, which gets a name drop this week. I hope those involved in Glee are proud of their societal contribution in this arena, and it’s awesome that the show is able to realistically include a character like Spencer before they go off the air.
Joining Spencer (who is not yet in glee club, but certainly will be) in the fresh batch of newbies are: chubby transfer student Roderick (Noah Guthrie, Dancing With the Stars); discrimination-busting Jane (Samantha Marie Ware); and Flowers in the Attic-esque siblings Mason (Billy Lewis Jr.) and Madison (Laura Dreyfuss). Virtually all these performers are unknown, not a rarity for Glee, but they seem like an interesting group, and even if the latter are only comic relief, they should make for some worthy, albeit brief, narratives in the final season. Plus, they can all sing quite well.
I am a bit sad “Loser Like Me” and “Homecoming” introduce a brand new batch of kids without including any of the most recent students like Marley and Unique. I mean, had Sue not transferred them to other schools, they probably would have kept fighting her, and thus Rachel would not have a clean slate. But I like those guys a lot, despite the horrible stories they are often given, and I’m sad they don’t appear to be returning. Kitty (Becca Tobin) is still around, but it doesn’t look like she’s re-joining the choir. It’s not like they’re the first people Glee regrettably diss-ed though; I still miss Zizes.
While I mainly want to talk story this week, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the music in “Loser Like Me” and “Homecoming.” “Suddenly Seymour” is a favorite song of mine, and Glee presents it beautifully. I’m not as big a fan of “Let It Go,” but it’s hard to complain about Ms. Berry’s fantastic rendition of it, and I love the mother/daughter angle because the woman that made the tune famous, Idina Menzel, plays Rachel’s mother on the show. “Take On Me” is telegraphed well before it shows up, but that doesn’t negate it’s effect when it finally does. “Uninvited” is nice, “Viva Voce” is cool, and “Tightrope” is spectacular. “Home” works well for the ending of the two-hour episode.
I was less thrilled with “Mustang Sally,” “Problem,”Dance the Night Away,” and “Sing,” but that speaks as much to the song choices as the performances of them. Though Glee has turned me around on icky songs before by finding a new angle, so the fact that these fail to wow is too bad.
Overall, I am reasonably satisfied with Glee‘s return. These aren’t the best two hours of the series, but they are mostly enjoyable, and they appropriately add serious emotion in the beginning-of-the-end plots introduced. It seems like the show is setting up the ending these characters deserve, and since creator Ryan Murphy has a tendency to nail the dramatic stuff, I’m cautiously optimistic about where the show is going.
Glee now airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00S1Z8NMS][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00S4LI2K2]