Glee kicks off its fifth season on FOX this week with part one of a two-hour Beatles tribute. Entitled “Love, Love, Love,” the story picks up in the spring, where last season left off, shortly before prom. Rachel (Lea Michele) attends her callback audition for Funny Girl, Blaine (Darren Criss) tries to lock down Kurt (Chris Colfer) once more, new love blooms for Artie (Kevin McHale) and Kitty (Becca Tobin), and McKinley High has a new principal.
I like the new crop of characters, added last year and now promoted to series regulars, a lot, but I’m kind of glad “Love, Love, Love” more serves the longer-running roles. Sometimes there are too many subplots going on in a single episode of Glee to really get a satisfying amount of screen time for any of them, but this week’s premiere keeps the focus on a few people, which works really well, especially as it serves some of the more popular parts.
The most anticipated cliffhanger this summer is finding out if Rachel gets to be on Broadway! In “Love, Love, Love,” we see her go for a chemistry reading with Funny Girl‘s leading man (Ioan Gruffudd, Ringer, Fantastic Four) and director (Peter Facinelli, Nurse Jackie, Twilight), but the two experienced Broadway vets certainly have doubts about her, and think Claire Danes might be a better choice.
Rachel’s lamentation of “Yesterday” is a moving number, though not completely earned. She’s been in the Big Apple less than a year. Some stars are born over night, and given the pacing of a TV show, she probably practically will be; she may even get this part. But it’s not like this is a make-it-or-break-it moment for her, so as much as I appreciate a nice melody, it’s a little overly dramatic. Admittedly, that’s in keeping with her character, just the part of her character that makes one sigh and shake their heads.
Luckily for Rachel, she has a second chance when the guys show up in the diner where she and Santana (Naya Rivera) now work, which just happens to allow singing from its waitresses. The staff belts out “A Hard Day’s Night,” and while the song would probably be more effective as a Santana-led number, it does the trick. We still don’t know if Rachel will get the job or not, but Glee fans are sold on her worthiness for it.
“Love, Love, Love” is kind a reboot for Glee in many ways. Although they choose not to move on to the next school year yet, many of the stories kind of reset themselves, and fresh beginnings emerge. Rachel’s job is one such development, as is Sue’s (Jane Lynch) triumphant return to McKinley, with merely a mention that Becky (Lauren Potter) confessed the gun was hers and got a one-month suspension, thus clearing Sue’s name.
One one hand, I like that Glee isn’t beholden to all the hanging threads from last year, which those unresolved things weighing it down and driving the fall plot. On the other, it would be nice if the series took the time to resolve bits instead of just moving past them, essentially abandoning a few of the stories. It just didn’t feel like last year’s tale was done, but season five is moving on anyway. I guess it might have been poor planning on arc structure, holding onto things longer than they should have, and then deciding enough was enough.
Sue’s promotion to principal is directly a result of her framing Figgins (Iqbal Theba) for a variety of unsavory activities in the workplace. This isn’t the first time Sue has assumed the position, and last time I wondered if it might be permanent to cut down on the swelling cast. This go-round feels just as temporary, though, with Figgins sticking around as janitor and vowing revenge. I actually look forward to the goofy war that might be waged between these two comic-relief characters.
Sue’s first act is to call Will (Matthew Morrison) and Roz (NeNe Leakes) into her office, demanding that they both take home national championships this year if they want to keep their jobs. Never mind that the year is almost over, and that the national title for cheerleading is handed out in February, a couple of months prior to this episode, and the New Directions shouldn’t even be eligible for Nationals. Oh, well.
It’s a little frustrating when Glee sacrifices authenticity for what they deem to be the most “fun” story. I like to see a new side of Sue, helping teachers and coaches make their clubs succeed instead of only caring about her own brood, but I just wish the writer’s room would make better use of Google. These facts aren’t that hard to check, and I’m sure the episodes could still play out in a similar manner given a little creativity.
Another big moment that doesn’t feel quite real afterwards, but is so great while watching one doesn’t realize it at the time, is Blaine’s proposal to Kurt. Making up with an energetic “Got to Get You Into My Life,” being just boyfriends again isn’t enough for Blaine. So he recruits all the rival glee clubs in the area in the fantastic “Help!” number, including Dalton Rumba’s (Michael Hitchcock) deaf students, Vocal Adrenaline sans any familiar faces, and a remorseful Warblers club led by Trent (Dominic Barnes) and Sebastian (Grant Gustin), to do (what else?) “All You Need Is Love” for Kurt. It’s a big, splashy proposal that delights as a visual and auditory treat, times two, but doesn’t really fit in at all with Glee‘s established world and character rivalries.
My one complaint about the finely executed “All You Need Is Love” scene, besides the premise of it, is that Mercedes (Amber Riley) is present but doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. Recently dropped from the full-time cast, it does make sense to bring Riley back for such an important moment, but it’s cruel to waste her as set dressing. This will only be made up for if she sticks around to talk some sense into Kurt and Blaine in the second half, next week.
It’s way too early for Blaine and Kurt to get engaged. Kurt says yes because how can he not when confronted with the massive, showy, dream proposal? But his conversation with his father (Mike O’Malley) on the way there proves he isn’t fully committed to this. Why must all the teenagers at McKinley try to get married the second they leave the halls of high school, or even before? Can’t they just enjoy their youth and being with those they care about, without rushing towards commitment?
I understand Blaine’s desire to do this. He feels he has lost Kurt and wants to solidify his hold on him. However, it’s a sign of immaturity. Where is Will’s scene trying to talk Blaine into waiting, or at least offering sound advice? Some of the students are hesitant, but this arc really begged more exploration and characters’ self-reflection before the big moment. I hope we get some after the fact, rethinking what has been promised.
Two original cast members of Glee that the show has never, ever found a good use for, though god love ’em for trying over and over again, are Artie and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz). They just do not resonate the way others have, yet somehow remain in the show (after somehow being demoted to juniors in season three). “Love, Love, Love” tries valiantly to serve both of them, but despite signs that Artie, especially, is going nowhere, it’s long past time to let them go, especially when better players such as Mercedes and Brittany (Heather Morris) have already been given the boot.
Artie’s new romance is with Kitty. This makes for an entertaining trip to the fair and a group rendition of “Drive My Car,” which immediately devolves into a secret fling when Kitty’s new rival, who emerges from nowhere, Bree (Erinn Westbrook), disapproves. Then we get a sad, but terrific, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” before a confrontation from Tina pushes Kitty to make the relationship public.
This is actually one of Artie’s better episodes. McHale gets to show a range of emotions, but the character is still too much of a pushover to be sympathetic. What Artie tries to make look like understanding for Kitty’s reputation ends up casting him as a schmuck. Perhaps many kids in his position would do the same, willing to keep his fling a secret in order to continuously get some sugar from a beautiful girl, but Glee is about not being ashamed and standing up for yourself, so this doesn’t fit the message of the series.
Kitty’s growth into a fully developed person, not just a Cheerio mean-girl, is welcome, and has been going on for awhile. However, her quick flip-flopping between whether she’s OK with people finding out about her and the boy in the wheelchair rings false. She goes from thinking hiding things is a great idea to being fully supportive of a public pairing in no time at all. And what exactly does she see in Artie, besides, admittedly, a great singing voice? It doesn’t gel.
Tina, for her part, is shown to be bitter and nasty after last year’s events. Her attacking Kitty seems noble at first, protecting a friend, but is quickly unmasked as jealousy and pettiness, doing her character no favors in the likability column. Which is why it’s weird that Blaine, Sam (Chord Overstreet), Jake (Jacob Artist), and Ryder (Blake Jenner) try so hard to cheer her up. Blaine has an inexplicable friendship with Tina, but the rest don’t owe her anything. And the result of this little subplot is that Tina is going to the prom with Sam? Poor Sam, is all I can say.
Now, the boys’ way to make Tina is enjoyable, staging a classic Beatles presentation of “I Saw Her Standing There.” Marley (Melissa Benoist) sort of steals this scene, making a perfect screaming, crying fan girl with big glasses dancing near the stage. It’s a really fun piece of music, well performed.
And that’s why “Love, Love, Love” works. For all its many flaws in character development and authenticity, these songs rock. Glee does as much justice as one would expect from the show with these classic numbers, and even when the story doesn’t quite work with them, viewers are likely to forget that in the moment and just enjoy themselves. It’s why the Beatles are so enduring to this day, and I’m glad Glee is spending a second hour with them next week, which can only benefit the show.
Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.