Thursday, October 10, 2013

'Glee' changes, and stays the same

(Published Oct. 10, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

It’s more of the same for TV musical series “Glee,” storywise, after some major lineup and status quo shake-ups last season. The show has become even more empowering for the outsider, however, reiterating its importance in today’s TV landscape.

Now in its fifth year, “Glee’s” season-opener is a two-part Beatles tribute, showcasing the influential band’s music through typically peppy renditions by the show’s New Directions glee club.

The first week focused on the Beatles’ earlier phase, the songs aptly chosen for the series’ themes. The episode culminated in gay couple Blaine (Darren Criss) and Kurt’s (Chris Colfer) engagement after the previous season’s cliffhanger. Blaine finally proposed in grand fashion with “All You Need is Love.”

The second week featured songs from the Beatles’ more experimental phase. Lesbian coworkers Santana (Naya Rivera) and Dani (Demi Lovato) performed an appropriately light and endearing duet of “Here Comes the Sun.” The episode ended with “Let It Be,” performed by the group after Tina’s (Jenna Ushkowitz) “Carrie”-esque humiliation at the prom.

“Glee” is still mostly about Rachel’s (Lea Michele) artistic journey; that and the enduring Blaine-Kurt relationship continue to be well-written. Other pairings and arcs pale in comparison, and some storylines seem shoehorned in just for the heck of it. Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), who selflessly quit last season because of an accident involving a gun, is suddenly a devious character again and is currently the school’s new principal.

The younger characters introduced last season blend in well, despite the rehash of subplots and personalities. The New Directions team has always been diverse, but it has become even more representative of minorities with the inclusion of a transgender, Unique (Alex Newell) and a biracial kid, Jake (Jacob Artist).

Music-wise, the show has gotten eclectic as well. Earlier seasons featured tributes to “bubblegum pop” artists, but there have been countless covers of songs by “more serious” musicians. The show finally started using more original content last season, although the songs were lyrically hits-and-misses. (The songs were written by one of the high school students in the story, so it somehow fit.)

But it’s a good start and viewers need to hear more new material in season five, not just versions of popular songs. Still, they’re mostly great covers, especially the ones that highlight Michele, Criss and Rivera’s exceptional vocal abilities.

This Friday’s episode is “The Quarterback,” which will address the death of actor Cory Monteith, who died last July. He played Finn, the athlete-turned-outcast member of the New Directions. Monteith was one of “Glee’s” most popular stars. 

Monteith contributed greatly to the show’s lively dynamics; he was an effective and charming performer who shared obvious chemistry with Michele. The show will continue without him—“Glee” has a legion of stars-in-the-making and similarly gifted newbies—but it just won’t be the same.

Still, the show remains worth watching for its focus on important identity and artistry issues, aside from the generally well-produced numbers.

(“Glee” airs Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on ETC.)

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