We hate to look at this first episode of Glee’s fifth season through the RIP-Cory-Monteith veil, but we found it difficult not to. From the very outset – Rachel’s rendition of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” – it felt like a combination of things: first and foremost, a distraction for the cast (we had to wonder if each performance had been so dripping in fun before the actor’s death, or if the ramp-up in joy was a bid to cheer up the rest of the cast); as a secondary theme, it was an unofficial ode to Cory (the official ‘in memory of’ episode will air as the season’s third). That “Yesterday” opening (while ostensibly about Rachel’s loss of her theatre dreams [although they’re actually not quite lost just yet]) served as a stark reminder of Cory’s absence, from the lyrics to the photos to the almost-break in Lea Michele’s voice as she sang, “why he had to go I don’t know”.
But, as we said, we’re reluctant to view this first episode back solely from that perspective. So what about the rest of the episode, from a wider viewpoint? Well, it was one of the better episodes of recent seasons. A bit more soap opera-y than earlier seasons, and still suffering from that ‘Ryan Murphy’s lesson of the week’ issue we had major problems with last season (this week, complete with awkward speech and poorly-written mention of Russia’s stance on homosexuality), and maybe our standards have gradually lowered over the last two seasons of mediocrity, but this felt like a more centered Glee than we’ve seen recently. There were some nice moments, and some funny ones. There was even some sweetness in Blaine’s mass-show-choir* proposal to Kurt (although we still agree with the entire cast of characters – they’re far too young to be getting married, regardless of sexual orientation). And, most importantly, there was far less of that scattershot ‘humor’ that’s been plaguing the show. It felt like the writers had a plan, for once.
As for the music, well, it’s kind of hard to go wrong with The Beatles. Unlike earlier artist-specific episodes, this one was able to draw from a vast wealth of Beatles’ back catalogues, meaning that there were no ‘duds’. Gaga and Britney episodes have suffered from the necessity of including less than amazing songs. If this episode suffered, musically, it was through the inclusion of too many songs. The episode felt packed to the rafters, with too little exposition between musical numbers. On one hand, that’s a good thing. Less dialogue means fewer opportunities for Ryan Murphy to make us cringe. On the other hand, it made it feel like story was secondary to ‘see how many Beatles songs we know!’. In saying that, though, the songs themselves were well executed and, for the first time in a long time, not one single cover made us want to punch somebody in the face.
In a small aside, we also feel that we must mention the continued presence of Ryder Lynn (Blake Jenner) and Wade ‘Unique’ Adams (Alex Newell). This first episode marks Newell’s 22nd episode in a two-episode run, and Jenner’s 19th in a seven-episode run. The fact that they have been promoted to series regulars – alongside Melissa Benoist (Marley), Jacob Artist (Jake) and Becca Tobin (Kitty) – is a mark of their surprising talent. Where previous Glee Project competitors (Damian McGinty, Samuel Larsen, Lindsay Pearce, Ali Stroker and Aylin Bayramoglu) completed their arc and were bowed out, Jenner and Newell clearly have staying power. And, perhaps strangely, we’re glad to see them sticking around.
So what storylines will carry through the season? The Glee team is obviously setting up three major arcs: Rachel’s potential run in Funny Girl on Broadway (playing opposite Paolo [Ioan Gruffudd; Ringer, Fantastic Four] and with Peter Facinelli [Nurse Jackie, Twilight Saga] in the director’s role); Blaine and Kurt’s engagement, and whether it’s built to last (they’re so young and will be doing the long-distance thing at least for the rest of this season); and Sue’s new position as McKinley High principal. This latter arc will probably be the most important during the season to come. Her ultimatum to Mr Schu (and to Coach Roz Washington) – win at Nationals or leave the school, forever – should serve a dual purpose. It’ll give the Glee Club a brief respite from her harassment (and will give us a break from tired storylines). It will also give the Glee kids something to work towards. They always need that little push to inspire them to work just a little bit harder. This will likely be it – succeed or lose the Club forever. Yeah, okay, that’s been hanging over their heads since Season 1, but this time they mean it. Possibly.
Sub-arcs (likely to be short-term and dealt with pre-Christmas) will include Tina’s increasing bitterness and possible romance with Sam (who’s really getting around, when you think about it), and the fledgling new romance between Artie and Kitty. The Kitty and Artie arc will probably be the most fraught, romantically, this season. Early warning signs – Kitty wanting to keep it secret and only going public when Tina called her on her shit, for example – say it’s not always going to be smooth sailing, and meddling (at times bordering on social media bullying [ahoy there potential ‘Ryan Murphy lesson of the week’ number two]) from the rest of her squad will almost certainly cause problems.
All in all, it does have the potential to be a good season. Here’s hoping the showrunners don’t squander it. Unfortunately, we have the weight of experience behind us. Time to settle in for another season of mediocrity. – K
Quoteworthy: “If you fail to win at Nationals, I will fire you and you’ll be forced to build creepy relationships teenagers on your own time.” – Sue, to Schu
Stand-out performance: The rendition of “All You Need is Love”, solely for its all-encompassing nature and the scale of its ambition. Drawing together Vocal Adrenaline, the Warblers and (randomly) Haverbrook School for the Deaf was no mean feat, and the finished product, if a little cheesy and over the top, was kind of sweet.
* Shout out for Grant Gustin’s new, sexy, slightly less evil hairdo. [Back to text]