I’m gonna say it first-off: I’m a Glee fan. I like the show. I like the themes, I like the characters, and I especially like what it’s become in the past year or so. Glee of season one was a funny comedy, but it was also messy, frustrating and oftentimes downright mean. Its worst sin, though, was wasting its now clearly talented ensemble cast. Now, the show has improved in leaps and bounds.
Glee takes a lot of hits for being what it is: a meanspirited highschool satire in slow-motion transition to a warmhearted highschool dramedy. With three writers taking on an entire 22-episode season, the shift has made the show occasionally resemble a Frankensteinian monster of mismatched parts and confused intentions. But when the show is good, it’s a chance to sit down and have fun with a group of pretty well-drawn characters.
Of the 22 episodes in season two, on reflection, I enjoyed 15 of them enough to say I’d rewatch them. The only real clunkers were:
- “Britney/Brittany” (2.02), which showcased the worst side of Will Schuester (the desperate, lonely and jealous jerk), included plenty of Jacob Ben Isreal at his worst, and had a lot of ‘jokes’ that didn’t feel like they fit the universe the show was growing into.
- “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” (2.05), which had Sam Evans’ character all wrong, showcased the worst side of Will Schuester and his romance with Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), and felt like an excuse to do, well, Rocky Horror.
- “Furt” (2.08), which felt like it didn’t know which Glee it belonged to: the one where Sue Sylvester was a caricature bully or a serious, human being character.
- “A Very Glee Christmas” (2.10), which committed the sin of being boring, filled with Christmas music (all of which we’re mind-numbingly familiar with), and containing little in the way of worthwhile story.
- “Comeback” (2.13), where the music was underwhelming and the story seesawed between frustrating and boring.
- “A Night of Neglect” (2.17) which, despite featuring my favourite song of the season (surprisingly, Gwyneth Paltrow doing Adele‘s “Turning Tables”), also featured a metric ton of things that weren’t working this season: Sue Sylvester and her League of Doom, the show’s biggest offender in tastelessness in Jacob Ben Isreal, and Gwyneth Paltrow giving a PSA-worthy speech about heckling. Plus, another truncated solo for Tina in which she breaks down crying, because the writers want her to suffer.
- “New York” (2.22), the show’s season finale, which was structurally messy and, except for a Kurt and Rachel duet of “For Good” that I expected they’d use in the show’s third season finale, musically boring. The best parts of the episode were in the final tag, setting up the next season.
The show is good when it focused on its’ characters dreams and relationships, on the inner workings of the Glee club itself, and on characters who work. Which, at this point, should be difficult to screw up, because almost every member of the ensemble does work.
The show fails when
- it stirs up too much of the mean comedy that, ironically, defined it in its first season
- when, in a related point, Jacob Ben Israel or Sandy Ryerson are on screen
- when the writers don’t know what role Sue plays in this show, which was most of her scenes
- when the show focuses too much on the football team’s cult of masculinity in a ‘comedic’ way
- when the show’s preachiness goes over the top
- when it turns Will Schuester into a desperate asshole instead of a nice guy trying to get by in a world that’s left him and his dreams behind
- when the show brings in a big guest star and does practically nothing with them (like Cheyenne Jackson, Kristen Chenoweth, Jonathan Groff, Charice, or series regular Jessalyn Gilsig).
- when the show sacrifices its reality for jokes or to make the plot work (like Artie not being able to ‘see the mirror’ in his own house and neglecting to brush his teeth in “Britney/Brittany”.
- when the main antagonists, Vocal Adrenaline, drops the badass glee club style they had in early numbers like “Rehab” or “Mercy” in order to showcase their lead singer of the week, which has almost destroyed them as a proper villain.
This is a show that created a breakout character who, sadly, is now the epicenter of most of the things that feel outdated in the show: Sue Slyvester. The show’s best episodes this season were where she was completely absent, like “Duets” (2.04), or a minor presence.
But the show, when it isn’t distracted by the lurching ghost of what it once was, is a charming little show with some good characters played by likeable actors. Few shows could make a ballooning cast like Glee‘s work (and Grey’s Anatomy has tried), but it does. I could see the show easily adding Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss), Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), Dave Karofsky (Max Adler), Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) and Lauren Zises (Ashley Fink) to its regular cast next year, and I honestly wouldn’t mind. Each character offers the show new avenues to explore, new flavours to play with, and new styles to try. For stretches of the year, every one of the above felt like a series regular, much like Naya Rivera (Santana Lopez) and Heather Morris (Brittany Pierce) did by the end of the first. This is a show that could do entire episodes just featuring its core cast and have it be at its best, guest stars left behind. If the show just had its stable of regulars, with recurring presences like Iqbal Theba (Principal Figgins) and Dot-Marie Jones (Coach Beiste), it could easily have a great run of episodes with no guest stars at all.
I’d actually recommend the show consider that: up the above 5 to series regulars, dump the abrasive recurring presence of the odious Jacob Ben Israel and the unsettling Sandy Ryerson, and bring back Beiste as often as they can. Though she doesn’t have a regular place in the show’s engine, she brings out the very best in both Schuester, with their strong and adorable friendship, and anchors any football-centric tales featuring Finn, Puck, Sam and Artie well. If I thought there was enough story to make it viable, I’d recommend offering Dot-Marie Jones a regular contract as well. Sprinkle in some recurring faces, like Overstreet was this season, to see if you can relieve the pressure when the cast mostly graduates next year.
Meanwhile, cut Jessalyn Gilsig from the regular cast. She could work as a recurring presence, if the show has the story for it, but she’s just not part of the series’ engine the way the rest of the regulars are. Though the show never would, I’d recommend downsizing Jayma Mays‘s Emma Pillsbury and Jane Lynch‘s Sue Sylvester to recurring, too. Emma was barely a presence this season, and when she did appear, it centred largely around a ridiculous marriage plot that went nowhere. And having Sue only around for 5-6 episodes a season would make her appearances an event with power, rather than giving her an arc with far too much filler.
The Graduation Problem
Currently, the student population of the show consists of:
- Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), set to graduate end of season three.
- Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), set to graduate end of season three.
- Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron), set to graduate end of season three.
- Noah Puckerman (Mark Salling), set to graduate end of season three.
- Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss), set to graduate at end of season three.
- Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), set to graduate end of season four.
- Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), age not specified.
- Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), age not specified.
- Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris), age not specified.
- Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera), age not specified.
- Mercedes Jones (Amber Riley), age not specified.
- Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), age not specified.
- Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), age not specified.
- Lauren Zises (Ashley Fink), age not specified.
- David Karofsky (Max Adler), age not specified.
So, the only confirmed exits we have are Rachel, Finn, Quinn, Puck and Blaine. The rest of the cast, to my knowledge, is either definitely a year younger (Kurt) or haven’t had their grades officially established. And even though it would make sense for most of them to share a year, splitting it with Kurt means they have the ability to consider some characters in Kurt’s grade.
I’d definitely predict they’ll class Mercedes (Amber Riley) as in Kurt’s year, considering their friendship and the need to keep an established powerhouse voice in the cast for another season. I could easily see Artie (Kevin McHale) and Tina (Jenna Uskowitz), and even Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris) as Kurt’s age too. Plus, if Puck fails as many classes as you’d expect, it would be easy to keep him around for a year after graduation.
That means, of the ten series regular students, only three are really guaranteed to leave: Rachel, Finn and Quinn. That’s not the gaping wound most people looking at the graduation issue have considered it, though the loss of Rachel in particular could potentially kill the show. Six of those ten could reasonably be kept around for a hypothetical season four.
As for the recurring figures… I don’t believe any confirmations were made of their ages, but it feels like Zizes and Karofsky are definitely the same age as Finn, etc. and thus only have a year left of shelf life. Mike Chang and Sam Evans could probably be kept around for season four, though.
That gives us a hypothetical season four cast of Kurt, Puck, Mercedes, Tina, Artie, Brittany, Santana, Sam and Mike, with room for new additions added over the course of season three and four. Then, once those nine graduate, a solid new cast should have been formed. I like this idea, partly because it would make backbenchers like Puck and Tina more central to the show.
Anyhow. This was mostly a post focused on what Glee is, and a look at its future. There might be more, there might not.