Glee Season 4 Premiere Review
Somewhat of a sleeper hit at UK cinemas over Christmas, Pitch Perfect proved that there is still very much an audience for the genre crossover of teen coming-of-age story and contemporary musical. Silly-but-smart, Pitch Perfect revels in its marriage of Mean Girls wisecracks and pop Top 40 – and makes us remember a time when Glee was fresh and fun.
Although I tried my hardest to find the good in Season Three, last year Glee lost some shine. Too many characters, confused plotlines, not enough Sue – there were a myriad of reasons why this sometime phenomenon edged close to jumping the shark. However, with the arrival of Season Four on Sky last week, could it be time to get over ourselves? Sure, last year spent in the company of McKinley’s misfits and primadonnas wasn’t anything to shout about but New Directions are actually going in new directions now; Rachel’s off to New York, Finn’s joined the army, the oft-overshadowed sophomores now have space to shine. Throw in some fresh blood and a slurry of guest stars, what’s not to be excited about?
Season opener The New Rachel certainly provided moments to hook show fanatics and those viewers close to abandoning choir practice. However, for all of the promising moments, there were others that hit flat-out bum notes. Potential problems carried over from last season threaten to derail the year that could turn Glee's fortunes around, and anyone even halfway invested in this show doesn’t want to see it become even more of a parody of itself.
So, what’s good? Lea Michele’s involvement in the show was, for some time early in 2012, cast in doubt, perhaps purposefully by Ryan Murphy and showrunners who wanted to keep audiences guessing; whatever the motivation behind the ambiguity, she’s back and still centre stage albeit solo in New York. Rachel’s fish-out-of-water storyline is promising, especially as she’s (for the time being) Finn-free and struggling.
Which brings us to Kate Hudson’s guest turn as NYADA dance teacher/Nazi, Cassandra July. Although Jane Lynch brings it for her brief screentime, this week we simply don’t get enough of Glee goddess Sue Sylvester, which means another helping of big-time bitch is much appreciated. The Almost Famous actress is deliciously icy as the blonde babe variant on Rachel’s former tyrant teacher, a wickedly winsome witch who calls Ms Berry ‘David Schwimmer’ and sinks drinks when she’s not delivering ‘constructive’ barbs and feisty Lady Gaga/Jennifer Lopez dance numbers. With Hudson’s recurring role and a return appearance by Whoopi Goldberg this episode, not to mention Sarah Jessica Parker’s promised turn as Kurt’s ‘kiki’ partner, at least this season is already bringing out the big guns where effective stunt casting is concerned.
The big problems lie at the heart of Glee: McKinley. Last year, the graduation of key cast members (we miss you, Diana Agron!) promised more screentime for some of the faithful’s faves, who had so often been underused. Didn’t Props promise a hell of a lot more Tina? Doesn’t Artie deserve his due? Well, we’ll see because it looks like these guys are still understudies, because new characters like Marley Rose and Puck’s half brother Jake look like they’re going to be shipped in ‘Skins’-style for lots more screentime. Don’t even get me started on Alex Newell as Wayne ‘Unique’ Adams; yes, we get the message of the show is ‘be yourself, love who you are’ but does that have to now rest on the shoulders of perhaps the most cringe-worthy performer to ever appear on the show?
It will be interesting to see how the show progresses from this point, and no doubt some Gleeks reading this will already be well-informed now that the UK is only just catching up. But I would hope to see the return of some familiar faces, if just for the dramatic possibilities, as well as more developed storylines for the McKinley bunch. As for the music, this opener was alright I suppose; we got ‘song of the summer’ from Carly Rae Jepsen, some showstopping Streisand and an obligatory Adele number, the usual bag of pop and theatricality. Aside from Rachel’s adventures in NYC though, made all the more promising by Kurt’s Madonna-like decision to pack up and follow his dream in the Big Apple, it’s all feeling a little bit one-note – and one note we’ve already sung. It’s showtime, Gleeks – let’s hope it’s not coming up to curtain call…