Glee: Season 4
The perennial obstacle that all television series encountered if they are to survival renewal; retain the factors that lead to success while simultaneously reworking the premise into something that will come across fresh. This presents a delicate balance that few are able to achieve. When the show in question is dependent of a rather specific plot point such as the series considered here, ‘Glee’, the issue is frequently magnified. The series is now in fifth season with number four out on Blu-ray and DVD. Although I have traditionally enjoyed the classic stage musicals I always felt people in normal circumstances breaking into elaborately staged musical numbers contrived. Suddenly the air is full of perfectly arranged orchestral arrangements as the characters break into song while performing elaborately choreographed dance routines without missing a single breath. The show makes an earnest attempt at providing a reason for the backup musicians who apparently are stationed at strategic points around a high school in a small city in Ohio. Ultimately the loyal fan, ‘Gleecks’, fully buying into the fantasy and enjoy the numerous song and dance numbers. Admittedly, the music, mostly covers of popular songs, are exceptionally well done and have generated a respectable source of income for Fox through amazing iTune sales, home discs and at first at least, extremely successful concert tours. Undoubtedly the music is proved to be the foundation of the show’s renewals but where it truly excels is the integration of the story lines and concomitant character development.
The perennial problem with setting a television series in high school is it is typically confined to a four year sliver of life. Characters and the actors charged with portraying them grow up, aging out of a believable means to play a teenager. The infamous case of the original ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ instigated jokes along the lines of that high school was the only one with an AARP office adjacent to the guidance counselor. At least in the case of McKinney High School in Lima Ohio the show runners, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan was directly confronted and managed with a touch of originality. They permitted the kids to face the inevitable and face the world as adults. Of course this required splitting out a group dynamic that they carefully built over the preceding three seasons. This did introduce a few bumps in the road and dissatisfied fans but ultimately the weathered the storm of change emerging as a potentially stronger series.
The first touch of realism introduced is a simple one but often overlooked. Not all the members of the Glee club were in the same class. Rachel Berry (Lea Michele ), Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) and Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) were among the seniors while Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) and Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale) were only juniors and able to realistically remain to form the nucleus of the reinvented Glee club. The fan favorite spacy blonde, Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris) failed to graduate and was left back. After the traditional season premier for fresh characters the lineup was supplemented with a new set of students to fill the archetypes vacated by the graduates. The fresh face girl with the powerhouse voice, Marley Rose (Melissa Benoist), transferred in this year. She is the daughter of the highly ridiculed obese lunch lady. Her romantic interest is Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist), the half-brother of founding member Noah Puckerman (Mark Salling). Joining the club initially to be the romantic rival and replacement blonde Cheerio cheerleader is Kitty Wilde (Becca Tobin). She also fills the requisite mean girl slot like her predecessor, Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron). One problem that arose here is initially Kitty was painted as such a cold hearted girl that she bordered on the criminally psychopathic. The writers had to pull back on her anti-social persona eventually requiring a new primary villain. All productions by Murphy/Falchuk feature a representative of the LGBT community so to replace Kurt in the club they wrote in a former rival, Wade Adams (Alex Newell) a transsexual whose no de voyage is Unique.
The adults are still occupying a peripheral role in the educational process. The faculty adviser for the club, Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison), and his bitter rival couch of the cheerleading squad, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), ate still out for blood. Sue is the type of villain that can only exist in this context; so completely over the top in evil intent that her intricate plans to destroy the club and Will are ultimately ludicrous. Will’s fiancée, Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), is afflicted with an extreme case of OCD but like many of the grownups has a reduced amount of screen time this year. Closest friend to Will and the school’s football couch is Shannon Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), who interjects a touch of sanity to the adult contingent.
The charges did reinvigorate the series without disrupting the overall dynamic between the characters. True to the situation fund in a real high school as the years go by the names and faces change but the social hierarchy remain consistent. The old diva is supplanted by a new star while the mean girl who just graduated has her place quickly filled. To offset the changes that retained the status quo this season introduced few significant modifications. The most drastic of these was to split the action between two locations; the new kids in Lima and some of the graduating class moving on to New York City. Racheal was accepted to the prestigious performing arts school, NYADA. Although originally rejected Kurt impresses them so much he also gains a place. The pair, would be far beyond the financial now best friends, get an apartment together. As someone who has lived most of my life there I must note that the space they rent is far beyond the financial means of a pair of students even with wait staff jobs.
Back in Lima Will has an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to participate in a move to providing funding for the art programs. While gone they bring back Finn to fill in during his absence. This gives Sue plenty to complain about. With the kids Kitty wants to sabotage Marley, both as her romantic rival for the new Puckeman but to topple the nice girl’s growing popularity. Knowing Marley’s mother is morbidly obese Kitty launches an elaborate plan to convince Marley she is rapidly gaining weight. This results in her turning to bulimia which causes the girl to pass out during sectionals. This was arguably over the top and if not criminal was definitely morally reprehensible. What still makes the series worth your time to follow is, as always, the music. The traditional song mash-ups and episodes devoted to a single artist or theme continues to provide the best moments of the series. The big episode this season once again revolved around the annual school musical; Grease. In most cases whatever the weekly assignment driving the glee club’s episodic song list is echoed in New York in a musical form of the quantum physics’ ‘Strange interaction at a distance’. Songs sung in Lima are instantaneously performed in NYC. With all the changes made the desired effect of revitalizing the series and surviving change was achieved.
Blaine's Time Capsule