TV review: ‘Glee’ retains fans, loses quality

By Alex Kaufman

“Glee” became an instant sensation when it first aired in September 2009. Since its pilot episode – the brainchild of Ryan Murphy, formerly known for “Nip/Tuck” (2003−10) – it has turned into something of a cultural phenomenon, evidenced by its 19 Emmy nominations and four wins.

“Gleeks” have rejoiced to see this musical−dramedy back for its second season – but has it lost some of its spark?

Led by the overly ambitious Rachel Berry (Lea Michelle), students of McKinley High’s New Directions glee club cope with their personal lives while facing harassment by fellow students for their membership in this unpopular group. Even teachers attack these unfortunate teens: The comically sinister cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) tries tirelessly to disassemble the club. Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), the corny glee club teacher, inspires the students to continue expressing themselves through music, regardless of the adversities they face.

“Audition,” the second−season premiere, presents a new soiree of drama.

Fresh faces add to the intrigue of the plot: A new football coach siphons off Sue and Will’s club budgets, and two new students come into town, both coincidentally with fantastic singing abilities. The appearance of the latter two on the scene is convenient enough, as the glee club needs new members.

The second episode, “Britney/Brittany,” featured the music of Britney Spears and brought back the old love triangle between Will, his psycho ex−wife Terry (Jessalyn Gilsig) and Emma (Jayma Mays), the neurotic guidance counselor. The glee club wants to perform Britney Spears’s songs for the homecoming assembly despite Will’s insistence that Spears is not a good role model.

These opening episodes unfortunately seem to indicate that this lauded series has become a victim of its own hype. The first episode was extremely ambitious in establishing characters and plots while simultaneously trying to woo a new audience turned on by the show’s rise to fame.

Something that many dedicated viewers found appealing about “Glee’s” music was its mixture of old and new songs. As part of its attempt to attract a new audience and still maintain its loyal fans, the show integrated five Top 40 hits into the first episode.

This change might have come off as effortless if it had been done in the right context, but the show seemed too rushed and eager to show off its new “cool” pedigree, and little attention was paid to the logical segueing into song.

Even so, the first episode was not without its rewards.

The songs performed by the glee club were executed as excellently as ever. The introduction of the new football coach, Bieste (Dot Marie Jones), added a healthy and much−desired dose of drama. And, of course, no “Glee” episode passes without imparting a moral: Sue’s failed plan to tarnish her new opponent’s reputation teaches the audience a valuable lesson about treating others with respect.

As for the highly anticipated Britney episode, fans may have hoped for the same success evident in season one’s Madonna episode. The strength of the latter was its successful incorporation of Madonna songs into the established plot.

The Britney episode unfortunately lacked that integration, and it’s just too early in this season to have an episode take a break from plot arcs that have barely been established. Although the episode’s cabaret−style theme was highly entertaining, Murphy made a poor directing call by offering this episode so soon in the season.

Not all is lost for “Glee.” The show still brings the novelty of musical comedy to the homes of millions every Tuesday night. The characters, including Mercedes (Amber Reilly), Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Artie (Kevin McHale), still have lessons to teach us about how to deal with our differences in the context of a myopic society. And, of course, viewers look forward to the melodrama created by the relationships, alliances and enemies made through the glee club.

Hopefully, the show will return to what made it so famous in the first place: its authenticity. “Glee” is about being an individual, a character and even an outcast, and on some level, everyone can relate to that.

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