Glee Spring Premiere: More “Hell” than “O”

April 16, 2010, 12:11 a.m.

Tuesday night was the much-anticipated spring premiere of “Glee.” Even without much advertising, the first hour after a four-month hiatus drew a season high of 13.6 million viewers. The episode may have been a win for advertisers and Fox, and television programmers everywhere looking to capitalize on the tantalizing effect of the mid-season break. For me and my six comrades on the couch, however, the return of the musical extravaganza was a major letdown.

In the course of writing this column, I have discovered that pilot episodes are either red herrings or pitch-perfect capsules of tone for a series. “Parenthood,” for example, which I reviewed in January, has proved to be just as boring and unimaginative as it was then. Fortunately and unfortunately, “Glee” falls perfectly in between these classifications. The premiere just less than a year ago invigorated audiences with the novelty of the musical form but also made traditionalists wary with its incoherent narrative. The fall show, in turn, was a rollercoaster that alternately came dangerously close to killing you with its unsupported plot points and thrilled you with the artistry of its musical numbers. Anyone who watched the pilot and fall premiere closely could have predicted, and probably did predict, this fluctuating quality. With that hindsight, I’m going to try to evaluate Tuesday’s spring premiere a little more closely.

Glee Spring Premiere: More "Hell" than "O"By a little more closely, I mean bluntly, because I think the episode was worse than awful–it was dull. My reaction is due, in part, to the thoughtless promotions, which gave away not only the opening sequence of the episode but also its second-best song, “Gives You Hell.” Ideally, the latter would be an aspect of the episode you could enjoy more than once, but I find any song that is staged as seated in the music room inherently boring. The first song of the episode, “Hello, I Love You,” was framed in such a contrived manner that it played into the constant criticism that the musical numbers are too staged. The finale, “Hello Goodbye,” typically showcased lackluster New Directions choreography and the cast all dressed up, but the arrangement was not as affecting as “Somebody to Love” from earlier in the season.

The highlight of the episode came with the introduction of Jesse St. James, the lead singer of Vocal Adrenaline, the rival glee club, played sublimely by Jonathan Groff. His first musical impression upon the millions of viewers was a powerhouse duet with Lea Michele of Lionel Richie’s normally cringe-inducing “Hello.” Groff’s beautiful, clear tenor matched Michele’s powerhouse belt even better than Cory Monteith does as Finn. In the episode, and surely going forward, Groff’s character plays a manipulative love interest for Rachel Berry. That’s all well and good, except that the hour did not pursue this enough. Once again, the episode bowed under the weight of Glee’s complex narrative arc–we saw Rachel and Finn date and break up; Emma and Will date and break up; and Rachel and Jesse date and “break up.” It was clear to me that Rachel had not broken it off with Jesse at the end of the episode, but the show failed to tease us with previews of her attempts to hide her forbidden love from the club. Dead ends abounded Tuesday night, a choice that left me with no idea what to expect going forward. Currently, the only momentum carrying us into the end of the season is Madonna.

Speaking of divas, why didn’t Idina Menzel sing? And why was her character, the coach of Vocal Adrenaline, so mediocre? To be honest, I was more entertained by her grating personality in “Enchanted” than this role. The competing love triangles centered around Rachel and Mr. Schuester respectively left me with an episode signifying nothing. Glee and the SAG awards love its ensemble casts, but it’s totally acceptable to pick the lead of an episode and to neglect the others. Sue Sylvester, in all honesty, got the shaft last night, as her one-liners and plot to undo Glee seemed more regurgitated than usual.

With next week’s “The Power of Madonna” episode, we can be sure that it will leave you crying with joy or crying with uncomfortable laughter, as I was last night with the “Vogue” preview. Glee, don’t take yourself so seriously.

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