Although I have had my differences with "Glee" through the course of its run — and would dismiss last week's episode as a plot-free Britney Spears infomercial — I admire the ambition, if not entirely the execution, that went into the hour premiering Oct. 5.
In this episode, a crisis for one Glee club member triggers an examination of faith by a number of them, with a few expressing a strong hostility toward religion. The gay teen played by Chris Colfer, Kurt, is particularly vocal, noting that many Christian churches "don't think much of gay people, or women, or science."
While the episode seeks to be respectful and present a variety of viewpoints, there are some genuine flashes of anger toward perceived religious intolerance — the kind of opinions, frankly, from which a network might normally shy away. And while one can argue that "Glee" enjoys more creative latitude because it's blossomed into an unabashed hit, let's not forget that this hour had to be approved before the show returned to such big numbers this fall. So kudos to Fox for not balking at the story line.
The producers have cited Norman Lear's topical series of the 1970s as an inspiration, though that's not quite entirely analogous. The relationship of the subject matter to the music — weaving in songs about religion — also proves a trifle awkward, though the performances are strong, as always.
Ultimately, this does feel like a bold creative stroke for a series that is burning very bright right now but — given its phenom status — also carries the risk of rapidly flaming out, in the way that "Heroes" did. And unlike the worst moments in "Glee," which tend to be overly broad, there are moments within this episode that are truly emotional and subtle.
So credit "Glee's" third hour with being the exact opposite of the second: It's really about something — without losing its message in the music, or vice versa.