"Glee" is back starting April 13, and strictly from a commercial standpoint, the show seems poised for a breakout run. As if recognizing that the series had improbably won a following, these first three episodes are bigger and louder, with more frequent, elaborate and ambitious musical numbers. Moreover, with a fanatical core following and an "American Idol" lead-in, the series should significantly improve over its fall ratings performance.
That's the good news.
The not-so-good news, as always, is that "Glee's" version of teen soap/over-the-top comedy is a decidedly hit-miss affair, making it a sometimes-slog between those musical sequences. One episode, for example, deals with a trio of characters contemplating having sex, and it's no surprise that the adults featured are perhaps more confused than the teens.
As Jayma Mays' Emma puts it, "We spend so much time with these kids, we start acting like them." True enough, and an entire hour filled with people behaving like horny teenagers can grow a bit tedious.
Still, when Lea Michele cuts loose with those golden pipes — as she does frequently, as if somebody got the memo that Michele is the show's not-so-secret weapon — or guest star Kristin Chenoweth belts out three numbers, as she does in the third episode, well, all seems right in the show's crazy world.
A few other side notes to this spring run:
Series creator Ryan Murphy and his writing crew appear a little more loose about letting their politics show, with small digs directed at Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter in these early episodes. Not a big deal, but with the program already on the Parents Television Council's hit list and conservatives looking for any reason to bash "liberal Hollywood," don't be surprised if there's some push-back.
Once again, New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley has managed to utterly mystify me in her appraisal of the show, part of a dueling "Glee" piece in Sunday's paper. Music, Ms. Stanley writes, is "the least catchy part of the show," which is sort of like saying that the special effects are the least special part of "Avatar."
Although I'm all for theme episodes, turning an entire hour over to Madonna music — with frequent plugs for the singer's social significance — actually winds up feeling more confining than liberating. By contrast, building an episode around the word "Hello" — and thus allowing the producers to draw from a variety of artists — works considerably better. Not every number is going to click, obviously, but part of the fun is seeing what tunes, popular or obscure, the series can run through its show-choir filter. In that context, something like "One Less Bell to Answer" actually delivers a greater wallop, often, than songs that are more well-known to a younger audience.