Ah, “Glee” — what a magnificent, aggravating, uplifting, unruly beast you are. The unlikeliest of hits, Fox’s sophomore sensation returns with a spring in its step and chip on its shoulder, as well as a couple of new cast members to alter the relationship dynamics and create new conflicts. Mostly, though, it’s the same old show, which is to say a series characterized by operatic highs (literally, in this case) and irritating excesses. At this point, one can complain or succumb, and given the undeniable benefits, the latter impulse finally overpowers the former.
The producers have pretty clearly heard the gripes and gossip, which they not-so-subtly address in an opening segment featuring a school blogger asking probing questions about the Glee club. Using the show to deflect Web sniping actually feels more thin-skinned than clever, especially in light of the program’s popularity, which included a slew of Emmy nominations.
From there, it’s back to the interpersonal dynamics of the glee-club losers and the struggles of their teacher, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), who faces budget cuts thanks to the arrival of a new football coach (Dot-Marie Jones), which also riles Will’s rival, cheerleading coach Sue (Emmy winner Jane Lynch).
As for the kids, there’s a dollop of new blood with Sunshine Corazon (Charice), who hides an enormous voice inside her diminutive frame; and Sam (Chord Overstreet), who, like Finn (Cory Monteith), wants to pull off the unexpected double of playing football and singing show tunes.
All this is really filler, thankfully, between the half-dozen musical numbers, which is where “Glee” invariably takes off. On this front, success hasn’t spoiled the show but rather improved it, inasmuch as the studio/network’s comfort level has eased, allowing for splashier and more frequent performances. Charice’s initial contribution alone ought to yield a gazillion downloads, though diva Rachel (Lea Michele) is not to be outdone, belting out her own ballad.
Eventually, the “Glee” gang will have to grow up and graduate (unless they want to resemble the “Grease” cast), but for now Fox and the producers seem content to replicate what’s worked — building toward the Glee finals in New York against likely foil Vocal Adrenaline — only bigger and hopefully better.
Like most hot-burning cultural phenomena, “Glee” carries the risk of over-saturation and implosion, which will require evolution and perhaps inevitably a bit of reinvention.
Until then, those involved can bask in the glow of what should be another strong year, riding a wave that has yet to fully crest — capable of sending self-proclaimed “Gleeks” away each week with a song in their hearts and a smile on their faces, drowning out the sour notes.