You may ask yourself why a man of nearly forty is watching Glee in the first place. Well, the easy answer to that is that a couple of students I was teaching decided they wanted to write an essay on it, and so I watched the first few episodes to get an idea of what the series was all about. Since then, it has been something of a guilty pleasure. During the rather appalling third season even the pleasure element disappeared. Viewing figures tumbled and, at one point this spring, there was even doubts as to whether the series would be renewed for a fifth season.
But last night it did return, and for the first time in a couple of seasons, all eyes are on Glee, if only for the saddest of reasons. The death of Cory Monteith during the summer will likely result in higher than normal viewing figures for the first few episodes of the new season. Those who no longer watch the programme may well tune in just to see how the program deals with the situation, which will apparantly be addressed in episode three. Is the wait until the third episode a heartless attempt to hook viewers back into the series before showing them the episode they’re actually interested in, in the hope that some will stay with the programme once again? Or am I just a cynic? Not sure on that one, but reviewers of last night’s first episode have commented on the absence of Finn, the character playing by Monteith, and the fact that he wasn’t mentioned even in passing. This seems a little odd considering he didn’t feature in either the beginning or end of the last season, and was barely mentioned during those periods either. Had Monteith not have passed away and simply not featured in last night’s episode, most wouldn’t even have noticed that he wasn’t present.
I have said it before elsewhere and I will say it again: Glee is one of the most infuriating programmes ever to reach TV screens. One episode can be pure unadulterated joy, and the next can be difficult to even sit through. Last night’s season opener actually had elements of both extremes. The McKinley High scenes were generally very good, and those following Rachel’s attempts to star in Funny Girl were rather tedious (with her version of A Hard Day’s Night being really quite awful). Glee works best when the songs are fitted in around the script, rather than when the script works around the songs. The Beatles catalogue allowed for a better script on the whole – much better than previous themed episodes centred around the music of Madonna or Britney Spears.
Glee can often switch between surreal, often stupid, humour and saccharine sentimentality and, again, last night’s episode had elements of both. But there is no doubt that Glee‘s heart is in the right place. It can still make a grown man cry like a baby when it wants to, and focussing much of the episode on the Blaine/Kurt romance certainly allowed for much tugging at those heartstrings. As it has previously, the programme touched upon an issue currently very much in the news (gay marriage), and wasn’t shy at making political comment, with a clear dig at Russia’s treatment of homosexuals. In fact, last night’s episode could possibly be the one most dominated by gay characters and themes in the series’ history and, even in 2013, this is unusual in a programme predominantly aimed at youngsters. The well-publicised finale was genuinely touching and, once again, Chris Colfer managed to act everyone off the screen.
The opening of season five was, for the most part, a welcome return to form after the rather lacklustre finale to season four. Only the coming weeks and month will tell whether the programme has indeed found itself a new lease of life, and whether it can overcome the problem that has plagued it since day one: lack of consistency. If it can, then it might retain some of the rubberneckers who are tuning in just to see how the programme deals with the passing of one of its stars. If it can’t, then there is little doubt that the series will be axed at the end of the current two-season deal.