Season Premiere: Glee – “The Purple Piano Project”

“The Purple Piano Project”

September 20th, 2011

Since watching Glee’s third season premiere late last night, I’ve seen a number of fairly harsh reviews of the episode, and I’m not entirely sure I’m on the same page.

Now, let me clarify that: I agree with pretty much everything that Todd and Ryan suggest in their own reviews, and I wouldn’t say that they were too harsh by any stretch of the imagination. However, my reaction to the episode wasn’t nearly as strong, whether it was positive or negative. I think it was one of those cases where the episode in theory was more offense than in practice, the very idea of the various storylines more problematic than the execution.

Normally I find this particularly annoying, but something about the mood I was in last night led to a fundamental lack of emotional response. It’s one of those situations where I’ve become numb to the pain, no longer at the point where I’m expecting the show to correct its mistakes or remain consistent in its storytelling. Instead, “The Purple Piano Project” was broken down into parts in my mind, and I was able take the parts I liked (as isolated as they might be) and more or less shrug my shoulders at the rest of it.

Which makes for a better viewing experience, but maybe not the kind of viewing experience FOX is looking for as Glee faces the perils of both Junior Year (as a television show) and Senior Year (as a narrative device) simultaneously.

Although, let’s remember that Falchuk, Brennan and Murphy have some friends along for the ride this time around.

Yes, I think we need to address The 3 Glees, that lovely little link that sits at the top of the blog. Now that there are more writers, the division of the series based on its writers seems less logical, but it’s never been a strict division to begin with. The 3 Glees was always, at least for me, about mapping the consistency or lack thereof within the show, helping frustrated viewers understand the potential reasons why characters seemed to have multiple personalities. With the addition of new writers, the question doesn’t really change: while there may be more “Glees” (which is reflected in the new quotation marks), the overall function of the division remains the same, letting us chart ways in which particular writers (or at least episodes credited to particular writers) adapt the show within their own voice. For now, I intend on creating a new category for the writing staff, less to suggest that they will develop a collective voice but more to see whether the first episodes written by writers like Ali Adler or Marti Noxon take on a different tone to what we’re used to from the series.

Brad Falchuk was, of course, in charge of “The Purple Piano Project,” and generally speaking I think he did a fine job of setting up the storylines that will dominate the season. Mind you, I don’t think those storylines are any good on the whole, but they were set up in ways that are both logical and functional. I think Sue’s congressional campaign being driven entirely by her hatred for the Glee Club is just another rehash of the same thing we’ve complained about for two seasons now, and Will’s existence being defined by morning wood and his attempts to stop Sue’s campaign does the character (and Matthew Morrison) no favors. By the same token, the show’s awkward effort to write off both Chord Overstreet and Ashley Finck just comes off as expediency for the sake of expediency, and the same goes for the introduction of a character like Mercedes’ new boyfriend (played by Lamarcus Tinker, who was funny on Cougar Town but gets nothing to do here).

However, as quick as it all happens, it did happen, and the show can more or less move on. Blaine’s part of New Directions, so now they can play off Finn’s insecurities with the arrival of a true male lead without having to wait a few episodes for his arrival to play out. Similarly, Quinn is established as a counter-culture rebel through a whole lot of costume/situation-related shortcuts, but they have her waiting in the wings for something (read: Shelby, based on the preview) to bring her back into the fold. As much as the Sue and Will stuff was dreadful, I’d argue that the actual ongoing storylines created for the characters graduating (Finn and Quinn, in this instance) were set up in a way that could allow the show to go in interesting directions in future episodes.

This is especially true for Rachel and Kurt. As much as the “Anything Goes”/”Anything You Can Do” mashup was driven in part by the narrative pleasure of seeing one of the Glee Project contestants (Lindsay Pearce) making her debut, I do think that it created the kind of storyline that the show needs to be doing with its seniors. It was too quick, perhaps, but the end result was characters with purpose. Rachel wants to star in a musical, Kurt wants to run for student council, and both of those storylines make a fair deal of sense given their larger career goals. Admittedly, Falchuk ends up having them just announce these things in a casual fashion (and in a scene that starts off with some horrific acting), but the end result is something that could elevate future episodes provided they actually maintain consistency in those episodes.

In that sense, Falchuk really drew the short straw: under pressure to return to “core characters,” it seems like the edict passed down was to rush major storylines to the forefront. The whole Purple Piano angle wasn’t the best way to do this, and everything ended up feeling rushed and unnatural, but I don’t think any of this damages the potential created. Was this a good episode of Glee? Not really. However, did it preclude the potential for there to be good episodes of Glee again this year? No. Eric Stoltz’s direction was strong, the musical numbers had some decent energy (I have a soft spot for a couple of them, I’ll admit), and many of the storylines established could become great episodes provided they’re given the opportunity to grow in the future.

Inevitably, this means that we’re yet again placing our faith in the show’s writers (now expanded to a group of nine) to steer the ship going forward, but I think I’m to the point where I’m more curious than invested. I’m intrigued by how the show handles this transition, and I think I’m removed enough emotionally to be able to weather the inevitable disappointment and quietly embrace any pleasant surprises. “The Purple Piano Project” wasn’t strong, but something about my attitude towards the show allowed that weakness to remain isolated within this episode, leaving my relationship with the show in more or less the same place it was before: conflicted, but committed.

For now, at least.

Cultural Observations

  • I’ve got a spot spot for Hairspray in general, so “You Can’t Stop the Beat” was definitely in my wheelhouse, but “It’s Not Unusual” struck a more specific chord. I was in a high school drama production in which I performed that song while sprawled over a table. I believe I was a bored radio technician. Or a janitor. I forget, at this point. It wasn’t the most compelling play in the history of time.
  • Lovely to see that Quinn’s band of crazies includes both a So You Think You Can Dance? alum (in Courtney Galiano) and an alum from ABC Family’s Huge (Raven Goodwin).
  • Once my duties covering Awkward. at The A.V. Club are done, I might be getting to Glee the night it airs, but it’ll probably be a quick Wednesday afternoon post for the next few weeks while the semester gets started.
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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Season Premiere: Glee – “The Purple Piano Project”

  1. Thanks for acknowledging the potential for a Finn/Blaine storyline. I think it could actually give Cory Montieth something to do. And since Rachel is going to remain the female lead, this could create good drama for their relationship.
    Overall I agree with your review. All the set up is there, and as long as it’s executed well over the long run (the same way the Brittany/Santana, Kurt/Dave, Puck/Lauren, and the pregnancy storylines) it could prove to be the most progressive character work the series has ever done.
    Ryan Murphy has said that there would be a season long plot this time around, unlike the second season. If Sue running for congress or Kurt’s election (Election) is that plot point, it seems rather thin to me.

  2. Tausif Khan

    Marti Noxon is a consulting producer. She has said this means that she won’t always be in the writers room which would allow her to bring some outside perspective to the show.

  3. I’m willing to forgive this okay-but-unexceptional episode just because it looks like viewers won’t be subjected to more “Will is pining for Emma, Emma is pining for Will” storylines this season; it’s nice to have some finality on that matter so the characters can be used for other plot elements.

    Now, if only we didn’t have to see Sue vs. Will for the third season …

  4. Lyvanna

    While I’m glad that we’ll see more of Blaine and I do anticipate him as a rival for the other boys in the group I wish there had been a better reason for him moving schools. I know, I know, it’s silly expecting and character consistency on Glee but he supposedly joined Dalton because of being bullied in normal schools and it seems like a place where he’d get a better standard of overall education… it’d be nice if they’d thrown in a few lines about those things at least. I’m also kinda gonna miss the Warblers, they made for the best songs IMO and now we’re stuck with the same generic-sounding Glee tunes.

    As for the rest of the episode…. eh. I liked parts but it’s still stumbling a bit. As you say it’s all set-up really. And Sue’s character, once one of the show’s strongest, is becoming 2D. I really wish for some good musical numbers, there were a couple that I liked in this episode (Blaine’s and Lindsey’s) but overall I felt they needed to work more on making the music a relevant and interesting part of the show.

  5. Melkee

    I came upon your blog by the end of season 2. And I happened to like it very much. Over the summer, I readt every single archive and enjoyed your musings and analysis of one of my favorite tv shows. (Actually, I must say I am not much of a tv watcher or a movie- goer, lost interest years ago).
    Ever since Glee premiered this past Tuesday, I kept checking if you had posted anything about it. As usual, I read it with great anticipation and I found myself wondering if you really meant it when you said you were “conflicted, but committed”. I am not so sure about the very last one. Conflicted? Yes. They way you wrote and what you wrote conveyed it very clearly, as well as the reasoning behind it. But, somehow, I failed to notice your commitment. Maybe because I was expecting a bit (a lot, actually) more. Even when you reviewed those rather tepid, lackluster episodes last season, you had a lot to say and, quite importantly, how you said it. Now, I am not so sure.
    Anyway, I thought I’d express how I felt about this last review because your posts are usually insightful, reflective and well-written. I may not always agree with your opinions, but it’s quite entertaining and informative to read them.
    To finish this rant, I want to say I am looking forward to Glee season 3 and your reviews. They always (except for this one) make me consider or even reconsider certain things about the episode being discussed. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed your work here ( and want to continue doing so, LOL!).
    On The Purple Piano Project, I just want to say that as much as I dreaded a mega-dose of Klaine, I found myself enjoying every single one of their scenes. As contrived as it may be, Blaine transferring to WMHS worked for me at all levels.
    My favorite new couple: Kurt and Rachel. The best moments were about these two characters who are still as arrogant and self-centered as ever, yet far more sympathetic. Good writing, good acting, good singing.
    Still don’t care much for Will and Emma’s relationship.
    Side note: To be honest, I am myself as surprised as everyone who knows me that I am not only watching a tv show called Glee , but that I am also commenting on it and posting online!

    • To be honest, I’m not going to have as much time this year: it won’t just be with Glee, but with all of the shows that I’m reviewing. If I did this for a living, I could promise consistent 2500-word essays, but shorter pieces like this are more likely as the season moves forward given my schedule.

      Sorry that you found that disappointing, but I hope you’ll keep reading/commenting as the season continues – if you think I’ve missed something, you’re more than welcome to fill in the gap!

      • Melkee

        No, Myles I couldn’t fill any gap as I am not as good a writer as you are. Or as insightful, or as analytical. And I’d be a lousy reviewer!
        Like I said, I’ve really, really liked your articles. And it was not that this one was disappointing, but I felt disatisfied. Thanks for replying. And, yes, I thought you might not have as much time (or perhaps energy?) as you’ve mentioned your other activities and obligations. Again, I am looking forward to continue reading your blog. I am learning a lot from you and your writing style’s quite engaging. Thanks again!

  6. Melkee

    It is DISSATISFIED, double s, right? Bad English! LOL!

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