“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.
- 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.