After such mixed reviews to some of the outlandish and slightly unbelievable storylines last season, the season 4 premiere has proved that Murphy and co. certainly aren’t afraid to shake things up, and that this season Glee is going to be all about reinvention.
Despite many doubts about the show’s new format, the new structure seems set to be a success. Though initially dubious about the split focus, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed it; in following Finn to Fort Benning and Rachel and Kurt to New York as they try to establish themselves at NYADA and Vogue respectively, the show is able to retain its focus on the characters at the very heart of the show, and breathe a new lease of life into a structure that may otherwise have become very stale and predictable. Rachel’s difficulty to adjust to her new life in New York, and the establishment of the upcoming love triangle between her, Finn and hot new addition Brody takes things back to the base level of season one, focusing on the more realistic storylines that target the emotional dilemmas and tough decisions experienced by its young audience that makes the show so watchable.
My favourite part of the new New York setting has to be the opportunity it gives the writers to break out of the safe high school stereotype box and play with some more interesting scenarios and characters, such the introduction of Kate Hudson as Rachel’s love to hate alocoholic and bullying dance teacher Cassie July. Her biting criticisms are reminiscent of one Sue Sylvester at her peak; her insistence that “If you are not suffering from severe body dismorphia then you don’t want it enough” signal that she may well be this season’s breakout character, and provide hours of toe-curlingly dreadful bile as she attempts her mission to make Rachel’s life a living hell.
Yet whilst I’m undeniably excited to see the direction that this half will take, I’m significantly less interested in the goings on of McKinley High than ever before. I feel that Murphy made some terrible choices here when deciding on which characters to keep on, casting off every big gun in his arsenal when the retention of even one of the big characters such as Mercedes or Puck, both of whom I feel had a lot more to give, could have generated more interest in the characters that have been left behind. The teachers and adult characters are already reputedly going to be taking a back seat, though we can expect a lot of will the wont they wedding drama from Will and Emma, and the fallout of the intriguing alliance between Sue and Roz as they attempt to take down Principal Figgins, continuing the theme of rebooting the series by attempting to reinvigorate it through a whole host of new characters.
Though unlike the New York characters, the new introductions to McKinley are already falling short of the mark. At first glance Marley, Jake and Kitty appear to be blander versions of Rachel, Puck and Quinn, with Wade a.k.a. Unique filling the diva role vacated by Mercedes and Kurt, suggesting that the writers have just recycled or amalgamated old characters in an attempt to compensate for better characters that they have been forced to let go for continuity. Even though Jake and Marley look set to fill the void left by the departures of the New Directions biggest voices and have been better established in one episode than characters like Mike or Tina were in three seasons, they feel a little heavy handed and clichéd even by Glee standards, to the extent that the interactions between Marley and her mother made me cringe every time they appeared on screen. But despite some potentially rocky ground to cover with the remaining New Directions, I’m hoping this new split focus will make compelling viewing, and go on to become bigger and better than ever.