A New Direction for “Glee”

The show, which returns Thursday for a fourth season, faces post-graduation challenges that can't be sung or danced away.

During May’s season finale of “Glee,” Finn and Puck delivered a faithful, rollicking version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” a 1980s hit that predates the birth of both characters (if not the actors who play them).
The song, a celebration of teenage triumphs past, proved appropriate – and not only for obvious reasons with Finn, Puck, Rachel, Quinn, Mercedes, Kurt and other characters graduating from McKinley High School after winning a national singing contest. “Glee,” of course, isn’t just about the kids: it’s equally driven by the adult messes, from choir master Will Schuester to cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester, who, like the players in Springsteen’s song, can’t seem to escape high school and the “Maltese Falcon”-like quest to capture (or recapture) times that don’t always live up to the hype of memory.
The show starts its fourth season Thursday in a new time slot – and in an odd spot, with much of the original cast out of school, but still on the show. The Fox hit faces post-graduation challenges that can't be sung or danced away: It may be time for “Glee” to grow – or go.
During the last three seasons, we’ve seen the glee club members deal with everything from pregnancy to homophobia to Slushie facials. Occasional moments grounded in reality often quickly give way to a show that lives largely on heightened plane rising on teenage angst, dreams – and soaring songs broken into at the drop of a textbook.

That’s a delicate balance – one that extends to what’s starting to seem like an overreliance on stunt casting, which sometimes works (Carol Burnett, Whoopi Goldberg), sometimes doesn’t (Ricky Martin, Britney Spears) and sometimes falls somewhere in-between (Gwyneth Paltrow). Expect more star power this season with Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker joining the cast in recurring roles.
But the show’s journey might be best experienced through budding star and recent grad Rachel, who, last we saw, left Lima, OH, on a train to study musical theater in New York. She’s carrying more than her Broadway dreams: she’s also shouldering much of the hope for the show.
The “Glee” creative team deserves praise for keeping the students moving along in real time (even if most of the actors are at an age where they'd be out of medical school by now), while the adults with the most screen time remain in states of arrested development. The creative team also gets credit for keeping this rollercoaster of a show chugging. While last season was marred by unevenness, we remain willing to be happily surprised, which has been a hallmark of “Glee.”

“Glee” is at its best when it strikes a pure emotional chord – in song or otherwise. This season will be a test of whether the glory days for Rachel and her fellow grads are in the past or whether the best is yet to come.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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