TV Report Card | 'Glee' Season 4 Review

Overview: Glee’s 4th season followed the exploits of McKinley High’s new faces and that of former students, Rachel and Kurt, as they headed to New York to make their dreams come true.

Storyline Direction: Glee has always been a really great show and without going any further, there is no other world that TV has created that I wish the real world more closely resembled. Glee is more than a musical and contrary to some people’s opinions, it is not an After School Special. This is a smart, funny, quirky and honest show that is equal parts enlightened education and entertainment.

The thing about Glee is that you can literally be crying one minute and laughing the next. This happened on more than one occasion (to me) whilst watching this season. This show has such a big heart and it took the time to tell the stories that people really needed to hear this season as it has done with all of its previous installments.

Going in to this season, there was concern as to how the show would deal with losing Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) to the big city and integrating new cast members. I remember thinking, how are they going to find characters that are even close to all of the graduating seniors from last year? Well, they did it. Rule #1; never underestimate Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy.

All of the new characters at McKinley High were brilliant. Marley, Jake, Ryder and Kitty were not replicas of the seniors that had moved on. There were certain nuances that were similar, there is no question. They were different and separate incarnations in their own right though.

Marley being the daughter of the cafeteria lady was so well done. Until her character came on the show there wasn’t a really good girl on the show and Marley gave the show the right amount of sweetness. It felt really good to watch a character that you could wholeheartedly root for to succeed.

Jake was a change from Puck, who seems doomed to be The Fonz, Jake in contrast actually grew through the season. Ryder, while easily comparable to Finn, was more of a stereotypical jock than Finn is.

Kitty was meaner than Quinn and Santana combined and it seemed like her character was a perfect blend of the two. There was something vulnerable enough about her that you couldn’t completely write her off. As far as the McKinley side of the show, it had never been better.

This brings us to Rachel and Kurt in New York, who were eventually joined by the bitingly hilarious Santana. There were good things and bad things about New York. The flow of the NY 3 coming back to Ohio was well done. Rachel being a little fish in the big pond was handled well, at times. Let’s be serious, they didn’t really introduce a fellow classmate in NY that was really equal to her in terms of vocal talent. So the angle of her being the little fish wasn’t played to the extent that was expected.

The storyline with the devilish Grody Brody was simply, gross. No woman with the amount of self-respect that Rachel Berry has would lower herself to be with Brody. As for the Cassandra July character, that was an overuse of the Paper Chase professor bit. Plus, no one tears down their students like Sue Sylvester so let’s just leave that to her. 

As for Kurt’s boss/guardian angel Isabelle Wright, it was a welcomed change to have someone, in addition to Mr. Schuester, encourage the kids. However, every musical moment that featured her character was horrible. The songs they chose didn’t correlate to what was happening on-screen and it was a bit too fanciful to imagine someone as angelic as her character wearing Prada.

Kurt’s story was very enjoyable and his story with his dad having cancer was quite moving. It was so great to see them reunited and like I’d mentioned earlier, you are sitting their enjoying some laughter with your favorite character when they sock you in the face with a dramatic turn you didn’t see coming. So often that is how real life is and it’s what makes Glee, a fantasy so often (who hasn’t wanted to break out in song?), a show that is more relatable than most series. As crazy as it sounds, it feels real.

Back in Lima, the plot line of Ryder’s catfish story was incredibly frustrating as the answer to who catfish was seemed to drag on longer than it should have. However, it paid off with the reveal of Unique. As a viewer I understood her reasons for doing what she did and it would’ve been so wonderful to have had Ryder say that he understood too.

Glee doesn’t work like that though and I respect that about the show. It would’ve been a happy ending but it wouldn’t have been an honest one. The show doesn’t pass judgment on Ryder either. It is clear they are going to have to work through this.

The answer to telling social issue based stories isn’t to unrealistically bring everyone together in one night on an issue. It takes time. Contrary to what people who haven’t seen the show think, this isn’t a show that shoves an agenda down your throat. They’re just putting it out there, both sides and letting the chips fall where they may.

The most controversial episode of Glee to date, “Shooting Star” dealt with the very real issue of gun violence in schools. There was controversy over the timing of it airing and I understand those concerns however, it isn’t a pleasant issue to have to deal with and there is never going to be a right time to talk about it. Let’s face it, as time goes on and people try/want to forget, the compulsion to have a dialogue will dull with said time passing.

As it turned out in the episode it was an A.D. (accidental discharge) that had caused the commotion. For the students, they didn’t know that and the fear was palatable, it was edge of your seat viewing. The anxiety and anger that you felt as a viewer when Sam kept trying to leave and poor Brittany was defenselessly hiding in the bathroom was simply heartbreaking.

When it was over, you could feel the weight off of your chest. Special notice has to be given to a subtle yet crucial element that psychologically carried great impact on those tense scenes and that was the use of the metronome as it feverishly ticked away every terrifying second. The emotions on Glee had never been higher and it was wise to not have a purposeful shooter involved because the show said all that needed to be said without having to use that. It was smart storytelling.

Production Caliber: The production didn’t falter this season as it delivered the separate worlds of Lima, Ohio and New York City. One could argue that Rachel and Kurt’s loft was too spacious and that is probably true. It is also a TV show and it’s fine to have a little fantasy. It was weird not to have another vista for Regional’s. The costumes were still top drawer and stayed true to the characters while, showing subtle signs of maturing fashion choices.

Performance Quality: The whole cast did a great job this season. There isn’t enough room to site everyone individually. However, there were performances that deserve special recognition. Jayma Mays has always been a gem on this show and during the runaway bride episode she shined as Emma’s nerves overtook her. Matthew Morrison (Will) was also good in that episode as he played the confliction of hurt over Emma’s leaving and his compassion for what had led her to it. 

Cory Monteith provided the show with its massive heart as Finn struggled to find his place, in the ever changing landscape surrounding him. Jane Lynch was as always amazing and sadly, again this year, underused. 

Melissa Benoist did a spectacular job as Marley. Playing the good girl on a show is difficult and if it’s not played right the audience can turn on said character because they don’t feel her being labeled the “good girl” is accurate or being forced upon them. The portrayal runs the risk of being labeled a Mary Sue. Benoist side stepped all of that with her performance, her genuine sweetness was captured beautifully.

As for Marley’s love interests, Jacob Artist (Jake) showed a nice amount of range, giving a dimensional performance. His interpretation was more intelligent and in the end more likable than Puck 1.0 who while, entertaining had become grating, writing wise, as his character never grew. Jake’s evolution was well-written and performed with equal quality.

Blake Jenner did some really nice work as Ryder. He had quite a few standout moments in the role as his character dealt with a learning disorder, confronting the abuse at the hands of his babysitter, the catfish reveal and his unrequited affection for Marley. His characterization demonstrated kindness without being a softie.

His scenes with Alex Newell (Unique) were very well done by both actors. You could feel the heartbreak of Unique with Newell’s performance as she bravely thrust her secret into the light. 

Darren Criss (Blaine) really rose to the occasion this season. His work as Blaine has always been pitch perfect and this season was no different. His scenes as Blaine when he had to let down a smitten Tina was terrific. He was so understanding and kind towards her you could totally see why Tina was harboring her ill-fated crush. One of the standout scenes during the season belonged to Chord Overstreet who blew it out of the water during “Shooting Star” as Sam attempted to get to Brittany.

It was perfectly played because you wanted so much for him to just sit down as the tension was so high and yet you sympathized with his desperation so much that you couldn’t stay mad at him for his escape attempts. Heather Morris had a poignant exit scene in the finale as she bid farewell, it was so strange to see Brittany sad and that made it all the more emotional.

Musical Score: The music was great this season. The Stevie Wonder tribute episode was phenomenal as they explored his legendary catalog. The group songs where everyone came together were some of the best. The cover of John Mayer’s “Say” was the perfect way to end the show’s most powerful and emotionally exhausting episode. 

Every song that Sarah Jessica Parker’s character did with the cast was a horrible music choice. The songs were simply awful and seemed to drag on for a never-ending sense of time. For the record; their last song went on for over 5 minutes. Lea Michele’s rousing performance of Celine Dion’s “To Love You More” was the perfect choice for Michele’s powerful vocals.

Overall Grade: A-, the fourth season of Glee showed no signs of slowing down. It was a strong season and given expectations more than excelled past them. It was ambitious to portray both New York and Ohio and the show did a descent job. New York in the end wasn’t as compelling.

Working in Santana brought some much needed punch to the storylines and viewers will forever be in her debt as she was the vessel for remedying the mess that was Rachel’s relationship with Grody Brody, the season’s worst new character. Next season is highly anticipated as they are hopefully able to work out the cricks facing the New York storyline. In the meantime, Glee is still the most heartfelt show on TV.

What did you think of Glee’s fourth season? I want to hear from you about Glee or any other Eclectic Pop topic? You can share your thoughts by tweeting me @EclecticPop or leaving a comment below.

[Images by FOX]