May 9, 2013



Which plotline really grabbed you in Season 4 of GLEE?  Was it Rachel’s (Lea Michele) one-episode pregnancy scare?  Her involvement (unwitting) with a male escort?  Was it the weeks of sullen silence between Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) and Finn (Cory Monteith) after Finn impulsively kissed Mr. Schue’s fiance Emma (Jayma Mays)?  Was it Blaine (Darren Criss) cheating on Kurt (Chris Colfer) and their ensuing (semi) break-up?  How about Sue’s (Jane Lynch) baby, or Finn’s offensive comment about the child?  Did the love quadrangle between Marley (Melissa Benoist), Jake (Jacob Artist), Ryder (Blake Jenner) and Kitty (Becca Tobin) do it for you?  (Let’s leave the bulimia subplot for now, because that deserves mention of its own.)  How about Ryder being “catfished” by a texter swearing to be a beautiful blonde, and disclosing all his most intimate secrets?

The correct answer, of course, is none of these.  There was an enormous amount of incident on Glee this season–I didn’t even mention Becky (Lauren Potter) bringing a gun to school and mistakenly firing it, causing a panic–but almost none of it had any emotional weight.  Glee has always been a victim of scattered plotting (it’s practically a trademark of series co-creator Ryan Murphy), but this season its ADD went out of control, and the result was a year where the dramatic scenes just felt like filler between Auto-Tuned musical numbers.

To give credit where it’s due, this season the show took on an enormous logistical burden, and to a fair extent pulled it off, simultaneously telling stories that took place in Lima and in New York, where Rachel, Kurt and eventually Santana (Naya Rivera) moved after Season 3–with occasional detours to Puck (Mark Salling) in Los Angeles.  Glee remained a cohesive whole, and that was an accomplishment.  The downside, though, was that with such a massive cast and so many stories, all of them were constantly being pushed aside for the next, and the season never generated any forward momentum.  It’s sort of a problem when Smash starts looking like the better example of network musical drama storytelling.

There was something else.  Glee has always operated with the twin but potentially opposing imperatives of advocating tolerance on the one hand, but getting entertainment value from mean-spiritedness on the other.  The show has rightly gotten kudos for its forthright treatment of gay teen characters, even while having Sue and other characters say and do hateful things for cheap laughs or sentimentality.  It’s worked, more or less, because Sue has never had any real power, and the insults are played as stand-up comedy.  This season the show’s balancing act got the better of it, though, with a storyline that had Kitty, over the course of several episodes, deliberately push Marley into bulimia–to the point where Marley collapsed on stage–an event that was given no more weight than Rachel having to deal with a mean NY teacher.  Kitty’s terror tactics had no consequences (soon enough Marley and Kitty were friends again), an astonishingly irresponsible move by a show that supposedly believes itself a role model on the side of the underdogs.

This kind of narrative carelessness dotted the season finale, written by series co-creator Ian Brennan and directed by Bradley Buecker.  Brittany (Heather Morris) was abruptly determined to be a genius by MIT, and reacted by becoming an egotistical tyrant (before snapping out of it in time for a tearful farewell).  Meanwhile, the faux texter who’d been bedeviling Ryder turned out to be exactly the person you expected from the time the story began, non-gender-specific Unique (Alex Newell).  (There was a brief fake-out when it appeared that the culprit was Marley–hard to believe, but at least it would have been interesting.)  Twenty minutes of Regionals were thrown in at the end of the episode, because after all, this was a season finale, so there had to be some kind of singing competition, and a hurried Will/Emma wedding wrapped up the season.  The Blaine/Kurt relationship, not to mention Rachel’s callback for a new Broadway revival of Funny Girl, were left as cliffhangers.

Those cliffhangers will be resolved, since Glee‘s been renewed for Season 5.  Its ratings are nowhere near their original phenomenon level, and it’s doubtful they’ll recover with the series in its present fractured mode.  The show still has its moments, thanks to some enormous talents among its cast (and notably good work from guest star Kate Hudson as Rachel’s evil teacher), but Murphy and his fellow writer/producers expanded the scope of the show and lost its center; Glee is proficient, but it barely has any heart left.  If FOX and the producers are willing to do the work, the series could use a serious housecleaning before next season.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."