Here's what Glee boss Ryan Murphy says he likes about his new team of writers: "We hired people who will read scenes and scripts and go, 'We can do better, let's change that. Like, they'll literally say, 'You know what? We don't wanna do that with Mercedes. No one wants to f---ing see that.'"
That may sound extreme, but to help plot out what will be senior year for most of the McKinley High glee clubbers, Murphy says he specifically sought out writers with "big opinions" about the show. Why? Because the second season of Glee had been hit with its own kind of Slushee and was in need of cleaning up. Even the most ardent gleeks seemed to take issue with the show's indulging in stunts and spectacle at the expense of ongoing stories.
In some ways, their demands were simple: No more theme episodes (Christmas! Religion! Underage drinking!). No more tributes (Britney Spears! Rocky Horror! Fleetwood Mac!). No more new characters, and no neglecting the members of New Directions not named Kurt.
Even while Glee continued to pull in more-than-robust ratings and rake in major bucks from very healthy music sales, last season's backlash was felt. And it might have been a bitter pill considering the show's meteoric rise in Season 1, but Murphy seems to have instead used the fan feedback as fuel. The proof is in Season 3 premiere, "The Purple Piano Project," (Tuesday at 8/7c on Fox), a relatively stripped-down episode in which Mr. Schuester and the members of New Directions attempt to rekindle their love of show choir after a crushing defeat at Nationals.
Whether or not fans or critics dub it a return to form, Murphy's all confidence, telling TVGuide.com just days before the show returns that a back-to-basics plan is in effect, one that he believes will be emotional and heartbreaking in the all the right places as McKinley High's underdogs sing and dance their way to graduation.
That plan began at the end. "Before we did anything, we figured out where we were going," Murphy says. "Who graduates? Who doesn't? Do they go off into the ether or do they stay in Ohio? This time, we know what we're writing towards, which is great."
He also brought in a lot of extra help for the show's creative team, originally just himself and fellow executive producers Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. This year they've got six more writers, among them Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Marti Noxon and Michael Hitchcock (who you might recognize as Glee's Dalton Rumba). Before typing even a single page, the new team sat around for a good month delving into what Murphy calls "dream time," imagining all the possible stories and songs they might do — and then zeroing in on what made sense. "From that, came an amazing arc and an amazing season," Murphy says.
It will start with four major stories that connect the core cast: Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) together aspire to careers on the Broadway stage, Will (Matthew Morrison) and Emma (Jayma Mays) try to make it work as a couple, two members defect separately from the glee club, and another struggles with the very idea of life after high school. Murphy says he especially wanted to get back to that last idea, a key Season 1 theme now central to the show's senior class: Is everyone meant to fulfill their dreams outside of Lima, Ohio? Are you a Lima loser if not?
"Sometimes college isn't for everyone," Murphy says. "What do you do if that's your sneaking suspicion? What happens?"
Focusing on all of the original cast members also means new characters — like Sugar and Mercedes' boyfriend Marcus — will add "a sort of great flavor and spice" to the show but won't be taking away screentime from say, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) or Artie (Kevin McHale). Guest stars outside of Gwyneth Paltrow are also banned for the most part, although Idina Menzel, who plays Rachel's mom Shelby, will be back for a long run beginning in Episode 2.
And while he's retracted saying that Michele, Colfer and Cory Monteith will definitely exit the show after this season, Murphy says he will, however, slowly begin readying McKinley's next generation of glee clubbers, including Glee Project winner Damian McGinty, who'll make his debut in Episode 4 as a sophomore foreign exchange student. McGinty told TVGuide.com this summer that Murphy envisions him as the next eventual "leader of the glee club."
Murphy appears zen about the task at hand so far, even though he and Falchuk are about to launch a second show, American Horror Story, on FX. "We work on Glee in the morning and we do American Horror in the afternoon and then we go back to Glee or Horror around 6, depending on where we are. Then we work on the weekends. And then I work at night. So it's a lot of work."
"But I love the Glee scripts and the direction of this year so much. Not that I didn't love Season 2, but between the tour and the reality show and the movie, it was so much of the business side of things for me. Now, I really am just concentrating on the scripts."
Do you think the show can go "back to basics"? Or did you like Season 2? What do you hope to see senior year brings for McKinley's future graduates?