It's not easy being a Gleek. At least, it wasn't earlier this season. Aside from the sudden and tragic death of star Cory Monteith, and the subsequent sudden and tragic death of his character Finn Hudson, the Fox musical comedy (Tuesdays, 8/7c, Fox) felt a bit, well, off-key in the first part of Season 5. The story lines started to feel either predictable or haphazard, the music was bland and most of the theme episodes like The Beatles two-part tribute or "Previously Unaired Christmas," lacked a real purpose or message.
Thankfully, the show returned from its extended hiatus re-energized and looking — and more importantly sounding — like its old self. After weeks of letting Season 5 collect virtual dust on the DVR, here are eight reasons why it's time to get back into Glee:
1. Improved Music Choices: Glee has always employed the perfect blend of Broadway staples ("Maybe This Time," "Defying Gravity"), oldies but goodies ("Proud Mary," "I'll Stand By You") and recent hits ("Forget You," "Beautiful"), combined with its knack for putting an original spin on covers. But instead of new arrangements and mash-ups, Season 5's songs seemed to be selected while producers were a) on their way to work listening to Top 40 radio ("Wrecking Ball"), or b) wasting time on YouTube ("What Does the Fox Say?"). And about that much original thought went into the glee club's uninspired productions of these numbers, which blatantly copied the original music videos (sans Miley Cyrus' naked breasts). Thankfully, someone with music knowledge ranging beyond KIIS FM has taken hold of the reins, inserting great classics (U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Wilson Phillips' "Hold On") and also crafting original arrangements of hits like "Toxic."
2. Better Use of Guest Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Neil Patrick Harris, Kristin Chenoweth, Matt Bomer, John Stamos. Glee has never had a problem recruiting A-list talent to stop by and sing a few tunes — and in Bomer's case, star in a hilarious credit score commercial. However, the show seemed to start taking this for granted in Season 4 and wasted the talents of several big names (except for the deliciously evil Kate Hudson). Remember when comedienne Aisha Tyler and Melrose Place's Thomas Calabro played Jake's parents? Or how about when Idol winner Jessica Sanchez competed against the glee club? Neither do we. However, if the stellar guest spot by Pitch Perfect star Skylar Astin as French Canadian Cirque du Soleil trainee-turned-New Directions rival Jean Bapiste or Adam Lambert's infectious turn as Elliott Starchild is any indication of what's to come, celebrities better reclaim their spots in line for a role before it's too late.
3. Increased Self-Awareness: Earlier this season, Glee had fans experiencing a bad case of Season 1 déjà vu when Jacob cheated on Marley with mean and bossy Cheerio Bree just because Marley wouldn't go all the way, and then Bree (falsely, thankfully) thought she was pregnant. Sounds kind of similar to Finn losing his virginity to Santana and Quinn's pregnancy after cheating on Finn, no? Thankfully, instead of trying to forget its past, lately Glee has been embracing it. Recent episodes have made light of the New Directions' many romantic entanglements — "that happens all the time around here," Blaine said after he was severely traumatized by Tina and Sam's make-out session — and Coach Sue even referenced her celebrity baby daddy Michael Bolton when talking to Mr. Schue about parenting! Yes, everyone, remember that time Coach Sue Sylvester procreated?!
4. A Rediscovered Sense of Humor: Thanks to its tear-inducing ballads, elaborate costumes and musical chairs-like history of romantic relationships, Glee has a definite flair for the dramatic. But while it was once one of TV's funniest comedies, Marley's battle with bulimia combined with Ryder's dyslexia, Unique's Catfish problem and the school shooting at McKinley High left little time for laughs last season. These days, the show is finally getting back to its sweet spot of mixing real teen issues with over-the-top gags. Not only did Sue prank call Mr. Schue's hotel to say he had abducted 12 "emotionally disturbed teenagers," but Mercedes' recent success was a story line only Glee could pull off. Is it even possible not to laugh when thinking about Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Ryan Seacrest all jamming to Mercedes' original song about McKinley High trying to take away her tater tots? Hell 2 the no!
5. Focus on the Right Characters: It's not that the new kids on the glee club are despicable, rotten people — well, except for Kitty — but it's safe to say that they never quite caught on with the fans the way the original New Direction-ers did. Which is why it makes perfect sense that the show is saying sayonara to Lima and focusing on those characters we do care about, i.e. Rachel and Kurt and basically any McKinley High grad with a New York City address. Even better, if these paparazzi pictures of the cast filming in New York are any indication, the show will also be welcoming back beloved former mainstays like Mercedes. But will she bring her Faux-huahua along?
6. Dealing with Death Head-On: There are lots of reasons to kill off of a TV character these days: failed contract negotiations, sweeps and sometimes for actual story-related purposes. However, the death of Finn in the heart-wrenching episode "The Quarterback" was sadly necessitated by a much bigger and more profound loss for the entire cast and crew, and it shows. While "The Quarterback" served as the official goodbye to Finn, the show has found meaningful and tasteful ways to discuss his death and its impact in subsequent stories, such as New Directions' heartfelt struggle to do him justice at Nationals or Mr. Schue's tears at the thought of having to close down glee club and leave Finn's plaque behind. In an era of fast-moving TV shows like Scandal and The Walking Dead where huge character deaths are a dime a dozen, the actual impact of these deaths are rarely ever explored to their full, and more realistic, potential. Finn may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten.
7. Better Story Lines: While the show has dealt with Finn's death in a moving way, it's also been nice to see the writers insert a little more conflict into Rachel's life. No one makes a better, more fierce underdog than Rachel Berry so seeing all of her Broadway dreams so suddenly and completely come true while she dealt with the personal tragedy was pretty boring. Obviously, and understandably, it will take Rachel a very, very long time to get over the death of Finn, which is why it's actually better to turn her and Santana into rivals once again and give Rachel something else to focus her energies on. The same goes for Kurt, who will hopefully benefit greatly from having his fiancé Blaine in NYC to distract him from playing referee for Rachel and Santana. Finally, say what you want, but it's nice that Glee gave closure, or something like it, to one of its first big couples by giving "Wemma" a baby.
8. No More Gimmick Episodes: Maybe this one isn't so much a reason as it is a very desperate plea to the producers and writers after having sat through the "Previously Unaired Christmas" episode or, even worse, the one with the puppets. Never again, Glee. Never again.
Glee airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on Fox. What do you think of Season 5 so far? Are you ready to get back on board with the show?