It’s all change in the world of Glee. Many of the main characters have graduated, so Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Rachel (Lea Michele) have headed off to New York, initially Finn (Cory Monteith) is in the army, while others have headed off to various other places.
That means there’s space for some new Glee Club kids at McKinley High, while a few of the old faces are still waiting to graduate. Meanwhile Will (Matthew Morrison) and Emma’s (Jayma Mays) relationship is at a crossroads and most shockingly of all for fans of Klaine, Kurt and Blaine’s (Darren Criss) love may not be able to withstand the distance between them!
With so much change going on, it’s perhaps not surprising that the first half of this season is more than a little rocky. The show spends so much time trying to work out what to do with its new characters and how old ones will work in new situations, it becomes a little repetitive and uncertain of itself. This is particularly true of Rachel’s experiences at drama school, where she comes up against a hard-ass teacher played by Kate Hudson who seems to hate her on principal. It’s a plot set-up that quickly becomes annoying and makes you wonder whether having a show half set in NYC and half in Ohio is going to work.
Even the musical numbers, which up until this point have always ensured even the more tedious episodes were a fun watch, start to feel like either interruptions, or as if 10 minutes of the show have been spent just contriving an excuse to shoehorn that tune in. Likewise, previously Glee had always had fun with episodes that concentrated on particular artists or ideas, but here they feel lame, including a vaguely painful Grease-flavoured special, and a pointless and annoying alternate-universe ep. where we see what would have happened if Artie had never become a wheelchair-user and other tedious tales.
To be honest, by about 10 episodes in I was ready to give up on Glee altogether, but then it finds its feet again and while never reaching the highs of Season 2, it becomes a lot more fun to watch than it has up until that point.
There’s still a slight sense you’re watching two separate shows, but it begins to work. You also get an appreciation for what Cory Monteith brought to Glee, as it’s not until he arrives back at McKinley that it feels as if the show once more has an axel to spin around. Indeed that’s one of the biggest problems with the first 10 episodes. They feel rudderless, as if no one’s entirely sure what to do or how to move forward now that everything’s changed. However Finn gives it drive once more, both from Monteith’s presence and because the writers know how to use him as a centrepoint to help make new characters feel like part of the family.
With Monteith’s tragic death, Glee has definitely lost one of its greatest assets and it’s likely to leave a big hole in the show.
I may not have liked the first half of the season, but I enjoyed the rest of it quite a lot. The show is still trying to find a new reason to be, particularly as it realises it can’t keep using the same Glee Club singing competitions over and over again to base the entire show around, but also that it can’t give up on them completely either, as that’s what the show has always been about. However in making better use of great old characters, such as Brittany, Mercedes and (my personal favourite) Blaine , as well as finding ways to move the plot forward, such as a wedding, it comes back to life.
Even when its spinning its heels it’s more fun, including the episode ‘Naked’, which I’m sure many will enjoy just for the fact it’s an excuse to get most of the male characters to take their shirts off – all in the name of making a calendar of course. There is something slightly disturbing about the fact these are meant to be high school kids and the whole episode is about showing as much of their flesh as a teen show is allowed, but as long as you remember the actors are all older, you won’t feel too perverted.
The visuals on the Blu-ray are pretty good and a step up from when it was on TV, and as always the musical numbers sound good when given a proper surround mix. There’s also a decent selection of features for fans, ranging from a look at the making of the movie song special episode, ‘Girls (and Boys) on Film’, to the ability to isolate the season’s songs.
It’s certainly a rocky road for Season 4, but it thankfully manages to pull through. I went from being ready to never watch the show again after the first few episodes to actually looking forward to Season 5, which is quite a turnaround. It still remains to be seen whether it can keep the beat going, not least that Glee is now reeling from Monteith’s death, but hopefully it can keep singing, dancing and entertaining for a while longer.
Overall Verdict: Initially Season 4 of Glee doesn’t just seem to be jumping the shark but doing an entire Busby Berkeley number over it, but once it works out how to integrate its new characters as well as having a plot (instead of things just happening), it returns to being an entertaining show with plenty of fun musical numbers.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac