The Ups and Downs of Glee

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Tuesday unofficially became "Squee Across America" day as Glee—the show with the singin' and the dancin' and the hippin' and the hoppin'—returned from its long hiatus. And truthfully, my TV dance card has felt empty without it; there's nothing else like it on television, and more often than not, the show leaves a huge, stupid grin on my face. When it works, it works, but after screening the next few go-rounds, I've come to realize that the opposite is also oh-so-true, and the hiatus did little to smooth over Glee's rough edges. For your consideration, here are a few bones to pick about Glee's return and upcoming episodes, and a few new things bringing a hell of a lot more fun to the show.

Sour Note #1: Songs are still post-produced to death
Obviously, shows sometimes have to shill for products and/or services, so it's not surprising that Glee's biggest asset, its songs, are its hottest commodity. Thus, tunes appear in the iTunes Music Store almost as soon as they play on the show. Okay, I get it, they've gotta be ready to go from the start. But why did Glee cast all those amazing musical theater performers in key roles, only to suck all the life out of their performances with computer software? Perhaps it's just my imagination, but it seems that, as Glee's gotten more popular, its songs have become more robotic and soulless. When Mercedes' wonderful goose bumps-inducing voice is muddled to the point of Justin Bieber-dom, it's time to ease up.

High Note #1: Sharing the spotlight
The cast of Glee is pretty big at this point, but luckily the show hasn't lost track of anybody. Artie and Quinn didn't have a ton to do in the first episode back, but they'll return shortly. Even Kurt's dad will make an appearance. But pay special attention to Brittany and Santana, two underutilized placeholders—until now. They fire out the best lines with the sweetest naivete, making their jokes hit all the harder.

Sour Note #2: Glee hasn't figured out how to integrate its musical numbers
When the kids on Glee sing, are they giving a real performance as part of the story? Are they expressing their innermost turmoil in a fantasy world for just the audience to see, as is the style of musical theater? Are they simply in the mood for a not-in-real-time montage? Glee uses all three approaches, and deciding on one of them could save the show from a ton of set-up, which is arguably its weakest element by far. At one point in an upcoming episode, a character literally says, "Well, why don't you sing about it?"

High Note #2: The close-knit drama gets even closer
I wasn't sure Glee had anywhere to go after it wrapped up a fake pregnancy, a real pregnancy, baby daddy drama, dealing with disabilities, backstabbing, and one sham marriage that almost was—all in about a seven-minute span. But the show came back in a big way, throwing wrenches almost immediately into the breezy drama. Good TV writing does unexpected things in ways that seem effortless, like they've been happening all along. And there's some damn good TV writing coming up.

High Note #3: Sue Sylvester, Sue Sylvester, Sue Sylvester
No more sour notes here: Only endless praise for the best character on television, played by one of the funniest people alive. Just wait until next week's Madonna episode.

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