Glee glees its gleeful way into its third season tonight, though given the amount of off-season drama and the speed with which the show churns through story lines, this easily feels like its fourth or fifth. Despite some dark times in the second season — and lo, there were some dark times — Glee still has its moments of outrageousness and melodrama, and the kernel of what makes it occasionally fantastic: It's not afraid to be itself ... if only that self were more consistently identifiable. Beefing up the writers' room is a good first step, but there are at least six more ways Glee can be saved from itself in the new season.
1. Find Drama in the Every Day
For teenagers, every possible interaction has incredibly high stakes. I haven't talked to you in a week! This is the most important social studies paper ever! If I can't go to this dance, my life is over. Glee has already established wild characters with such clear points of view that just letting them have honest reactions to normal things (SATs? road tests?) can send the show into its blissful absurdity.
2. Give Mercedes Something More to Do
All summer on The Glee Project, Ryan Murphy told the contestants that he'd always wanted to have a Christian character on the show, but he just never knew how to approach it. What Murphy didn't say was that he already does have a Christian character on the show: Mercedes. But what does Mercedes want? What does she care about? Is there more to her than not liking Rachel all that much? It's not just that Mercedes hasn't had a real love interest on the show, it's that she hasn't had a real anything. Maybe Tinker can help.
3. Make the Songs Matter
Last season's Rocky Horror episode was largely a failure, not only because of Rocky Horror's waning influence but also because most of the material didn't have any connection at all to the characters or their stories. The one exception was Emma's "Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me." It was over-the-top ridiculous, yes, but it also advanced and illuminated the plot and a character's inner life. This is what musicals can do openly that other genres can't! Glee needs to stop squandering that opportunity to have its characters say, "This is what I dream about, this is what I want, this is why I love you, this is where I'm headed, this is where I've been."
4.Find Sue's Purpose Beyond Sadism
We get it: Sue hates everyone! And everything! And she's a mean bully who's mean! On account of her sister (R.I.P.) having Down's Syndrome. But that's such a waste of a character, and because she doesn't have a strong central identity other than being oppositional, she's been hugely inconsistent: We've seen Sue try to destroy New Directions and try to save it, try to destroy Will and try to befriend him, and try to destroy the Cheerios and try to improve them. Thanks to Jane Lynch, Sue has the potential to be a Mr. Burns–level character, but the show has so far made her just an unpredictable one-liner machine.
5. Don't Do Everything
For example, rapping. Don't do that anymore. Cheesy eighties songs, big Broadway numbers, chart toppers: These are your jams, Glee. Embrace it, and stop overproducing everything.
6. Stop Inventing
Great moments in teen soaps don't come from new people, they come from new relationships: Kelly falling for Brandon on 90210, Joey falling for Pacey on Dawson's Creek, Manny realizing that Craig is cheating with her on Degrassi, Seth slowly winning Summer over on The OC. Glee does not need more characters; it needs the characters it already has to make more connections with each other.