‘Glee’ shows lack of focus following Monteith tribute episode

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With five seasons under its belt, “Glee” has become a staple of FOX’s lineup. Year after year, the show trudges along, leaving no pop song untouched. Now with the Cory Monteith tribute episode behind us, “Glee” is on a month-long hiatus to pick up the pieces and try to rearrange them into something recognizable. But by desperately clinging to familiarity, “Glee” has clipped its own wings, never allowing itself to fully explore new story lines.

When the core cast graduated at the end of season three, “Glee” had a tough decision to make. It could pull a “Friday Night Lights” and choose to focus on the high school, introducing the audience to a new batch of students or it could echo “Gossip Girl” by following the graduating class into college.

Instead, they chose to straddle the line in between, focusing on both the kids at McKinley High School and the New York City adventures of some of the graduates. In doing so, “Glee” has hindered itself. The fresh batch of kids at McKinley remain a mishmash of underdeveloped caricatures of former students. In New York, the various graduates of McKinley end up with weak story lines that never felt urgent enough to warrant more screen time. Season five seems to promise more of the same.

This is especially troubling in terms of the aftermath of last week’s episode, “The Quarterback,” which served as a tribute to Cory Monteith and his character Finn. It won’t be surprising for “Glee” to just pick up as if nothing bad happened when the show returns. The next episode, due out Nov. 7, is a Katy Perry versus Lady Gaga tribute, which already proves that “Glee” is likely going to continue along through the rest of the school year, grieving Monteith’s death for only one episode.

The one hopeful aspect of this season is the fact that the beginning of season five marks the end of the school year — there is a chance that the show will permanently shift the focus from the high school to those who’ve already graduated, saving us from this balancing act between Lima, Ohio and New York City. With most of the new New Direction kids being inconsequential characters, it would be easy enough to just abandon them mid-storyline and decide to focus on the graduates in New York.

But the root of this problem lies in the fact that the basic premise of “Glee” is torn. Is “Glee” about the students who clung to music and camaraderie to get through high school and move onto the world? Or is “Glee” about a high school in middle America that happens to produce musically talented kids? It’s tough to answer what the show is truly about because the show has focused on both of these aspects. Since the writers never landed on either, these recent seasons feel muddled.

Last week’s tribute to Finn acted as an unintentional reminder of just how off balance “Glee” has become. “The Quarterback” took place in Lima, Ohio and primarily focused on the original cast. This highlights how unnatural it feels when “Glee” segments the show between two locations and with two different sets of characters. One can only hope that the upcoming season addresses this issue as the last remaining members of the original cast graduate from McKinley.

Chris Saccaro is a staff writer. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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