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In retrospect, perhaps we were expecting too much this go-around from "Glee," which, for two seasons plunged wildly into camp, pathos and elaborate musical numbers without drowning in its own excesses.
Season 3, which ends Tuesday, has been a far choppier trip, with last week's body-switching silliness the most ominous sign yet the show could be Jet-Skiing toward the shark-jump ramp. But just when we were about to bail, the second of last week’s double-header, featuring New Directions’ victory at Nationals, pulled us back from the brink. For all the "Freaky Friday-on-Tuesday" nonsense, we still care deeply about “Glee.”
Not that it’s been easy at times this season. Sure, Dave Karofsky’s sexual identity struggle and his suicide attempt proved classic quality “Glee,” as did Rachel’s heartbreaking audition flub. But many more attempts at mixing snappy, hyper-witty dialogue and tunes with the serious fell flatter than a note sung by annoying, talentless rich girl Sugar: The Finn-and-Rachel marriage twaddle; Quinn’s contrived temporary paralysis; Coach Bieste’s struggle with domestic violence, an opportunity for great “Glee” TV that devolved into an excuse for teenagers (or least actors playing teenagers) to spout platitudes and break into song.
Stunt casting, a growing part of the “Glee” bag of tricks, failed as often as it worked. We enjoyed Whoopi Goldberg as the former diva deciding Rachel’s fate, and Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell as her dads. But Ricky Martin’s turn as a teacher proved lifeless and Lindsay Lohan’s appearance as herself came off as far more sad than funny. More extended cameos are on the way next season, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson reportedly set to take on temporary “Glee” duties.
The second of last week’s two episodes gave us “Glee” at its best – funny, touching and bittersweet with a soaring soundtrack. The glee club’s victory at Nationals and triumphant homecoming to McKinley High might have been a classy way to end the season, if not the series. But we wouldn’t expect such a neat wrap-up from a show that operates at a manic pitch, fueled by youthful energy and chaos.
We’re eager to see Tuesday’s finale, in which key choristers graduate, even if all are expected back in some form next season as Fox moves “Glee” to Thursday. The show’s conceit is that life is high school, and that, we suppose, part of the bargain is that high school goes on after graduation. So, apparently, does “Glee.”
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.