Glee Season 3-01 ‘The Purple Piano’ Recap

Glee returned to Fox on Tuesday, September 20th, with narrative drive and peppy spirit. Still reeling from their butt-whooping at Nationals, the New Directions find themselves as even greater outcasts than before. With roving reporter Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman) bombarding everyone with questions about Senior year and post-McKinley plans, some Glee Clubber’s Nationals malaise is magnified by an uncertain future.

Finn (Cory Montieth) especially is feeling the pinch of Senior year. When asked about his post-High School plans he has no answer and before he can gather his thoughts on the subject, he gets slushied. Add ‘Glee-otch’ to the ever growing lexicon of Glee club insults. If there is one thing show runner Ryan Murphy enjoys it is overstating how hated the New Directions are in their home school; more on that later.

Rachel (Lea Michele), at first, has no such concerns about her future. She and her new best friend Kurt (Chris Colfer) have their minds made up to attend Julliard in New York City. That is until Miss Pilsbury (Jayma Mays) informs them that Julliard doesn’t have a Musical Theater Department. Thankfully, she is aware of an alternative, the New York School for the Performing Arts, which, as luck would have it, chooses a small number of Midwestern students to attend each year.

Even luckier for Rachel and Kurt, they can meet their competition for the school, there is a mixer for theater arts majors that just happens to take place in Lima. The conventions of television drama tell the educated viewer what will happen next: Rachel and Kurt will be demoralized by their unexpected competition, courtesy of Glee Project finalist Lindsay Pearce.

On the bright side, this predictable subplot did deliver a pair of jaunty Broadway numbers, Kurt and Rachel singing Barbra Streisand and Harold Arlen’s “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and the theater arts gang’s well choreographed rendition of the show stopper, “Anything Goes.” Also, the plot showcased my new favorite pairing on Glee. I like Rachel and Kurt better as friends than as competitors; plus their friendship offered the opportunity for the biggest laugh of the episode, a brochure from Miss Pillsbury entitled: “Me and My Hag.”

For those keeping score at home, the first musical number of the season was the Go Go’s tune: “We Got the Beat,” performed as part of Mr. Schue’s ‘Purple Piano Project,’ an initiative meant to help recruit new Glee Club members. Naturally, the project turns into yet another reason for students to throw things at the New Directions; again the writers of Glee desperately overstate the hate-ability of the New Directions to no real effect.

The purple pianos that Will spread around McKinley as a way of inspiring his students instead inspire Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), who subsequently found a way to lift her sagging poll numbers in her campaign for Congress. In a strange op-ed on the local Lima news, Sue called for an end to all school arts funding; thus re-establishing her war with Will (Matthew Morrison).

Will however, has changed some over the summer. Now, just about living with Emma, though they have not yet consummated their relationship, Will decides to take a stand against Sue and launches an offensive with a ‘Glitter bomb.’ Too bad, pouring a bucket of glitter on Sue while Emma filmed the event for Youtube only served to make Sue a martyr and help her gain further in the polls.

Other developments in the Glee season three premiere: Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) is out of New Directions. So is Santana (Naya Rivera), though only after she became co-captain of the newly re-formed Cheerios, joins Sue in her anti-arts crusade and helped light one of the purple pianos on fire. Brittany (Heather Morris) would have helped with the fire but she’s a ‘water sign.’

The recruiting drive did net one potential new member. Hawthorne star Vanessa Lengies briefly guests on Glee as Sugar Motta, a terrible singer with self diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome that she uses an excuse to say whatever insulting thing is on her mind. Expect protests in the next few days from Asperger’s and Autism activists as Sugar is a terrifically offensive character.

Sam (Chord Overstreet) is also gone from New Directions and indeed, McKinley High School, his dad got a job out of town. That meant the end of Sam’s brief romance with Mercedes (Amber Riley), though she wasn’t too broken up about losing Trouty Mouth. Mercedes found herself a new man over the summer, football star Marcus (Lamarcus Tinker).

And the defections from the New Directions didn’t stop with Zizes and Trouty Mouth, as Quinn (Dianna Agron) pulled a disappearing act as well. When she finally does return we barely recognize her. The former Prom Queen wannabe now sports pink hair, an ironic tattoo of Ryan Seacrest and, she’s the leader of The Skanks, a group of truly awful female outcasts. While The Skanks are truly terrible, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Quinn looks crazy hot with pink hair and a tattoo.

Summer buzz on Glee had more screen time for Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) but the episode titled “The Purple Piano Project” demonstrated no such increase in exposure for the couple. Also squeezed out this week were Artie (Kevin McHale) and Puckerman (Mark Salling) who had little to do aside from chorus work on “We Got the Beat” and the show’s closing number, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from the musical Hairspray.

The best moments of the night and by far the most enjoyable story line of the season premiere found Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) giving up his Dalton blazer in favor of joining New Directions. Yes, Blaine decided to transfer to McKinley, after some gentle prodding from Kurt. Blaine and Kurt are among the cutest couples on TV and stars Darren Criss and Chris Colfer have terrific chemistry. How could you not love the look on Kurt’s face as Blaine belted out Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.”

“The Purple Piano Project” is one of those rare episodes of Glee that has focus and a strong narrative drive. Rather than trying too many stories at once or going for wild swings between drama and comedy, the season three premiere remained focused on strong subplots while rounding the whole cast into one major plot, their recovery from their disappointment at Nationals.

The closing tune, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray was a clever and entertaining way to close the season premiere. The defiant lyrics and brassy, broadway spirit of the song played both as a narrative rebirth for the struggling Glee Clubbers and as a defiant statement to critics that indeed, no matter what, you cannot stop this show from being a big, musical mess of TV clichés, show tunes and big, smiley entertainment.