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"Glee" Regains Its Heart With "The Purple Piano Project"

Alexis Driggs |
September 21, 2011 | 1:56 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


After a season jam-packed with guest stars, tribute episodes, and choppy plots, "Glee" boss Ryan Murphy promised a third season of the hit show that would return “back to basics,” focusing more on the characters and their stories than spectacle. This week’s season premiere, “The Purple Piano Project,” did just that, returning to the heart of the show and setting up storylines that will likely carry throughout the season. 

Despite a loss at the previous year’s Nationals competition, New Directions is back with more determination than ever before to finally win the coveted title of champion, and the stakes are higher: for most of the members, it’s senior year. 

(Courtesy of Fox Broadcasting Company)
(Courtesy of Fox Broadcasting Company)
The episode opened with a Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman) video blog, in which the nosy teen grilled glee-clubbers about their plans for the futures. It largely serves to establish which characters will be graduating at the end of the year, and gives a brief farewell to Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet). Despite his budding relationship with Mercedes (Amber Riley) in last season’s finale, Sam’s father got a new out-of-town job so the family left Lima. Mercedes wasn’t single for long, though, and has found a new boyfriend in football player Marcus (Lamarcus Tinker). 

In the first choir room scene of the season, Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) announces something that the club is, once again, a few members short of the required 12. Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) have quit.  In an effort to rally interest in the glee club, Will creates the Purple Piano Project. He will put pianos in various parts of the school, and whenever the members of New Directions see one, they have to perform in front of their peers. 

Quinn’s departure from New Directions didn’t come as a surprise to the glee club: she had dropped out of their social sphere over the summer, and is now back as a completely different person. She’s dyed her hair pink, adopted an edgier style which includes an “ironic Ryan Seacrest tattoo,” developed a smoking habit, and joined a group of girls called “the Skanks.” Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris) try to convince her to rejoin the Cheerios and New Directions, and Rachel (Lea Michele) makes a valiant second effort, but the former good-girl is convinced she’s finally found her true personality. 

Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is back with a vengeance, and a Congressional campaign. She’s not doing well in the polls and adopts a new, albeit predictable, platform: get rid of arts in schools. Her vendetta against New Directions is also back, despite their peace agreement last season. She makes Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter) and Santana co-captains of the Cheerios and gives them one mission: destroy the Glee club. 

It doesn’t take long for the Cheerios to put Sue’s plans in actions. In the first musical number of the show, New Directions performs the Go-Go’s hit “We Got the Beat” in the cafeteria. Although it’s a fun, catchy number with plenty of dancing on table tops, the student audience remains largely disinterested. At the end of the performance, a food fight begins, incited by the Cheerios. 

Last season’s finale also saw power couple Finn (Corey Monteith) and Rachel reunited, but this episode focused on Rachel’s relationship with another glee-clubber, her new best friend Kurt (Chris Colfer). After bonding over a common dream of making it big in New York last season, the pair is more determined than ever to live their dreams. When they learn that they cannot attend their dream school, Julliard, for musical theater, guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) presents another alternative: the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She tells them about a gathering of prospective students happening later that week, and the friends, once again hopeful that their dreams will come true, prepare a fun musical number to share with the other students. In a performance reminiscent of their love for each other in last season’s “For Good,” Rachel and Kurt sing a jazzy version of “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead.” Much like their duet at the end of last season, this number showcased not only their talent, but their friendship as they dance around the stage, each completely enjoying the other’s company. 

Kurt and Rachel had one of the episode’s most heartfelt moments, after attending the NYADA gathering. They were accosted by stereotypical musical theater aficionados the moment they walked through the door, including Harmony, played by "The Glee Project" runner-up Lindsay Pearce. After watching Harmony, a much more experienced actress, flawlessly perform a mash-up of “Anything Goes” and “Anything You Can Do,” Rachel and Kurt question if they are truly good enough to make it in New York. Instead of immediately returning home, they have a heart-to-heart in the car, reassuring each other that they have the passion and talent to succeed. Now that their friendship and mutual need for each other has been established, let’s hope this is one relationship that doesn’t fall to ruin. 

Kurt was at the center of another heartwarming storyline, with his Warbler boyfriend Blaine (Darren Criss). Early in the episode, Kurt expresses his fears that being members of two rival Glee clubs will do more harm than good to their steadily growing relationship. About halfway through the episode, Blaine ditches the Warbler uniform and surprises Kurt with the news that he has transferred. After a brief celebratory conversation, the scene cuts to Blaine’s audition for New Directions: Santana and the Cheerios join Blaine in covering the Tom Jones classic “It’s Not Unusual.” It’s another fun, catchy number that does nothing but annoy the apathetic student body, and ends with another piece of Cheerio mayhem as a lit cigarette is thrown at the piano, causing a fire in the courtyard. 

One of the most cringe-worthy scenes of the episode was the introduction of Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies), an outspoken, spoiled girl who justifies her offensive comments with her “self-diagnosed Asperger’s” syndrome. She is the sole student in the school compelled to audition after a Purple Piano Project performance. She chooses to sing the sultry “Big Spender” from "Sweet Charity," but she sings off-tune, and her attempts to dance seductively are worse than Kurt’s in last season’s episode, “Sexy.” Will can’t help but agree with the club that Sugar is far from what they need to win Nationals this year, and is forced to decline her a spot in the club. This won’t be the last of Sugar, though; Lengies is a recurring cast member. 

Another questionable scene was the “glitter-bombing.” During Cheerio tryouts, Will and girlfriend Emma arrive with a bucket of glitter and a video camera. Emma films as Will delivers a lengthy metaphor about each piece of glitter being a child whose dreams Sue is depriving through her anti-arts platform, eventually dumping the large bucket of glitter on her. The sentiment was lost in the absurdity of the scene: Will had mentioned that he had a “counter-offensive” to Sue’s continued abuse of the glee club, but this act of retaliation fell short of expectations. Perhaps that was the point, as Sue later tells Will the video made her rise in the polls. Either way, Will should probably start developing a better strategy to stop Sue’s campaign.

The episode ended with another choir room scene, which saw more changes in New Directions. Blaine was officially welcomed to the glee club, and Santana was kicked out for her involvement in Sue’s plans to destroy the club. Her brief, but dramatic, exit was followed by Rachel’s musical proposal, a production of "West Side Story," and Kurt’s announcement that he is running for student body president. After another Will Schuester inspirational speech, New Directions breaks into the Hairspray hit “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” temporarily leaving the drama behind and reminding us of the love of each other and passion for performing that holds the members of New Directions together in the hardest of times. 

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