1. It embraced the camp.
It’s not like Glee hasn’t always been silly, but for a while it felt like the heavy issues were taking all of the attention away from the absurd. While Glee can certainly address heavier themes, it’s important to remember that this show needs over-the-top ridiculousness too. And what better way to show that than with WHAM! and the Spice Girls.
2. It got a little more adult.
Yeah, yeah, Rachel and Finn forever. But breaking those two up — along with the other McKinley couples — was a great way to delve into more mature relationships. You know, like when Rachel started dating a prostitute. Honestly, these are the kind of dark soapy plots we’ve come to expect from Ryan Murphy. Glee works best when it’s balancing high school fluff with New York realness.
3. It took a stand.
One of my problems with Glee being an issues show is the fact that it often refuses to pick a side. This is a show that brings up serious themes and then gets all wishy-washy. That’s why I was particularly impressed by the way it handled the Chris Brown controversy, instead of just brushing it under the rug with a half-assed, “Let’s focus on the music!” excuse.
4. It found new character pairings.
Kurt and Santana as roommates didn’t really make any sense when it first happened — and it still doesn’t, really. But it works, and maybe that’s all that matters. Glee isn’t great at continuity, which is often a mark against it. In this case, though, it allows for the chance to move characters around and see where they fit best, regardless of logic.
5. It got sexually adventurous.
Speaking of unlikely pairings — Quinn and Santana? Look, Santana’s a lesbian, Quinn is open-minded, and there was a lot of alcohol involved. These kids are young and they’re free-thinking: Why not let them be a little fluid? It’s a lot more interesting than having them paired off in very serious relationships that real teenagers would never be able to handle.
6. It didn’t shy away from the uncomfortable.
See also: Blaine and Sam, who, sadly, aren’t having a drunken hookup anytime soon. What I dug about this plot is that it dealt with the very real situation of a young gay kid falling in love with his straight best friend. That’s awkward, especially when we’re trying to convince straight people that we don’t look at them that way. But have you seen Sam’s abs? Come on.
7. It made its leads likable again.
Rachel is never going to be an easy person, and that’s fine. It’s who she is. But at least she’s sympathetic again — someone we root for, even when she annoys the hell out of us. For a while, Rachel, Kurt, and Finn felt like our heroes out of obligation. Now that they’re really exposing their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, it’s nice having them around.
8. It used the adults sparingly.
Will and Emma shine when there’s a lot less Will and Emma. His disappearing act was awkward at first but has helped the show in the long run. Characters like Sue Sylvester benefit from a slight hand, because as great as Jane Lynch is, past seasons have suffered from too much of a good thing. Besides, the McKinley graduates are adults, and that means we don’t need as much from the real olds.
9. It gave us better music.
In particular, more Broadway, which makes sense for characters who are at a theater school in New York. In general, though, the best of this season feels closest to the best of Season 1, and it’s been a while since we hit those highs. Strong music choices help, especially when they seem genuine instead of just designed to sell singles. And there’s either less Auto-Tune or I’m just getting used to it.