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The Globe and Mail

Love it or loathe it, Glee’s back and bouncing

This epistle is about Glee and me, and you. If this bothers you, remember, "Life's too short to even care at all."

My strongest memory of last season's Glee is from the 14th episode. Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) sang the song Cough Syrup by Young the Giant. An unusual song choice for the very pop-oriented Glee, it opens with, "Life's too short to even care at all/ I'm losin' my mind, losin' my mind, losin' control."

As Blaine sang it to his boyfriend Kurt (Chris Colfer), the viewer saw David Karofsky (Max Adler), recently revealed to be gay, being bullied at school for his sexual orientation. We saw David go home, despondent, and find he was also being bullied online. As the song ended, he climbed on a chair and tried to hang himself. The young man's grim preparation for his own death, intertwined with the song, was enormously powerful television.

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Not everybody agrees on Glee. Sometimes when I write glowingly about it, I get the kind of reaction that suggests I'm out of my mind. There are two reasons for this. First, Glee makes some people very uneasy. Not everybody is comfortable with its sexual politics and unshakable optimism. Second, the show is crazily uneven. It's a musical, a comedy and a drama and, crossing boundaries, it sometimes is nothing at all.

Glee (Fox, Global, 9 p.m.) is back for a new season and bound to be as maddening as ever. It's a show that wobbles constantly. Episodes can vary wildly in quality, substance and wit. Sometimes it disappears into itself, as it did last season for a while, into a monumental homage to Broadway musical culture. Then, inevitably it shakes off that trope and becomes absurdist. Then it becomes deeply humane, a running commentary on the political and social mores of the United States. It transcends "unpredictable" to be contrarian, solipsistic and disturbing.

Still, it's a network show with standard baggage and this year it faces a significant shakeup. Any series about kids in high school must face the burden of its baggage and the same challenge – the kids grow up, graduate and then what's the show about?

From what has been made available to see in advance, Glee will be just fine. The kids are all right. The show has always been about the glee club at William McKinley High School and most of those who graduate are going into the performing arts, which essentially means going into a glee club for grown-ups and facing the same issues. Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt have moved to New York and Rachel, the goody-goody but grasping singer, has a very difficult start. Her new dance instructor (Kate Hudson) gives her a lesson in music and movement that is breathtaking. It's three minutes of terrific television.

Meanwhile, back at school, the glee club must be rebooted, which involves new characters, introduced during open auditions, including one Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist), who is Puck's half-brother. There's whimsy and silliness and, subtly, a suggestion that the characters must learn over and over again to be tolerant.

Tolerance is Glee's message. Sometimes that alienates viewers who want clarity about whom and what to hate. As it has been from the start, Glee is rooted in stock characters and familiar situations, but expectations are continually upended.

The show was born out of the cultural obsession with such performance shows as American Idol. But it always emphasizes that singing and performing is less about achieving fame than using performance to free the spirit. The charm and zest of it seem intact this season. I like it, some of you will still loathe it, but as the song says, "Life's too short to even care at all."

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ALSO AIRING TONIGHT

Rock Center with Brian Williams (NBC, 10 p.m.) is not a show to which I pay much attention, but there is serious Canadian content tonight. Oh yeah. It was revealed to me in a breathless release from NBC. "Justin Bieber sits down with NBC News Special Correspondent Ryan Seacrest for an exclusive interview airing Thursday, Sept. 13, on Today and Rock Center with Brian Williams. Bieber chats with Seacrest about the details of his new book, Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started, out Thursday, Sept. 13. He also talks about his desire to not be just 'another teen heartthrob.'" Oh. My. God. Who saw that coming? What Bieber says is this: "I feel like I just don't want to be another teen heartthrob, 'cause that's just– I just think that that just annoys me. To think that that's what people will – will think of me – or like I just want to prove people wrong." Hey, that's heavy. And, you know, I'm a belieber. Bieber's mom, Pattie Mallette, also appears and holy Hannah, talks about "her new soon to be released book," Nowhere But Up: The Story of Justin Bieber's Mom. Essential reading, I'm sure. NBC is sure too.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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