I spent an unhealthy portion of last season feeling glum about “Glee.” I wasn’t the only one. Viewership for this season’s premiere was down 29 percent from last year’s opener. About 2 million fans abandoned the show during summer break.
Those who bailed may want to consider climbing back on board. We’re just three episodes into the new season, but it appears that executive producer Ryan Murphy and his creative team have righted the ship. Here’s how they did it:
—Giving their regards to Broadway. Season two was all about being trendy, with the kids forming a Justin Bieber appreciation band, dedicating an entire episode to Britney Spears and covering just about every single Katy Perry could spit out. They even stooped so low as to include the incessant noise called “Friday.”
Playing the latest in pop may have helped move CDs, but it contributed next to nothing when it comes to drama. It also gave us a headache. “Glee” is at its best when it leans on the Broadway musical songbook, a source designed to advance stories. They forgot that in 2010, when only two of the first 22 numbers came from the stage.
So far this year, nine of the 16 numbers have come from theater productions such as “Funny Girl,” “Hairspray” and “West Side Story.” Add to the mix such movie gems as “Out Here on My Own” (“Fame”) and “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead” (“The Wizard of Oz”) and you’ve got richer, smarter numbers that have us pressing repeat on our DVRs.
—Banishing high-profile guest stars. Gwyneth Paltrow deserved an Emmy for her role as a sunshine-baked substitute teacher, but did we really need appearances from Meat Loaf, Kathy Griffin and Katie Couric? At the same time, the show practically abandoned Chris Colfer, who had been at the heart of the series. Murphy promised no big-name stunts for at least for the first half of this season. Let’s hope he extends the policy.
—Returning to reality. “Glee” is, of course, a comedy, which gives it the luxury of going to some wacky places. But Finn seeing Jesus in a grilled-cheese sandwich? Puck falling for a grumpy, dumpy sadist? Sue Sylvester getting married to ... herself? At some point, “Family Guy” seemed more grounded. The writers have stayed away from the ridiculous so far this year, realizing that high school is crazy enough.
Other winners and losers of the fall season:
Sure, it’s early yet, but some clear trends have already emerged.
Winner: Sitcoms with smart, sassy women. “2 Broke Girls,” “Suburgatory,” “New Girl” and “Whitney” all have earned well-deserved full-season renewals. It’s no coincidence that all were created by women.
Loser: Sitcoms with dumb, desperate men. “Free Agents” and “How to Be a Gentleman” became quick casualties because it turns out viewers don’t really want to see guys wallowing in self pity. That’s not good news for the even more unbearable “Man Up.”
Winner: Dramas with tough women. “Once Upon a Time,” “Unforgettable,” “Prime Suspect,” “Revenge” and “Hart of Dixie” prove that you can get behind kick-butt female protagonists without pushing them into catfights every week. Ratings for “Suspect” aren’t great, but NBC seems to be firmly behind this procedural.
Loser: Dramas with scantily dressed women. Jiggle TV no longer works. That’s the only conclusion you can come to after the quick cancellations of “Charlie’s Angels” and “The Playboy Club.” Of course, it might have helped if the actresses’ dialogue wasn’t as skimpy as their outfits. Look for “Pan Am” to get scrapped, too.
Winner: CBS. Yeah, it doesn’t take big chances, because it doesn’t need to. “Unforgettable,” “Person of Interest” and “A Gifted Man” may be tried-and-true procedurals, but they attract a significant, albeit older, audience.
Loser: Fox. “New Girl” is a bona fide hit, but “Terra Nova” hasn’t drawn the numbers to justify it being the most expensive series in TV history. This family-adventure show deserves better. So does “The X Factor,” which is a solid performer but no “American Idol” when it comes to the ratings. This may be a sign that the appetite for reality series is waning — almost every other show in that genre has seen a drop in ratings. The real test will come when “Idol” returns in January.