2011-2012 season wrap: Ranking the episodes of Glee’s third season

The 2011-2012 television season has been over for almost a couple of weeks now, which means a sufficient amount of time has passed and we are primed to reflect. Over the next handful of days, I will be producing some pieces and lists looking back on the season that was. I missed out on a lot because of my hectic schedule, but hopefully these full-season views will make up a little for the lack of episodic reviews or content throughout the early part of 2012. And lists are always fun, at least for me.

Sorry for the sporadic updates on the season wrap folks, but that’s what happens when you try to launch a new web site while taking a much-needed vacation. Let’s just assume the wrap might carry on throughout June. To make up for the lack of entries, I bring you another list: A complete ranking of Glee’s third season episodes. As I’ll hopefully write about soon, this season of Glee turned out pretty okay (expert critical opinion there), especially considering there were some truly awful episodes in this batch of 22. Let’s do this thing.

“Choke”: Tone-deaf Glee is the worst Glee and never before has that version of the series been on display than it was with this one. Glee should never, ever tackle domestic abuse. If it weren’t for the under-appreciated talents of Dot Jones, this could have been dramatically worse. Think about THAT.

“Extraordinary Merry Christmas”: The series’ Christmas episodes belong in a separate category all to themselves, considering they exist in a disparate universe anyway. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t point out how terrible this was. I ask you to remember that extended show-within-the-show sequence with Kurt and Blaine talking to the camera. You know what, I’m sorry.

“Dance With Somebody”: I’m totally shocked that the Whitney Houston tribute episode that was “fast-tracked” in the writers room soon after the diva’s death turned out to be a bloated, pointless and frankly lifeless mess.

“On My Way”: This episode is typical, insane Glee: Karofsky’s attempted suicide is a hell of a powerful moment, but one that is surrounded by exasperatingly dumb logic. The performance episodes (well, two of the three) were weaker than ever this year. Also, don’t text while driving!

“I Kissed a Girl”: Many of us hoped that Santana’s sexuality and coming out would power a slew of great stories in the series’ third season. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of treating an already-great character with the kind of care and complexity given to Kurt, Glee allowed Santana’s issues to take center stage in a grand-total of like 1.85 episodes. This episode featured most of that “story,” and it more or less resulted in Santana singing Katy Perry and being fine with her sexuality. Right.

“Pot o’Gold”: After a few solid, character-based (well, for Glee) episodes, Rory’s debut effort blew that all up. I’m fine with Brittany’s wide-ranging intelligence in spurts, but an entire episode dedicated to her believing in leprechauns was a stretch. The Troubletones story, especially the performances, was good, but with Rory/Brittany and the unspeakable Quinn baby conspiracies, the cons certainly outweighed the pros.

“The Purple Piano Project”: We’ve moved from the “legitimately poor” section of the list and into the “meh” portion. The season three opener wasn’t as overtly offensive as the season two premiere. It featured some really great bits – Kurt and Rachel’s mixer trip most notably – and a fine focus on the uncertainty of the future. Of course, there were a slew of really dumb things present here as well, like Quinn’s Avril Lavigne phase and Will’s purple piano idea, which dragged down the proceedings.  

“Prom-asaurus”: I’d like to tell you if this episode was better or worse than season two’s prom effort, but they seem like the exact same episode to me. Just replace McKinley’s fiery hatred for Kurt with their random love for Rachel and you’re basically there. Brittany planning prom was fun, though.

“Hold on to Sixteen”: I didn’t realize how much I missed Chord Overstreet’s Sam Evans until this episode. The competition portion of this episode was pretty bad, but Sam’s worthwhile (though rushed) return actually made it all go down a lot easier.

“Mash Off”: The mash off gimmick works well enough, but the only memorable thing that happened in this one is that final sequence, with Santana slapping Finn. Unfortunately, Glee failed to capitalize in subsequent episodes, dimming the ultimate impact of that decision.

“Michael”: This is the episode that I’m most conflicted about. In a lot of ways, “Michael” is unbelievably terrible in ways only Glee can be. You know, like Sebastian throwing a rock salt-laced slushie in Blaine’s face. But in other ways, this is a great showcase for what the series can do when the musical performances are fairly inspired and the more intimate character moments land fairly well. This certainly wasn’t a “good” episode, but it was entertaining and weirdly compelling.

“Props”: It’s unclear to me how an episode with an extended body-swap sequence makes sense, but Ian Brennan’s knowing, self-aware writing mind knows how to do those type of things. “Props” doesn’t make up for Tina’s lack of screen-time in three years, but it was a quality way to address it and set the table for season four.

“Yes/No”: Putting aside the sheer ridiculousness of Will Schuester, grown adult, 1.) Asking teenagers for advice on how to propose 2.) Actually listening to one of them and crafting his proposal around water sports and Rihanna and 3.) Choosing Finn, high school student, to be his best man, “Yes/No” was a mostly enjoyable episode. Many of the episode’s stories came out of the blue – the truth about Finn’s father, Becky wanting to date Artie – but they worked just fine in the context of that individual episode. Will in the white suit will always be the best.

“I Am Unicorn”: This episode set up tons of compelling new stories and reintroduced dormant not-so-compelling ones in a fairly economical fashion. The booty camp, class officer campaign and West Side Story threads all carried on throughout other episodes and yet were probably best-executed here at their origin points.

“Big Brother”: Bomer! I’m not sure this episode had that much of a point, but he was really tremendous and had solid chemistry with Darren Criss. This episode was sort of like a homeless man’s version of “Dream On” in its glossy sadness and it worked fine enough.

“The Spanish Teacher”: I’m a big proponent of all-things Will Schuester, which means I’m a sad, miserable person just like him. More seriously though, I was happy to see that “The Spanish Teacher” finally got around to telling another “sad Will” story, because there’s no question that the character is even more worthless and messed up than he was in that great pilot. It’s unfortunate that the writers had to completely tear down Will’s teaching ability to get us there, but his utter lack of self-awareness and shame made this an uncomfortable, yet compelling hour.

“Saturday Night Glee-ver”: Two years in a row, Glee has done a much better job tackling episodes built around full episodes than it has doing so with artists. Like “Rumors” in season two, “Glee-ver” catalyzes the season’s big stories in a surprisingly moving fashion and simultaneously turns in some quality performances. I didn’t think Glee could make disco work, but this time, Will’s inane motivational tricks fit with the music very well.

“The First Time”: When I heard that the series wanted to do an episode built around its biggest couples having sex, I was appalled. I expected preachy and queasy scenes. Fortunately, this episode gets the swell of confusion, tension, excitement and whatever else right. Both stories include occasionally odd plotting, but all four actors bring the scenes to life. Chris Colfer and Darren Criss are especially good in the bar-trip sequence.

“Heart”: While this one isn’t as strong as season two’s “Silly Love Songs,” it still brings to life some mostly-moving and well, heartfelt, moments. Valentine’s Day is simply a holiday tailor-made for Glee’s atmosphere and tone, so the low-stakes playfulness of the group’s reaction to Finn and Rachel’s engagement fits snuggly alongside more emotional stories like Mercedes breaking up with Shane and Karofsky falling in love with Kurt.

“Asian F”: No, it wasn’t the best episode the series has ever done, as many “critics” or FOX promo department people wanted us to believe. Nevertheless, “Asian F” did set a great tone for a more character-focused season of Glee and featured a stand-out performance from Harry Shum Jr. I wish the writers would have followed Mike’s story a little further instead of taking the easy way out at the end, but it still worked really well here.

“Nationals”: Much like the episode right after this, “Nationals” is a tour-de-force of emotion. Some of that emotion is powerful and earned, less of it is manufactured. We know that the New Directions were going to win, but for once, it actually felt like they earned it. The performance sequences were tremendous.

“Goodbye”: As I said the other day when I named this effort one of the 10 best on all of television this season, the finale was really Glee at its best: Tons of moving emotional moments, a basic (even nonexistent) plot and a handful of solid songs. It was a bumpy road getting to this point, but after “Goodbye,” the three-year journey we took with some of those graduates actually felt worthwhile.

What do you folks think? What should be higher? Lower?

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