Glee creator Ryan Murphy says that for season three,
"Before we did anything, we figured out where we were going. Who graduates? Who doesn't? Do they go off into the ether or do they stay in Ohio? This time, we know what we're writing towards, which is great."
That seems to confirm that previously the writers didn't really have a plan, and Murphy has acknowledged that the last season was a bit sloppy and bogged down by pointless celebrity cameos. Murphy has promised that season three will focus on developing the characters we already care about, and he's off to a good start with tonight's season premiere.
Like the beginning of last season, "The Purple Piano Project" starts with a video update from Jacob Ben Israel's blog. All summer fans were debating who'll be graduating, and right off the bat Tina clarifies that she and Artie are only juniors while Mike will be leaving us at the end of the year. Rachel and Kurt are seniors too, and they say they're both applying to a performing arts school in New York. Rachel offers a peek into the Glee spinoff that producers say isn't happening (but I desperately want to see): "We'll get an eclectic little apartment on the Lower East Side ... I'll originate a role in a new Sondheim musical, Tony by 25!" Kurt adds, "Married by 30, legally!" Adorable!
Mercedes confirms that she finally got a boyfriend at the end of last season, but explains Sam's gone because his dad got a job out of state. Now she's moved on to Friday Night Lights' LaMarcus Tinker. All we learn is that he's supportive of Mercedes' Grammy dreams and hopes to make "beautiful cocoa babies" with her someday. Lauren Zises' exit from the club is also explained away quickly. Puck commemorates their relationship with one last awful fat joke, saying "She's the one that got away ... really, really slowly." Quinn dropped out of New Directions too because glee club doesn't fit with her new bad girl image. She's dyed her short hair pink, gotten an "ironic tattoo of Ryan Seacrest," and started hanging out under the bleechers with a clique of dirtbags called "The Skanks."
To find replacements for those three members, Mr. Schue comes up with the "Purple Piano Project." He places refurbished pianos around the school and when the kids see one, they're supposed to break into song to lure new recruits (and conveniently, take some performances out of the rehearsal room). The purple piano is first put to use in the lunch room, when the kids do a fun "We Got The Beat" number. This only leads to an audition from Sugar Motta, who is an awful singer and person. Her excuse for her bratty behavior is, "I have self-diagnosed Asperger's so I can pretty much say whatever I want."
Another piano is employed when Rachel and Kurt perform "Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead" before a mixer for prospective students of the non-existent New York Academy Of Dramatic Arts. One of the happiest surprises of this episode was that it focuses on Kurt and Rachel's friendship rather than her boring relationship with Finn. There were far too many diva-offs between Rachel and Kurt (and Mercedes) in the past two seasons, and it's sweet to see them get irrationally excited about performing a Barbra Streisand song, and push each other not to give up when they realize there are plenty of other theater kids who look and sound just like them.
As for the episode's other most enjoyable relationship, under pressure from Kurt, Blaine decides to leave the bully-free oasis that is the Dalton Academy to spend his days being doused in slushie with his boyfriend. Blaine performs "It's Not Unusual" for his New Directions audtion, and it's the first time I've heard this song and experienced the urge to throw panties on the stage.
Sue randomly hates the glee club again even though they performed at her sister's funeral, and declares she's running for Congress on an anti-arts platform. (This doesn't make much sense, but having Sue act sweet all season wouldn't be any fun.) At the end of the episode, Santana is booted from New Directions for helping Sue destroy the purple pianos. I'd worry that she's gone for good, but as I understand it, girls from Lima Heights don't go down without a fight.