What Will Season 4 of ‘Glee’ Look Like?

by | May 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM | Glee

The third season finale of Glee (FOX)

While the fans below are mopping up their finale-fueled tears, the gods atop Mount “Glee” must be heaving sighs of relief that Season 3 has come to an end. Ratings have steadily declined while Gleeks and Gleecappers (including yours truly) have been vocal about thin storylines and waning quality in general. Ryan “Zeus” Murphy was a big object of ridicule (again, by me) for making a no stunt-casting policy in the fall and running wildly in the opposite direction by spring.

And it’s not like “Goodbye” was strong enough to make everyone forget those problems….

But why spend the summer reflecting on what went wrong when we could take a stab at predicting a hopefully sunny future instead? Here’s a glimpse at some major changes, plus a couple of stubborn conventions for good measure.

BIGGER, BADDER COMPETITION

So, New Directions, you thought Vocal Adrenaline was as tough as it got? Meet Shonda Rhimes, Jonathan Nolan, and J.J. Abrams.

Fox’s latest edition of the schedule shuffle has landed “Glee” on Thursdays at 9/8c against ABC mainstay “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS’s newest hit, “Person of Interest.” “The Office” and “Parks and Rec” will pose a lesser threat on NBC since each has its own ratings woes.

But the new time slot doesn’t spell automatic defeat. Despite its consistently lower total viewership, “Glee” claims competitive ratings from the 18-34 crowd and has far and away more teen eyes on it than anything but “American Idol.”

And it just so happens that “Idol” will be the show’s new lead-in come spring, with “The X Factor” ushering it in the fall. Fans of pop—music and culture—may take the opportunity to binge on Thursdays, giving “Glee” a healthy boost.

Murphy is excited about the move, telling Vulture, “I also love that we’re gonna be at nine, which we were before, because I think we can go back to a little bit more [mature] writing.”

Watch a Clip from “Goodbye”:

LESS IS MORE?

There will be fewer regulars than ever, and we’ll see less of some former full-timers, according to Vulture.

The New Directions regulars who didn’t graduate are safe bets to return in full capacity next year, as are trusty leaders Sue and Schue. Hopes are high for Sam and even Sugar Motta to stick around, but Irish and Teen Jesus are giant question marks.

Since the graduating characters will be scattered from coast to coast, some are not likely to appear often. Mark Salling, Harry Shum, Jr., Dianna Agron, and Amber Riley were absent from upfronts, which implies that Puck, Mike, Quinn, and Mercedes won’t be major presences next year.

But Murphy shot down rumors that they would be completely absent, saying, “Anybody who was a regular is coming back.” Murphy offered all regulars the chance to return with the understanding that some would want to explore other options while still having a home at the show. “Everyone said yes. That doesn’t mean everyone will be doing 22 episodes.”

Translation: Mercedes is about to be a (background) recording artist, yo. We hope she comes home to Lima for holidays, but we’re not expecting to see her often.

Because Naya Rivera did appear at upfronts along with last year’s Trio of Casting Controversy—Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, and Cory Monteith—odds are high that she’ll show up more often.

If Santana takes mama’s money and hits the Big Apple, maybe she and Rachel will continue on as frenemies. Fox prez Kevin Reilly mentioned a show-within-a-show at upfronts. My secret hope is that it’s some kind of Berry vs. Lopez reality smackdown where they audition for the same roles or at least compete for the best songs on the karaoke playlist.

Since neither part of Furt got into school in NY, it’s unclear if either will end up there after all, though Kurt seems a more likely fit. Finn said he was headed to the Army, but I suspect some kooky writing will put him elsewhere (possibly a shared bachelor pad with Kurt in Lima?) so that we get a steady Monteith fix.

The only common thread for present and former ND members that Murphy is willing—even eager—to disclose is their return to the struggle of being an underdog, which is vague enough to fit many of the scenarios presented in the finale.

Sue and Schue will be back and presumably friendly to each other, as Murphy promises, “We did not want to repeat the formula we’ve done.” Based on Roz Washington’s proposal (and NeNe Leakes’s declaration on “The Wendy Williams Show” this week that she’s eager to return), I’d say Sue and Roz will join forces against Principal Figgins.

Murph was again vague about Schue, admitting only “new challenges.” Well, except for that very specific SPOILER ALERT that he won’t be getting married.

ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING

The gods are willing to admit their addiction to certain “Glee” tropes that worked in the popular first season… which happen to be the same devices people complained about in the next two seasons. But critics be damned! There will be more tribute episodes and megawatt guest stars.

The grand marshals have already been announced for the inevitable parade of celebs next season. Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson have both inked multiple-episode arcs, with each rumored to be some sort of mentor to Rachel and Kurt.

Snagging SJP is potential brilliance, given her handful of Broadway stints combined with her undeniable TV mojo. I’m not mad about KHud either. Her flashy number was one of its brighter moments in the mediocre film adaptation of “Nine.”

Gloria Estefan told TVLine she’d love to come back to rumble with Santana’s homophobic abuela, but sadly there’s no confirmation that will happen just yet.

The season’s leading tribute episode is already planned, and it’s a do-over. The first artist deemed worthy of a second episode devoted entirely to her music is (gulp) Britney Spears. Who knew she had eight more songs to cover? She hasn’t been confirmed to appear in the episode, but with Fox’s “The X Factor” as her new onscreen home, a crossover could be a snap.

More hints at what’s ahead are bound to leak out as the summer progresses, including which Season 2 “Glee Project” winner will be making faces in the background of the choir room next year, so stay tuned.