Oh, Glee. Welcome back to my television. Did you have a good summer? I've missed you. Yes, even after the train wreck that was the middle of Season 3. Let's just pretend that never happened and go right back to being friends, okay?
This was a good first outing from a fourth-year show. I didn't love everything about "The New Rachel," but I loved enough to keep watching.
There was a whole lot of new mingled in with the old, proving that the more things change, they can also stay the same. More or less.
In a nutshell, Glee clubbers are at the top of the McKinley High pyramid. For now. Rachel's on the very, very bottom of NYADA's. For now. Kurt is a barista without a sense of purpose or direction, but he and Blaine are still going strong, which is more than can be said for Mike and Tina. Rachel hasn't heard from Finn in two months and has a new, and yes, hotter, piece of temptation in her life. Kitty is the new but less awesome Quinn. The New Directions have new members, namely Marley, Jake and Wade/Unique. And Sue Sylvester has the gestational period and super-growing offspring of Bella Swan.
Did I miss anything? Good. I didn't think so.
So let's break all of this down, shall we?
We've got the New Directions in high school and Rachel and Kurt following their dreams of stardom in New York, making Glee feel like two shows in one. Rachel's a small fish in a big pond now and, while dance teacher Cassie July (Kate Hudson) may have been cruel, seeing Rachel begin to fight her way to the top all over again brings us back to the start of the series. (To read a few of Cassie's biting remarks, and even add your own, check out the Glee quotes.)
I like the way Kurt was pushed by both Blaine and his dad to move to New York to find his place in the world. Both of them tell him in different ways that he's outgrown Lima and that's a nice contrast to Rachel's breakdown that perhaps she doesn't belong in New York like she's always thought.
The focus on New York, however, gives off the feeling that Rachel's story, with guest appearances by Kurt, is the heart and soul of the show despite this being an ensemble cast. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I like seeing her start over and become, literally, the new Rachel, but not at the expense of the other stories to be told.
Speaking of the new "Rachel," Will's posting of an audition sign-up sheet, ever hopeful that students would throng to the auditorium in droves to be a part of his glee club, was reminiscent of the pilot. But this time, students DID flock to the audition. Some are odd but two potential "new Rachels" are stand-outs: Marley, daughter of the overweight cafeteria worker, and Jake, Puck's half-brother.
I want to like Jake, but so much of his story right now is Puck's story that it just feels like Puck 2.0, especially in light of Will's "I see good things in you" pep talk. However, since Puck doesn't know of his younger half-brother's existence, the writers have at least opened the door for a potentially interesting tale for the rest of the season.
Marley's background is a mix of Rachel and Sam. She's ostracized because of her mother and their social class, so they try to keep their relationship a secret from the students at McKinley, the latter of which is not unlike Sam's one-time homelessness. She's like Rachel in that she dreams of being a star, except different because her dream is to be on the radio instead of the stage. So much of it feels rehashed I'm having a hard time accepting her the same way our glee club does. She did, however, sing a smashing rendition of "New York State of Mind" at the same time as Rachel, marking the similarities between these two "doe-eyed ingenues."
(To download songs from tonight's episode, go to our Glee music section.)
By introducing these two characters when there were other cast members to fill the Rachel-shaped hole in the glee club, it feels like we might be headed down the road of previous years where the group members who pay their dues get no love while those who are new get the spotlight. Glee Project Season 1 third place finisher Alex Newell is reprising his role of Wade/Unique full time at McKinley and he, Tina, Brittany, Blaine and Artie are all jockeying for the role of Leader of the Glee Club. Artie's declaration that Blaine should be the new Rachel was filler. While Darren Criss clearly has the star power, Tina and Artie have been around longer.
Several other characters were notably absent, the most conspicuous of which was Finn. I'm not really surprised by the lack of screen time for anyone else, but not seeing Finn was odd. Even if he's supposed to be in Fort Benning, he's a core member of the cast and things felt off-kilter without him, like the writers are trying a little too hard to create a triangle between Finn, Rachel, and Brody. There were better ways to go about setting up that conflict.
That said, I liked the parallelism of Rachel's meeting Brody with Finn's introduction from the pilot. If this is supposed to be two shows in one, and that really is what it feels like, that was a nice bit of symmetry. And who doesn't like seeing a shirtless Dean Geyer, right?
I know it may seem like I'm pointing out a lot of negative from the episode, but really, I'm just trying to wrap my head around where the show is headed this season and how the two separate-yet-similar storylines will be carried out. It's no small task, to be sure.
Too much focus on McKinley's happenings and this show becomes Glee: The New Class, and we know how well that worked for Saved By the Bell so long ago. Too much focus on New York and Rachel and Kurt and there's no more glee club, so where would that leave Glee? There are certainly questions to be answered. Hopefully, Ryan & Co. are up to the task.
What did you think of "The New Rachel" and the new characters? Do you think the show will work with the two story lines coexisting? What do you hope to see from this season?
Miranda Wicker is a Staff Writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.