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Glee (***)

Glee‘s fourth season which premiered last Thursday was supposed to signal a tectonic shift in the landscape. Not only was the show moving from a comfortable (and ratings devouring) 8pm time slot on Tuesdays to 9pm on Thursdays, but there would be a show within a show having the underclassmen remain at McKinley while the upper clansmen pursued dreams elsewhere. While there are some new parts and a new location (well hello NYC!), Glee is at its core the same social issue pushing, mashup singing, musical numbers edited so haphazardly it’ll make you have a seizure, incredibly blatant show that you just can’t quit if you tried. The show starts of at the beginning of a new school year. Rachel is at NYADA, struggling to get adjusted to living away from home and her new dance teacher, Kurt is stuck in Ohio like the ghost of McKinley High, and the rest of the underclassmen are adjusting to new-found fame as national champs. The episode was titled “The New Rachel” and that was as much of a reflection on the hilarious battle amongst the New Directions to be the new Rachel (complete with Call Me Maybe cover) as it was Rachel realizing that her dreams of being a Broadway star are going to require some changes.

What I liked most about the first episode of was the balance. One of the things Glee fails at is that it doesn’t find ways to keep us invested in every character, but the season premiere did a fantastic job of giving everyone in the cast a chance to shine. A lot of the episode was dedicated to showing us Rachel’s new life in the Big Apple but along the way we got introduced to several new characters including a possible love interest for Rachel, Brody (Dean Geyer), two aspiring New Directions members in Marley Rose (Melissa Benoist) and Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist), a hilariously bitchy cheerleader Kitty (Beca Tobin) and Cassandra July (Kate Hudson), Rachel’s overbearing and mean dance teacher. Every one of these characters got a standout scene and managed to make an impression. That’s not to say the returning cast didn’t have some great moments. The scene where Burt drives Kurt to the airport to send him to New York was fantastic and the opening scenes introducing us to the newly popular national champion New Directions was hilariously inspired. I hope we get that type of balance throughout the season of biting comedy and heart tugging emotion.

Of course this wouldn’t be Glee if there wasn’t a social issue or two, and we get one in the form of newcomer Marley’s mom, an overweight lunch lady (Trisha Rae Stahl) who is made fun of by the cool kids, which at the beginning of the episode includes the Glee kids. It was heartbreaking watching Marley interact with her mom who was sewing on designer labels to Walmart clothes and telling her she would drive the car around the corner so people wouldn’t have to see Marley get in. I know Murphy could have thrown this in to sucker us into being emotional, but it worked and I’m fully investing in seeing this storyline pay off throughout the season. If anything it was good to give the Glee kids a reminder of who they are and (in a hilariously slushie filled scene) their real place at the school.

I thought the musical choices in the episode weren’t particularly great, but solid enough. Kate Hudson really shone in her mashup of Lady Gaga’s Americano and Jennifer Lopez’ Dance Again and the cover of New York State of Mind with Lea Michele and Melissa Benoist was probably the musical highlight of the episode.

Overall, I thought the premiere was solid and I’ll be looking forward to see how the new season develops. I think this split might just be what the show needed to break out of the creative funk it seemed to be languishing in. This Thursday will definitely be a good test of how good the show will be with another Britney Spears tribute episode but if that episode is good, it should be smooth sailing for the rest of the season.

Top 5 Lines from the Premiere

“It’s hard making out over Skype. You can’t really scissor a webcam.” – Brittany (Heather Morris)

“Half brother. Our dad’s like an NBA player. There could be 50 other Puckerman’s running around Ohio.” – Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist)

“What’s the problem people? You’ve been here a week! You should be dancing at like Black Swan levels of psychosis right now.” – Cassandra July (Kate Hudson)

“You know it used to be that just straight ex-football players would lurk the halls of high schools after graduation? But you’ve proven that gay ex-show choir champs can also be depressive sad sacks desperately clinging to the past.” – Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch)

“We could handle gimpy and the tarantula head and Richie Poor because you guys were national champs like us, but our invitation was not extended to pre-op Precious based on the novel Barf by Sapphire, and Mike and Molly’s daughter, as a part of our crew.” – Kitty (Beca Tobin)

What do you think?

72 points

Written by Terence Johnson

When he's not enduring Shade Samurai training from Victoria Grayson, you can find Terence spends his time being an avid watcher of television, Criterion film collector, Twitter addict, and awards season obsessive. Opinionated but open minded, ratchet but with class, Terence holds down the fort as the producer of the Power Hour podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @LeNoirAuteur.

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