'Glee' Recap: Return of the Underdogs in Search for 'The New Rachel'
'Glee' Recap: Return of the Underdogs in Search for 'The New Rachel'

Season Four Opens With Carly Rae, Imagine Dragons Covers

The return of "Glee" is something we've been wary about for months. After last year's tumultuous and often off-point episodes and more Very Special Episodes than musical standouts, it was hard to stay excited about "Glee" by May, or to wish for more. But "Glee," we just can't quit you.

Sure, we all spend the better part of the Spring pulling our hair out in frustration over its failings, but then we get a few months off and suddenly we're hopeful -- nostalgic for Terri's crazy fake pregnancy and humming "Don't Stop Believing" when no one else is around. We just have to know that Kurt and Blaine will be okay, and what New York will do to Rachel, and if they can still capture that lightning in a bottle of the perfect pop cover. And so we vow to put the past behind us and start afresh with "Glee," cautious but hopeful, as Season 4 begins.

We open in NYC, where the colors are darker and the Kate Hudsons are meaner. Hudson plays Rachel's dance instructor, Cassandra July, who after belittling Rachel in front of the whole class, even goes as far to crouch down next to a fallen Rachel and tell her explicitly that she sucks, followed immediately by the "Glee" title card. This is not Sue Sylvester's absurdist and generally inconsequential bantering -- this is real life. If that's not a way to tell you this is supposed to be a very different "Glee," we don't know what is.

Except then we're suddenly back at McKinley and it's like nothing has changed stylistically from the first season, with Jacob Ben Israel's roving camera set up playing catch-up on the summer's developments -- Sam is a stud with the ladies, glee club is popular and Tina has broken off her romance with Mike over the summer (this is also the second year someone's come back from the summer with a regrettable tattoo -- should we be predicting Tina's tragic car accident now?)

The big question on everyone's mind, now that Rachel Berry is gone, is, "Who is the new Rachel?" Everyone wants a shot, and since the club is the "most popular" in school even outsiders are angling for their chance.

Our first new recruit is not so new -- Vocal Adrenaline star Wade "Unique" Adams has transferred and immediately the glee club bristles at having another powerhouse voice in the midst. Blaine, who is wearing his sassy pants, challenges Wade and the other New Rachel contenders to a sing off, thunderdome style. The serious field has narrowed to four -- Tina, Britt, Wade and Blaine -- and they perform "Call Me Maybe" for Artie to judge. Now, there's no possible way "Glee" could have ignored "Call Me Maybe" but we really wish they had -- covering that song is a meme, but the original is simply so iconic that such a straightforward cover has no chance to break out and shine. Everyone tries to show each other up, but we also get flashes of the fun they're having with each other that's the essence of a "Glee" group numbers. Artie holds back on his decision making as a the group holds open auditions for new performers.

We get a cameo from Stoner Brett ("You smell homeless, Brett. Homeless" is one of the best Kurt Hummel lines ever) who is a secret rapper. A girl performs a Skirllex EDM style interpretive dance number. We wish the club would adopt these two and use them in every number. We finally get actual talent in the form of "Jake," a great singer with an attitude problem. When Schue cuts short his performance of The Fray's "Never Say Never," he takes it as an offense and throws a music stand before storming out. We later learn that he's Jake Puckerman, the younger half-brother graduated Noah Puckerman doesn't know he has. When Mr. Schue offers a place in the club despite his outburst, Jake turns him down, so we're going to have to wait to see what ultimately gets him involved in the group (our guess is a heartfelt monologue from Puck during their inevitable meeting). Our final newbie singer is Marley Rose, a quiet sophomore that doesn't have any friends and just wants to sing. She auditions with Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," which the show unfortunately displays as a shared duet with Rachel in New York, singing the same song to her first class with Whoopi Goldberg, who has just mercilessly cut another girl -- not from the class, but from all of NYADA. Yikes. This is not to say that new girl Marley isn't a great singer, but it's hard to put anyone up against Rachel Berry, especially another girl, and expect your attention to be on them instead of on Rachel. Maybe the big lesson of The New Rachel is there can be no new Rachel?

The Old Rachel is singing her heart out because New York City isn't really all it's cracked up to be just yet. Her harsh session with Cassandra is followed up by another rough moment where she confronts an obviously drunk Cassandra in class (she drinks, we can assume, because her TA just quit for a Broadway show and Cassandra is a failed Broadway actress -- those who can't do, teach. It's Schue all over again.) To prove her star power, Cassandra rips off her skirt and performs Lady Gaga's "Americano" mashed up with J. Lo's "Dance Again."

The gods of "Glee" must be excited that performance school in NYC means they can really let loose with more complex dance numbers for their background cast. Cassandra twirling while being dragged across the floor is a real highlight and something we can't imagine someone like Emma getting to do back in Lima. Distraught Rachel ends up sad in Washington Square park, where she shows Brody, the dreamy straight boy she met singing in the college dorm bathroom (the third boy on "Glee" to be revealed as a singer in this way) pictures of Finn, who hasn't called her in two months. Ouch, this New York thing is pretty harsh for our girl Rachel, but Brody is there to remind her to embrace the moment and build new, good memories in NYC. When in doubt, "Glee" will always fall back on a romantic triangle. Welcome to Season 4.

NEXT PAGE: It's Time for Blaine's Imagine Dragons Cover