Best Glee season ever? Whoa. ‘Way too early, of course. We’ll see.
But given what we saw Thursday night in Glee Season 4 Episode 1 The New Rachel, don’t call me maybe. Call me definitely — on board with Glee’s new characters, new dynamics and especially new settings.
New York, NY, it’s a wonderful town. And it’s as natural to Glee as slushies in the face. It’s where Glee belongs — at least, part of the time. And it’s where –with help from splashy, big-name casting — Glee may blossom most this year, just as life changes there — ultimately for the better, I’m sure — for this ensemble’s central character, Rachel (Lea Michele).
But though I’m reserving judgment on how seamlessly Glee can flit back and forth from Gotham to Lima, as it did opening night, and though the new characters still need some fleshing out, I must say I am wowed by Season 4’s debut.
And if we can underscore a point with superlatives (doesn’t everyone in this “iconic,” “effortless” and “flawless” age?) then I’ll say this: The New Rachel is Glee’s best season-opening episode since its pilot. So if you’re encouraged, like me, I understand.
I also understand Glee has a huge amount of story to tell at this post-graduation stage for half its young cast, but The New Rachel told us plenty, interweaving zeal to become the new star of New Directions — or at least a new member — with Rachel’s own first steps toward stardom in the rarefied New York air of NYADA. There, Kate Hudson’s train wreck of a dance teacher, Cassandra July (Glee’s never been at a loss for colorful names), becomes Rachel’s new nemesis, while dreamy straight student Brody (Dean Geyer) becomes her new friend — and maybe more.
Back at McKinley, Becca Tobin’s Kitty is the new “head bitch” of Sue’s Cheerios, and promises to live up to the title. I’m gonna love hating this character. She’s balanced by Melissa Benoist’s Marley being the club’s sweetly soulful new singer, as well as daughter of a morbidly obese cafeteria worker, whom the gleeks stupidly insult from their new-found — and short-lived — perch of haughty popularity for being Nationals champs.
But though I loved Alex Newell’s singing (if not his ‘tude) on The Glee Project’s first season, I’m concerned about his acting chops, and about Wade/Unique being just a drag-queen sight gag too much of the time. Even so, there’s still a strong core in New Directions, from Blaine and Tina to Artie and Brittany (as a dancer, at least), with Sam, Joe, Sugar and now Marley putting them at nine.
As for New York, how could this show have finished more strongly than having Chris Colfer’s Kurt (after a lovely, tearful send-off by dad Burt, played by Mike O’Malley) arrive to bolster a flagging Rachel and expand Glee’s original core cast in the big city. Fashion-forward excess involving Vogue and Sarah Jessica Parker, here we come!
Of course, many more changes are coming, as anyone knows who’s slurped up the spoilers like I have of late. But for now, I’ll take The New Rachel, not only for its welcome return of some (but not all) beloved characters and the intros of promising new ones, but, as always, for the great music.
Best? I’ll take Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, cleverly intercutting vocals by Rachel in NYC and Marley in Lima. As I always challenge those who witlessly tear down Glee, show me your favorite show’s best three minutes. Show me anything that compares to three sublime minutes on Glee, when the world becomes a song, and we are richer for it.
But I also was impressed by the Americano-Dance Again mashup performed Fame- and Flashdance-style with Hudson at the fore (impressive, but camouflaged a bit by the editing, her student dancers and the kind of “hairography” Glee decried in Season 1). Hudson’s hateful line readings were even better, and I’m eager to see Cassy’s life unfold more fully.
That dance scene surely was shot on an LA sound stage, but the NY street scenes clearly shot on location sold the show’s new setting beautifully.
Yes, it’s good to be in New York — home of Broadway, home of Rachel and Kurt’s dreams, and home to an irresistible evolution of this wonderful little show that’s transcended a no-stars, no-precedent, no-chance beginning to enter its fourth season as a cultural touchstone.
Glee isn’t just back. Glee has changed — and will keep changing. That’s life. And that’s what will help this show we love to grow bold, not old, and to stand the test of time.
— Bruce Westbrook