Now on Thursdays, ‘Glee’ returned for a fourth season last week, and I’m sure that a lot of people out there are asking why it bothered. After last year’s lackluster, sometimes downright terrible season, not to mention that flop 3D concert film, the show felt more than ever like a flash-in-the-pan that had already burned out. Yet, with half the characters finally graduated from high school, Season 4 actually promises a shake-up that could restore some freshness to the series. Does the premiere episode deliver?
Not necessarily, but it’s not awful either. Here’s where the characters stand in ‘The New Rachel’:
- Rachel has started classes at NYADA, and finds herself at the receiving end of harsh criticism (literally, “You suck”) from a hard-ass dance teacher named Cassie July (Kate Hudson), who goes through the whole “Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying… in sweat“ routine. Rachel also finds her devotion to Finn challenged by the attentions of a new stud named Brody.
- Having failed to be accepted into NYADA with Rachel, Kurt has turned into one of those sad losers who goes back to hang around the high school to relive the glory days. Eventually, Blaine tells him that he needs to go to New York anyway. Kurt’s father agrees, and nudges him out the door. The episode ends with Kurt and Rachel talking about finding an apartment together.
- Now national champions, the New Directions are actually… gasp!… popular. Remaining members Artie, Blaine, Brittany (who’s still around because she flunked last year), Sam, Tina and Summer revel in their change in status, but also become unhealthily preoccupied with maintaining it. By the end of the episode, they’re back to being slushied by the cheerleaders and jocks again.
- Former Vocal Adrenaline star Unique has transferred to McKinley to take Kurt’s place as the resident flamboyantly gay kid (Blaine being a tad too reserved). Blaine isn’t so thrilled about the competition for top diva.
- After try-outs, the team accepts a new member named Marley (Melissa Benoist), who turns out to be dirt poor and the daughter of the obese lunch lady that the mean kids make fun of.
- Another potential new member is Puck’s half-brother Jake, though he has a serious chip on his shoulder and some anger issues to work out.
- Although name-checked, none of the following old characters appear in the episode: Finn, Puck, Mercedes, Santana or Quinn. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure that Quinn even merits a name-check.
Notable musical numbers include a sing-off to “Call Me Maybe,” a mash-up of Lady Gaga’s “Americano” with Jennifer Lopez’s “Dance Again” performed by Kate Hudson, a cross-cutting montage of both Rachel and Marley respectively auditioning in different states with “New York State of Mind,” and Marley getting a solo to “Chasing Pavements.”
All things considered, the episode does a fairly effective job of establishing the new dynamic where the show will continue to follow old characters after graduation as well as the kids still in high school. It also has a very touching moment between Kurt and his father, and Kate Hudson turns out to be less annoying here than she usually is in those godawful movies she makes. However, the show hasn’t actually changed at all. Aside from the cosmetic difference of some cast swap-outs, it’s just more of the same thing that we got in the previous three years, and the staleness is undeniable. I don’t know how much more life this series has left in it, and this episode didn’t do much to convince me of the necessity of stretching it out another year.