TV Review: Glee 4.1, “The New Rachel”

Glee returned to US screens on Thursday to a split narrative, likeable new characters and an overall surprisingly watchable start to what looks to be an improved new season.

Susan Brett

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★☆

Glee returned to US screens on Thursday to a split narrative, likeable new characters and an overall surprisingly watchable start to what looks to be an improved new season.

The New York side of the show is certainly what I was more curious about, and it doesn’t disappoint. The NYADA sets are picturesque and it really seems like this part of Glee really is that bit edgier and mature. The series opens with Rachel being victimised by tough new dance teacher Cassandra July (expertly played by Kate Hudson), which is a welcome change and particularly fitting considering Rachel had no dance audition as part of her application into NYADA. Rachel’s potential new love interest, Brody Weston (played by Dean Geyer) makes a fantastic first entrance as Rachel gawps at him when he emerges near naked from a shower. I’m hoping he’s going to do more than play the role of Rachel’s personal cheerleader this season, which is all he did this episode. It’s nice to see Rachel finding it difficult to settle in New York, though a little contrived that she apparently has no friends besides Brody – which is just an excuse for Rachel and Kurt to become roomies later on.

The Lima section is less collected and assertive in its storytelling, though it includes a few well executed moments. The New Directions are popular now and on equal grounds to cheerleaders and football players, who they now sit with at lunch. Unfortunately, a few short days of popularity has been enough to turn the remaining New Directions into the bullies they spent the last three seasons complaining about. Tina notably has undergone a complete personality transplant and is now so far removed from the humble team player she was last season that she has her own freshman servant to cater to her every need. I’m choosing to believe that this drastic change is also to do with her break up with long-term boyfriend Mike, but I’ll probably be proven wrong.

The new season also introduces new members and potential members of the New Directions. Unique transfers from Carmel High as foreshadowed last season, and is entertaining enough even though Alex Newell’s acting leaves something to be desired. New sophomore Marley (Melissa Benoist) and the enigmatic Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist) are part of an audition sequence I found to be enjoyable and reminiscent of the first ever episode of Glee, which was obviously intended. Marley has a secret – the dinner lady whom the New Directions make fun of is her mother, and she’s none-too-pleased about their treatment of her. Marley’s scenes with her mother are delightful, with wonderful chemistry between the two. Marley herself is an easily likeable addition to the Glee ensemble. Jake is a crooner with the same attitude problem as his older brother Noah Puckerman and seems set to follow exactly the same storyline as his older brother, involving the magical healing powers of singing. Although I liked him this episode, I can’t really see that Jake brings anything new to the glee table. There’s also new bitchy cheerleader Kitty (Becca Tobin), who can throw an insult as well as early Quinn or Santana but lacks the vulnerability that made them endearing.

Easily the worst portion of this episode were the scenes dedicated to a competition between New Directions members Blaine, Brittany, Tina and Unique to find the new lead soloist or ‘the new Rachel.’ They sing “Call Me Maybe” together and consult Artie to judge a winner. Their voices combined really don’t work together and to me this just seems like a waste of a good song, though it was very mildly entertaining to watch the four of them push at each other. Tina sounds the best, but ultimately Blaine is picked as winner. This should come as no surprise to any glee fan since Blaine has been heavily featured in performances since his arrival and perhaps this whole competition was the writers attempt to legitimise more of the same in season four.

Kurt’s storyline weaves between Lima and New York through calls to Rachel and visits to McKinley for the majority of his episode, before he is convinced by Blaine and his father to move to New York now and figure out a plan of action later. It’s a nice scene between him and Blaine, though I expected more of a goodbye. The airport scene between Burt and Kurt unsurprisingly doesn’t disappoint and really tugged at my heartstrings, even though we ought to have witnessed it at the end of last season.

The musical numbers in this episode were all far better to watch than hear. “Call Me Maybe” was mostly unimpressive. “Americano/Dance Again” was a great visual performance though exactly what you’d expect for Glee’s interpretation of a fierce NYADA dance teacher. “New York State of Mind” was a great means of combining the New York and Lima arcs and worked well in regards to narrative, though musically pitting Melissa Benoist up against Lea Michele mostly just demonstrated that Michele is a superior singer. “It’s Time” was a good performance, though I have a personal hatred of Glee performances taking place in the school grounds because of how contrived they are. I can’t really work out how Blaine singing about how he’s never going to change or leave this town is supposed to be a goodbye to Kurt, but then I rarely understand Blaine’s song choices. Final number “Chasing Pavements” was a strong vocal from Benoist, though far short of Adele’s brilliance. The most notable part of this performance is the intersected moment of Rachel finally breaking down over the phone to Kurt, only to find that Kurt is there behind her. The song ends with Marley happy and Rachel and Kurt reunited.

However, Glee still has problems. Sue’s bizarre baby plot continues, though it is amusing to see Kitty used as a Nanny. The remaining members of the New Directions are irritating and unsympathetic for the most part – luckily the new characters in their arc diffuse this slightly. The songs chosen weren’t particularly memorable or relevant. Will’s final member list for the New Directions only adds one new member – Marley – despite the many auditions. It’s a transparent attempt to limit the number of characters in the Glee club despite the lack of narrative sense – why would Glee Club suddenly be averse to a larger group? Are we to believe that all of those people who put their name on the audition list were completely inept? And if they’ve started judging members solely on merit, shouldn’t Sugar be dismissed? Perhaps a better idea would be to have additional Glee Club members with minimal roles, such as Mike and Matt in season one.

All in all, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable start to a new season of Glee, and heaps better than season three’s first offering “The Purple Piano Project.” The separate New York arc is fresh and exciting for now, plus it’s nice to finally see Rachel out of her depth (and away from a certain Mr Hudson). The Lima scenes are mostly saved by likable and well-casted new characters. Some of the real problems within the show’s structure seem to have been addressed. It’s far too early to raise any expectations for this season, but here’s hoping for a much improved season four of Glee!