Hi, Glee! We sure did miss ya! And you, characters: Say hello to the cruel realities you’re used to, 'cause they won’t go away anytime soon — especially if you’re not honest with yourself. Or so this first episode back seems to say: Sue’s on the warpath again, Rachel and Finn’s relationship is on the rocks, and Puck’s already asking Quinn to “please stop Super-Sizing.” Some things never change, like Sue’s obsession with Mr. Schue’s hair, Brittany’s one-liners, and Rachel’s penchant for dramatic showstoppers. And then some things do change, for the better: Welcome, Jonathan Groff and Idina Menzel! We worship you both!
The Doors, “Hello, I Love You”
Everyone’s a little lacking in the mojo department as the episode begins (well, everyone except for Sue, who comes out with her best Will’s-hair line yet: “I’m gonna bring some Asian cookery to rub your head with, 'cause right now you’ve got enough product in your hair to season a wok”). The kids are most certainly not into the “Hello” song assignment (though we love how Kurt answers the phone: “No, she’s dead, this is her son”), and Finn is flummoxed by his apparent relationship with Rachel, who is, to be fair, making him creepy cat calendars. The solution? An impromptu performance, with the ever-present McKinley High rock band! We enjoyed the self-conscious, we-get-that-Glee-is-sometimes-ridiculous writing (Mr. Schue: “I want you to meet the new and improved Finn Hudson. By singing about it.” Finn: “Oh, that’s why the band’s here”), and we must give it to Cory Monteith for turning in grittier vocals than usual.
All-American Rejects, “Gives You Hell”
Another recurrent theme returning this week: revenge, specifically Sue’s never-ending campaign against Will and the resultant wreckage. After threatening Brittany and Santana with Japanese belly-slitting, the dynamic duo are dispatched to seduce Finn and thereby upset Rachel, resulting in the episode’s most hilarious scene: Santana and Brittany discussing Finn’s hotness or lack thereof as if he’s not even there, and Brittany’s genius musing of the night — “Did you know dolphins are just gay sharks? Yeah” — which seems to confuse even Santana (who gets a few zingers of her own, namely that Rachel “looks like Pippi Longstocking, but like, Israeli”). But we give the award for sweetest revenge to Rachel, who against all odds sang the most believable number in the episode. Poppy, a little whiny, and exactly the kind of kiss-off any wronged high-school girl would want to sing right to her ex’s face, “Gives You Hell” made us bop along. As usual, we appreciated the charming classroom-furniture dancing, and, oh yes — INTERPRETIVE DANCE from Other Asian! We died.
Lionel Richie, “Hello”
The Groff has arrived — and with possibly the best opening line ever: “Lionel Richie, huh? One of my favorites.” As Jesse St. James, Vocal Adrenaline’s quasi-bad-boy lead singer, Groff gets a trio of magnificent lines — “I’ve got a full ride to a little school called the University of California Los Angeles. Maybe you’ve heard of it — it’s in Los Angeles”; “I remember when I used to get nervous”; and “I like to give impromptu concerts for the homeless.” And he makes Rachel speechless — not an easy feat. Sure, their rendition of “Hello” is in some ways patently ridiculous (hello, string quartet). And every one of those three pizzazz points goes to Groff’s excellent overemoting at the piano. But the song’s also oddly moving: We know these two have excellent chemistry from Spring Awakening, and something about their obvious comfort level with each other as performers makes this usually cheesy song touching. It’s also completely believable that, for all her high-minded Broadway talk, Rachel would fall for a boy singing mushy R&B.
Neil Diamond, “Hello Again”
This little blip of Matthew Morrison singing hardly counts as a full-blown number, but we must briefly address the awkward Will-Emma romance. Was anyone else creeped out by the way Mr. Schue told Emma, “My place. I’ll cook. There are SO many things you don’t know about me”? Or by his questionable seduction technique, incorporating the glee-club assignment into their date? (Okay, we guess we’d fall for Matthew Morrison singing to us, too). We give Glee credit for hinting that Emma’s OCD is an actual health problem which could impede intimacy, not just a cutesy tic, and the episode’s multiple references to The Jazz Singer are to be commended (as is mention of Terri’s Bruckheimer DVD collection). But — dare we say? — we’re sorta glad the Will-Emma romance is on ice for the moment. Mushy Will is a guy who makes us squirm.
AC/DC, “Highway to Hell”
The requisite intimidating Vocal Adrenaline number is much like the first we saw: flashy, impeccably choreographed, and utterly soulless (except this time, with pyrotechnics! Yay!). But we like seeing this badass side to J-Groff, and, best of all, we finally get to see Idina Menzel (who, we’re sorry, is not a Shelby Corcoran by any stretch of the imagination; any bright ideas of a slightly more, er, diverse name?). We particularly loved her take on “show face”: “You want to look so talented, it’s literally hurting you.” But strangely, it was this mistress of the glossy façade who schooled Will with some cold, hard truth: that he needs to take his own advice and get in touch with his own issues before making out with any further choir directors or germ-phobic guidance counselors.
The Beatles, “Hello Goodbye”
We’re not quite sure where this number came from — if there’s one (little) beef we have with Glee, it’s that we wish we could see at least some rehearsal process each week. But this typically cheery song, despite the big dance number setting, felt dark and just plain uncomfortable, and for good reason: Rachel was literally on the verge of tears, for one, but mostly the club itself felt fractured (might that explain the rigid, line-blocked choreography?). Kurt told Rachel some fighting, and true, words: “No one’s irreplaceable. Not even you.” So now New Directions’ cohesion is predicated on the lie that Rachel’s no longer dating Jesse — which, by the way, thank goodness for that, because we fail to see at the moment how that constitutes “betrayal.” But the look Jesse gives Ms. Corcoran mid-kiss isn’t promising. We fear the glee kids are in for disappointment yet again. But at least next week is Madonna Week! Get ready!
Preview: Madonna, “Vogue”
We got a sneak peek at Sue Sylvester’s oh-so-artful remake of the iconic music video, which we’ll deal with ultrabriefly: fabulous, hilarious, sadly Other Asian–less, but otherwise disturbingly brilliant (or was it brilliantly disturbing?).
At the A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff is still on board for the moment, thanks in part to how the show is balancing the weightier emotional moments with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself. Also, he agrees: the chemistry between Lea Michele and J-Groff is undeniable!
VF.com’s Brett Berk (writer of the often hilarious Gay Guide to Glee) disagrees, and found “Hell-O” a little out of control — though he makes the good point that, in a world of meticulous shows like Mad Men, Glee’s “charmingly shambolic, my-dad’s-got-a-barn-let’s-put-on-a-puppet-show aesthetic” is part of its charm.