I’ve been awaiting the return of Glee with precisely the same mix of anticipation and perturbation with which I faced the first day of middle school. As an A-student, a class clown, and a budding little homo, you can imagine my questions: Will it be intensely entertaining yet profoundly humiliating? Will the devastating pattern of creating a platform for drawing the lavish affections of the right girls and the wrong boys continue? Will it finally expose all this performative mishegas as a desperate and asinine distraction from the real issues? Will there be any gay sex? After being somewhat disappointed in how things went down during the spring semester at McKinley, I worried that the show had lost its way, forgetting that what drives intelligent viewers’ connection with characters and narrative is not artificial themes and senseless stunts, but an organic, humane, and emotional sense of conflict (and lots of pratfalls, and poop jokes). Happily, for picky bitches like me, if the first episode of the second season is any indication, the show’s got its groove back. How? Same way we all do, with the insertion of fresh meat. And by meat, I mean characters. And conflict. In fact, this episode was all about introducing new nemeses and nuisances, many of which were outlined in the hysterical vérité video open: “Glee’s Big Gay Summer.” Ignoring the similarities between that snarky, Jewy exposé and this one, let’s peruse the core rivalries that promise to (hopefully) delight us this season.
Shannon Beiste/Sue-Will: Though the action starts with a hackneyed trope—the Glee club’s budget is being circumscribed (again!)—we rapidly discover that, in this instance, the mohel wielding the financial izmel is one Shannon Bieste, a strapping battle-axe unsheathed from the Show-Me state to assume nervously broken-down Ken Tanaka’s position coaching boys football. The scenes of her drinking Sue’s milk shake are delicious, as are Sue and Will’s childish fumbles in attempting to seize the straw. But more than just being a one-dimensional presentation of evil with an occasional one-dimensional flip-flop into sympathy—like Sue—Bieste (Dot-Marie Jones) shows that pathos, vulnerability, and rage are the three sides of the same (three-sided?) coin. A triangle is the most unstable of structures. I look forward to seeing how this one buckles, collapses, and reforms.
Rachel/Sunshine: Through some bewitching combination of egotism, guile, and cyberstalking, our (reviled) heroine discovers that, like the rest of Glenn Beck’s America, she has a recent immigrant on her tail trying to steal her job: a pint-sized Filipina diva named Sunshine Corazón (the “pop star” Charice). Like the (reviled) Tea Baggers, Rachel goes on the offensive with a combination of subterfuge, bait-switching, and obfuscation in an attempt to distract from the real issue—in this case, her megalomania. And, like the Tea Baggers, it works! Insofar as “working” means tearing apart the fabric of society, alienating potential allies, and ultimately sending the target of her jealous rage into the arms of her archrivals (Let’s hope this strategy works for the Democrats in the midterms.) Not that I’m ready to place all my Pesos on Sunshine. The girl most definitely has pipes, but I worry, as her name implies, that she has both a grating cheeriness and a solar-powered and/or robot heart. Also, is it me, or did Rachel have portions of her facade re-pointed?
Finn/Sam: Acting as the creamy topping on our rich confection of newcomers is the charismatic, smiling, Bieber-haired Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), who arrives at McKinley as a transfer student. When we first meet Sam, he is tapping his foot and seemingly cruising Finn while the Glees belt out a humbling version of last year’s Jay-Z hit. When we next meet him, he is in the shower, naked and lathering up, while crooning Poison, and Finn is the one assuming the spectator position. Moving forward with this budding bromance, Finn convinces Sam to strum a tune in front of all the Glee guys (except our gay hero, Kurt, who is, sadly, nearly absent from the episode). All seems to be swinging toward Mr. Evans synchronizing his metronome with the rest of the singing dudes. But then Finn prods the Beiste (metaphorically, with Artie’s wheelchair) eliciting her songster-withering, coachy rage and shoving Sam back into the show-tune closet. (It also results in Finn being forced off the team, and our handsome newbie being sacked with the role of quarterback.) Speaking of closets, rumor has it that Sam might become Kurt’s boyfriend later this season, but I’d be fine if he simply became Finn’s enemy, especially if this meant plenty of sweaty fights.
Artie/Mike-Tina: Artie is sad. Why? Because stellar background dancer Mike Chang has used his newfound ability to speak in the service of seducing Artie’s girlfriend, Tina. Though she’s one of the show’s least interesting characters, Artie valiantly struggles to regain her stuttering affections the way any wheelchair-bound kid would if attempting to seize the attention of the goth girl: By trying to join the football team! Final score? Artie, 0; Mike Chang’s Abs, 77.
Quinn/Santana: Quinn, finally rid of her tedious pregnancy subplot, gets her cheer—and her Crucifix—back on, and returns to being the cynical, judgmental, pom-pom/status-wielding Sarah Palin of McKinley High. (Welcome back, evil Quinn!) So what’s her first order of Barracuda business? Sell out her rivals, of course! She exposes Santana’s awesome boob job—which, like the best boob jobs, looks like no boob job at all—drawing Sue’s ire and snatching for herself Santy’s spot as head cheerleader. The upside? Chick Fight! (And my girl Brittany deadpanning: “Stop the violence.”)
Will/Dustin Goolsby: Will is out-maneuvered, out-dressed, and out-Bluetooth-headsetted by out Broadway triple-threat Cheyenne Jackson in his role as the new coach of Vocal Adrenaline. Unless the show takes (yet another) unexpected turn, Droopy McCardigan probably won’t be able to sleep his way out of this one like he did with Idina Menzel. Nude Erections may have to actually come up with a decent routine for Nationals.
Song Rating (* to *****)
• “Empire State of Mind” (Jay-Z) *** A year in, I still can’t tell if I love this song or hate it. It does benefit, in this thrillingly embarrassing rendition, from not having Alicia Keys screaming in the background.
• “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (Poison) **** Hair metal, wet Bieber hair, hairy legs, and a hairless chest. Singing in the shower never
looked sounded so good.
• “Telephone” (Gaga) ***** Rachel and Sunshine are locked in what looks like a hot lesbian courtship ritual, in the Rumors bathroom, circa 1995. Praise Sappho.
• “Billionaire” (Travie McCoy) *** Sam sings, with Artie, Puck, Finn, and Mike on backup. I can’t resist the lineup, no matter how resolutely grating the song is.
• “Listen” (Dreamgirls) **** Sunshine has the stage presence of a mediocre drag queen, robotically lip-synching for her life. But one has to give credit: the girl’s got pipes.
• “What I Did for Love” (A Chorus Line) ** A classic. Sadly, all I could think was: Please get hit by a swinging door, Rachel. Please fall off the stage, Rachel.
• Tie! Sam’s Puck-shaming comeback “I don’t know, I’ve never had any balls in my mouth. Have you?” and Quinn’s Tony Manero-esque Cheerio suited strut through the halls of McKinley.
Photo Credit: FOX.
Come back every Wednesday this season for VF.com’s weekly re-cap of the previous night’s episode.