'Glee' Recap: The New Rachel Is a Whole Lot Nicer & She's in Good Company

Kate Hudson Lea MicheleRemember the Glee we all fell in love with four seasons ago? The show with the band of misfits in the choir room who sent us scurrying for iTunes? It's baaaaack. The season four premiere was dubbed "The New Rachel," but it might as well be the new Glee.

Graduation and the inevitable mass exodus of New Directions talent have forced Mr. Schue to hold open auditions, and new blood is flooding into McKinley's offbeat extracurricular. Trying to stretch out the same old Finchel love story into college and making it a main storyline wasn't going to work, and the return to the roots of the show comes off as the perfect way to bring us back into McKinley. 

Picture a Rachel Berry who isn't a whiny, stuck-up beeyotch. A Mercedes who is just looking for acceptance. A Puck with hidden depths and you get ...

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The new and improved New Directions.

It's almost enough to make us forget the old New Directions ... well, almost. Sure, we still got to see Rachel in New York being tortured by nasty dance instructor Cassandra July (Kate Hudson) and Kurt figuring out how to leave Lima ... and Blaine ... behind. But as much screen time as the writers gave to the old Rachel in her new life, there is no Glee without a high school glee club, and this new version is shaping up nicely. 

We might as well start with the new Rachel -- she got a show named after her after all. The question of how the New Directions could power on after the loss of their shining star is no more. Rachel can stay in New York (if she can figure out how to quell the beast that is Cassie July that is); a sophomore named Marley is filling her shoes quite nicely. Only Ryan Murphy and co. seem to have gotten wise to how grating Rachel Berry could be. They've given the New Rachel a softer edge and simpler roots -- she's poor and her mom is the obese lunch lady who gets picked on by the callous teenagers. She can sing like Rachel, but Marley is humbler, more like the misfit Rachel of old, before she was the girlfriend of the hunky football player.

And then there's Jake. He blew his audition not because he couldn't sing -- he nailed The Fray's "Never Say Never" -- but because his hot temper gets in the way. But he's a new New Direction anyway because Mr. Schue collects problem children like stray puppies, and he thinks he can help smooth out this tough kid's rough edges. Any guesses who he's supposed to be? Yes, he's Puck. Literally -- Jake's last name is Puckerman. He's the half-brother our favorite Mohawked McKinley grad doesn't even know he had.

As for Mercedes, the diva of color role has been filled too. His name is Unique, and he certainly is, right down to his neon dresses and array of fabulous wigs. But unlike his largely self-assured predecessor, underneath all the loud ensembles is a guy who has finally found the one place that will let him be comfortable being a girl ... and the added twist of vulnerability takes you past the sass and makes him sympathetic.

Along with the return of Tina, Artie, Blaine, Sam, and of course Brittany, this glee club could bring us the most compelling stories yet. If they figure out how to balance those flashes of Rachel and Kurt in New York to keep us interested without taking us backward, this could be the best season of Glee yet.

What did you think of the premiere? Did it remind you of how you felt when you first got hooked on the show? Did you even miss Finchel?

 

Image via Fox

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