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GLEE's Second Season Gets Off to a Contentious Start

By Edited Aug 1, 2016 0 0

After a summer of building buzz and Emmy awards, GLEE returned for its second season with Audition, an episode that finds Will Schuester and the members of his plucky little glee club embarking upon a new school year. A few things have changed since we last encountered the glee clubbers. Power couple Rachel and Finn are now officially a couple, instead of spending all of their time awkwardly flirting with each other. Artie's relationship with Tina fell apart over the summer when a stint as a camp counselor caused her to fall for fellow Asian Mike. One of the guys in the club transferred to a different school. And of course, there are a few new faces this time around.

One thing that seems odd about GLEE is the fact that, in an era of High School Musical and American Idol, it would be so difficult to find more than a dozen people in the high school who are willing to be in New Directions, otherwise known as the glee club. But the student body is just as unreceptive this year, and only 11 students remain in the club. Recruitment efforts don't go over so well. I find it a bit strange that, immediately after a meeting in which idealistic glee club coach Will learns that his budget has been cut, the members put on a performance of Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind complete with custom t-shirts. Where's that money coming from? And when they didn't exactly clean up at Regional last year, isn't it a little presumptuous to draw people in with hopes of Nationals in New York City?

I like the newcomers, though after this episode, it's unclear how much we'll be seeing of them. Chord Overstreet joins the cast as Sam Evans, a football player who seems like a perfectly decent guy. In fact, he seems very much like Finn does last year, and Finn happens upon him the same way that Will does: overhearing him singing in the shower in the boys' locker room. Sam is fresh-faced and cheerful, and his performance of Billionaire, backed up by the rest of the glee club guys, was my favorite of the night. Unfortunately, just as Finn did in the beginning, he has misgivings about the effect that joining glee club will have on how he is treated. Meanwhile, through him, it seems that Finn may be having second thoughts of his own about his priorities.

Youtube sensation Charice is another newbie, and she's at the heart of this first episode's most obnoxious storyline. Rachel's behavior has always veered toward the narcissistic, but here, she is utterly unbearable. It seems that even though she now has the man of her dreams on her arm, the kerfuffle with her biological mother and the fact that New Directions fizzled at Regionals have increased her insecurity. She wants her team to do well, so she wants more members - but she wants to be the standout member, so she doesn't want to recruit anybody too talented.

Her initial approach to Sunshine, the foreign exchange student Charice plays, is both offensive and the Worst Sales Pitch Ever as she yammers on about her need to have back-up singers to augment her glorious voice, then speaks in tacky broken English when she mistakenly believes Sunshine has not yet mastered the language. Then, when she discovers that Sunshine is a phenomenal singer, instead of warmly encouraging her, she slams on the brakes and sends her to a phony audition site in a dangerous part of town. "It's because I just love you guys so much!" she whines ad nauseam to her fellow singer. "I don't want anyone to come in here and mess that up!" Never mind that the club needs at least one more singer before competing can even be an option, or that Rachel has always been much more concerned about her own spotlight than that of her club mates. Sunshine, like Sam, seems like a very sweet person, and her voice is exceptional, but Rachel's behavior to her is so appalling that she doesn't seem likely to become a part of the club.

The other major new addition to the show is the new football coach, Shannon Beiste, played by Dot Jones. Traumatized by the breakdown of his relationship with Emma and competition with Will, Ken Tanaka vanished partway through the first season, and Shannon is his rather fierce replacement. Just as burly as him and apparently possessing more of a backbone, she comes across as intimidating when Will and Sue first meet her, and the tentative friendship between these two rivals becomes more solid as they plot to overthrow her and prevent her from sapping their teams' funds. At first, it's nice to see Will and Sue in cahoots, and their pranks seem harmless. But Jones brings a vulnerability to the role that makes it clear that she is more victim than aggressor, and it will be interesting to see how her interaction with her peers unfolds over the rest of the season.

GLEE always attempts to tackle big issues along with all the frothy fun. In this episode, one of the Cheerios comes back to school with implants, which sends Sue on a tirade that demonstrates clearly that Jane Lynch is already gunning for another Emmy. While her manner of delivery is merciless and at times ludicrous, she makes several valid points about the dangers of making such a radical change to one's body at such a young age. She also serves as a foil to Will, who makes a compelling case against accusing an innocent person of sexual harassment, an act that has ruined more than one career. Meanwhile, Quinn cynically uses her ability to serve as a cautionary tale for abstinence as leverage in her bid to make it back on the cheerleading squad. I understand that one of the newcomers this year will come from a conservative Christian background, and I hope that she will be a more sincere representative than Quinn generally is.

Neither Terri nor Emma appears in this first episode, and Puck, Mercedes and Kurt are among the underrepresented characters. I liked that we saw Becky, a likable student with Downs Syndrome, as Sue's assistant at the cheerleading auditions, reminding us that sometimes, Sue can be pretty okay. I hope Becky gets her own episode one of these days, and I look forward to seeing more of all these characters in the weeks to come. Well, maybe not Terri. She's pretty hard to take. Then again, so is Rachel. Can we please let some of the others have the spotlight?



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