Once, not too long ago, critics and fans couldn't stop singing about Fox's Glee — but that time has passed. Though Glee still earns respectable ratings, it's no longer a massive hit; the show stumbled badly in its third season, frustrating critics and losing a quarter of its audience (if you look at the ratings drop from season 2's finale to season 3's). Last night, Glee's fourth season premiered with "The New Rachel," an episode written personally by series creator Ryan Murphy. It tackled head-on the series' new narrative challenge: Many of the show's most popular characters graduated last season, necessitating a split storyline that finds protagonist Rachel in New York City, hundreds of miles away from her costars at McKinley High. Is Glee's fourth season worth tuning into, or has the series officially jumped the shark?
Glee is finally moving in the right direction: "The New Rachel" was "a terrifically entertaining seasoner opener," says Matt Roush at TV Guide. Glee's smartest move this season was ushering in a "new wave of talent," including Kate Hudson as a dictatorial, dipsomaniacal dance instructor in an "electrifying" performance. And the episode's musical lineup, including a tongue-in-cheek take on Carly Rae Jepsen's megahit "Call Me Maybe," was as "infectious" as ever. Glee can be inconsistent, but it's "off to a good start," and if it builds on the promise of this premiere, "I like where it's heading."
"A new and improved (for now) Glee"
It's time to drop Glee once and for all: "The New Rachel" did its best to right the ship, says Scott D. Pierce at the Salt Lake Tribune, but Glee "has pretty much completely lost the spark that made it so much fun to begin with." The new characters are "a collection of cliches" that feel like a desperate attempt to fill the holes left by departing characters. Even the music has declined; though the song choices are fine, the show's "auto-tuning has gotten completely out of control for some of the less talented singers." We'll always have Glee's terrific first season, but it's time for the show to go away and stop irritating Americans.
"Glee is dazed and confused"
The premiere was good, but let's not get ahead of ourselves: There was promise in "The New Rachel," says James Poniewozik at TIME, but "we're talking one good episode here." After a third season that consisted of "a few high points and a lot of flailing disorientation (what the hell were they doing with Quinn?)," Glee finally got itself together for the finale. So far I'm encouraged: "For this one hour, it seemed that Glee could make its balancing act between New York and Ohio work." But it will take a while before I'm ready to trust Glee not to disappoint me fatally again.
"Glee watch: Long-Distance Relationship"