By the time the members of New Directions, the underdog glee club at the heart of Glee, belted out their final number in the Fox series's second season, the general consensus was that the one-time critical darling was hitting more than a few bum notes. Fans and critics alike complained about the show's overabundance of characters, treacly PSA-like messages, and tonal inconsistencies, prompting series' creator Ryan Murphy to promise a return to the core characters and irreverent tone that made the series connect. Was Glee's season-three premiere, which aired Tuesday night, a step in the right direction?

Glee is back: "Something miraculous happened over the summer," says John Kubicek at Buddy TV. "The show became great again." Mercifully, the episode didn't take itself too seriously. The humor was back, even in Kurt and Rachel's exercise in self-loathing after a humiliating college audition experience. Even better, the musical numbers — from an irrepressible version of The Go-Go's "We Got the Beat" to a euphoric rendition of Hairspray's "You Can't Stop the Beat" — "totally rocked."
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And better than ever, thanks to a former Warbler: This briskly paced episode was "simply fun to watch," says Abby West at Entertainment Weekly, a "satisfying start to the new year." The show's best decision was bringing Blaine (the magnetic Darren Criss) — heretofore a member of the rival glee club The Warblers — to McKinley High as a full-time cast member. Blaine's relationship with Kurt combines wit with romance, whether they're brainstorming how to makeover Nancy Grace or merely holding hands. And Criss' rousing performance of "It's Not Unusual" was the episode's standout.
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It wasn't great... but don't stop believing: I'm conflicted, says Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon. The premiere wasn't "mind-bogglingly bad, as Glee so often is, nor was it genuinely inventive and passionate, as the series also often is." Already, it looks like the writers are throwing plot points at the wall just to see what sticks. But that may not be a bad thing; Kurt and Rachel's acting-college ambitions promise a decent, if melodramatic, character arc. My bottom-line reaction: "A weary sigh leavened by the faint stirrings of hope."
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