Glee returned to TV this week and there was hoopla. Of course there was hoopla. There always seems to be hoopla. Desperate fans couldn’t wait to set their eyes on their beloved songbirds after the long summer hiatus. The biggest show on TV (not numbers-wise or praise-wise, but I’m assured that it’s the biggest) entered into its second season with some definite high points and an altogether pretty good episode. Here’s the breakdown:

The Surprisingly Awesome

Mike. With the elimination of Matt (he “transferred”), there seems to be only 1 random guy left in Glee. His name’s Mike, and while he’s always been there, he got more screen time in this episode than all of last season. He still only said 2 lines, but he was in a lot of shots, a featured dancer in a couple numbers and was even a part of an emotional subplot involving Tina and Artie. I’m definitely rooting for the exploration of Mike as a character. Before we add even more people, let’s define the one’s we already have.

The Beist. I love love loved the addition of the school’s new football coach (last name Beist pronounced “beast”). I’m really hoping they keep her around and keep giving her stories. The most detailed character introduced in quite some time, Beist could be seen as a predictable archetype but is in fact a much more complex invention. She seems tough but is pretty vulnerable, but when she gets picked on she deals with it with a skin thickened by years of torment. She doesn’t break down and give a sentimental speech about fitting in, she stands up straight and moves on. She’s a tough woman with a soft center, a guy’s girl in red lipstick and earrings (bet you didn’t notice that- that’s character detail! I know, it’s foreign to Glee viewers, but you’ll get used to it), an outsider who’s okay being one.

Sunshine. The addition of the foreign exchange student may be predictable in terms of Rachel’s corresponding arc but man, with a voice like that she’s welcome on my TV screen any time.

Sue and Schue. One of the episode’s most interesting arcs was pretty well squashed by the end. But the fact that it existed means good things. Sue and Mr. Schue were getting along. United against a common enemy, their relationship has moved forward, changed. Change is good. Change is what keeps a series alive. I liked it.

The Tedious and Predictable
In sadder and much more Glee-ish news,

Puck. He barely got a line, not to mention a story. And with the new character additions, it’s seeming less and less likely that he’s get a really good one anytime soon.

The Good Guy Routine. Mr. Schue has a dark “cool guy” quality to him that is in desperate need of mining. I thought that’s what we might get as he got sucked into Sue’s scheme to torment Beist early in the episode. True to form he was Mr. Goody-2-shoes once more by the end of the episode, had his after school special moment and returned to the starting line, having gone nowhere and discovered nothing new.

Too much Rachel. Glee‘s least interesting, most annoying, incomparably intolerable character keeps getting more and more spotlight. Partly to blame for this is the press for their endless coverage of Ms Diva (Lea Michele) and partly to blame is the Emmy committee, who seems under the mistaken impression that she’s the breakout star of the show. It has got to end. Yes, she can sing, we know. Now demote her to supporting player before I scream and give some of the (super potential-filled) others their chance to shine.

The Song Machine. Like I said, these kids can SING. This isn’t High School Musical, where they went out and found a bunch of good looking people to sing lip synch on camera to pre-recorded pop songs. These kids are singers. Like “know where their breath should come from, how to support a note, intention behind every line” singers! Enough with this sound studio recorded, auto-tuned crap, LET THEM SING! I should be used to it by now, and on high production numbers like “Empire State of Mind” I don’t care, quite frankly. But when you put Charine Pempengco on a stage with a mic and a ballad and don’t let her sing it live, you’re cruisin for a bruisin. Everything sounds over-produced and hence underperformed. The singers look like they’re playing charades, they don’t have the grounding and gravitas of someone belting out the high notes with everything they have. Until these producers realize the strength and vulnerability they’re robbing these tremendous singers of they’ll never be allowed to really show us what we know they can do.

Overall, this was a really good episode of Glee. It had some really great moments and some torturous elements of promising things to come. But it’s Glee, so all those hopes were quickly and predictably dashed to the ground. Nothing hurts more than lost potential.