When Glee‘s pilot episode aired lo those many years ago, a stunned nation of homogays sat speechless in front of their televisions. I’m trying to remember what we expected back then, back before we saw the first episode. High School Musical 7, probably. Singing and dancing at the most awesome/ridiculous times. And yeah, it was that. But what was stunning was how the melodies were woven through with a harmony of hopefulness and this idea that it’s OK to dream big dreams, that it’s OK to care, and that the most important thing you will ever do in life is create for yourself a family of people who will celebrate the weird and wonderful things that make you you. Nobody understands that sentiment like the queer community. So even before Kurt and Blaine and Klaine and Santana and Brittany and Brittana and Dave Karofsky and Unique, Glee resonated with us. We just knew it was going to be our show.
Unfortunately, Glee couldn’t maintain the tone and cohesion of the pilot episode. Over three seasons, it got a lot of stuff right, but also it tripped and crashed and waffled and clanged and zigged and zagged and sucked donkey balls. In fact, at times, its bungling of LGBT issues and inexplicable sexism have been downright offensive. It has become a show gay people love to hate, or hate to love, or just regular old hate — but somehow it still feels like it’s ours. We want to love it. We want to believe in it again.
I haven’t always been fair to Glee. There have been times when I’ve written about it for AfterElton and AfterEllen from a place of such caustic moral and intellectual superiority that I want to punch myself in the face just thinking about it. But I’m not going to be that girl this year. You know the one. The one who comes to your viewing party week after week and bitches and bitches and bitches and doesn’t even offer to help clean up afterwards, and when she’s gone, you and all your friends are like, “Why does she keep coming over if she hates the show so f—ing much?”
Writing like a jackass is easy — trust me, I know — but I promise not to be that girl this time. Of course, “The New Rachel” makes it easy. It gives me “Pilot” feelings all over again.
Rachel Berry signs her name with a gold star. It’s a metaphor for her being a star. Except for now she’s a student at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the whole place is shimmering with talent. The belle of this ball is dance instructor Cassandra July, who is waving around a dancing stick and shouting numbers and insults. She pulls aside a new student and tells her to chop off her own ass because she needs to lose some weight. Of all the lessons Rachel Berry learned at McKinley High, respecting authority was not one of them, so she rolls her eyes. Cassandra July shuts down the whole class to clown on Rachel’s face and her piqué technique and her home state. “Your new name will be ‘Poophio!'” she says.
Rachel tries to get back to the business of dancing, but she trips and falls. Cassandra July squats down to the floor and Rachel goes, “I don’t need any help. I’m OK.” And Cassandra July is like, “I didn’t bend down here to help you. I bent down here to club you over the head with my dancing stick. Welcome to New York.”
McKinley High. Jacob Ben Israel kicks off the season with some expositional interviews, per the usual. For the first time ever, New Directions is at the top of the social food chain thanks to winning Nationals. Artie eats lunch with the Cheerios. Tina employees a freshman personal assistant (and more dialogue than the entirety of season three). Sam is constantly surrounded by a gaggle of ladies. Jacob Ben Israel asks those guys, plus Blaine and Brittany, which one of them will be the New Rachel now that the Old Rachel is living her dream in the concrete jungle. They’re all like, “Me, duh.”
Rachel watches from her NYADA dorm room, where her roommate is busy having all the sex, and Finn is busy doing that half-smirk in a framed photo on the bedside table, and Rachel tries to keep from having an emotional meltdown. She’s taken to performing her nightly ritual in the co-ed bathroom at 3:00 a.m. so her classmates don’t mock her. It sounds like a lonely proposition, but there’s another fellow who has a similar routine. His name is Brody Westin and he is like something straight out of the locker room at Beacon Hills High. He emerges from the shower with a full buffet of pecs and abs on display, and introduces himself as a third-year musical theater student. Rachel is like, “Despite the fact that I look like Rachel Motherf—ing Berry and sing like Rachel Motherf—ing Berry and am betrothed to the world’s most beautiful human, Quinn Fabray, I tend to rely on male validation to empower me.”
Brody Westin, it seems, is just the guy for that. He calls his face a canvas and his hands the paintbrush, or his hands a canvas and his face a paint brush, or his torso a carving of ivory. I’m not sure. But he tells Rachel she’s there because she’s the best of the best and for the first time since arriving at NYADA, she doesn’t want to hurl herself out the window. After complimenting her, Brody makes a point of telling Rachel that he’s straight. (Don’t you love that new characters on this show have to spell it out? Basically, Glee is the only homonormative show on earth. Everyone is assumed gay until proven otherwise.)