Spreading the 'Glee' to New York

The "Glee" club performs in the "Goodbye" season The "Glee" club performs in the "Goodbye" season finale episode, which airs May 22, 2012. Pictured, from left, are Lea Michele, Amber Riley and Chris Colfer. Photo Credit: Fox

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THE SHOW "Glee"

WHEN | WHERE Season premiere, Thursday night at 9 on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The fourth season begins with a split story line between Rachel (Lea Michele) at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the gang back in Lima and McKinley, where the current preoccupation is replacing ... Rachel. There is certainly no shortage of candidates, both new and old.

For Rachel, her hardest class may be Dance 101, ruled -- not taught -- by Cassandra July (Kate Hudson, in a guest role) who sneers at the newcomer, "I bet you were a big star back in Iowa." Ohio, Rachel corrects her. "That's even worse." Meanwhile, the halls of McKinley remain a jungle, where the slushies fly and a certain cheerleading coach rules.

MY SAY "Glee" at its best was always tinged with a sweet, sad feeling of loss -- the sense that youth passes and best to grab the moment while you can. But at its worst, "Glee" ... well, no need to go there now because Thursday night is "Glee" at its best.

This episode resolves all sorts of issues that looked messy in May. How to bridge the New York and Lima stories? Simple: Don't even try. The New York scenes -- all darkly lit, burnished and moody -- will remind you of "Smash" and "The Black Swan," and they're meant to. By contrast, the hallways of McKinley are, as usual, bright and airy -- all the better to see the petty cruelties in sharp relief.

There are lots of new characters to introduce, but each comes with a narrative hook that provides a bit of emotional texture. Jake Puckerman (Jacob Artist) is Puck's younger half-brother. He's the one with the very visible chip on his shoulder. Rachel's new pal, Brody (Dean Geyer)? He's the "straight" one (he announces, in an amusing aside at 3 a.m.). Marley (Melissa Benoist) is the lunch lady's daughter.

Gleeks know who the "new Rachel" is. I won't tell you here -- but she's introduced with a nice bit of stagecraft that links her with the "old" Rachel back in Manhattan.

The scene also is calculated to put viewers in a New York state of mind. It accomplishes that as well.

BOTTOM LINE One episode in, "Glee 2.0" -- otherwise known as the fourth season -- looks to be a winner.

GRADE A

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