After a long, hot summer, New Directions is back at McKinley and also back to square one - the bottom of the social hierarchy, begging for recruits and money.
The loss in the regionals to Vocal Adrenaline didn't help, nor has a sharp budget cut. Both the Cheerios and ND are hit hard because new football coach Shannon Beiste (Jones) convinced Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) to give her program more money. Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) form an unprecedented pact to unseat the interloper.
Two newcomers are being recruited for the glee club - Philippine exchange student Sunshine Corazón (Charice) and transfer student Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet). The big set piece tonight is Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind," while Sam covers Travie McCoy's "Billionaire."
Second-season expectations for "Glee" are almost too high. Potential reality series, movies, spinoffs, tours, record contracts . . . the surround sound that's jacked up around this hit is now officially deafening. Unrelenting distractions can push series off their game, and there's evidence tonight "Glee" is off its game.
There are some discordant, borderline-cruel B stories, while poor Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) for some reason turned into a sociopath harridan over the summer. The episode, entitled "Audition," can't make up its mind whether to laugh at Jones' he-woman Beiste (pronounced "Beast") or empathize with her. But she should be a good addition once "Glee" figures out what to do with her.
Same with Charice, 18, a vocal prodigy, who was hailed as one of Oprah's "most talented kids in the world" a couple years ago. If tonight is any indication, that was not hyperbole. When Sunshine covers Beyoncé's "Listen" from "Dreamgirls," you instantly realize what made "Glee" so magical in the first place.
"Glee" feels a little hoarse.