‘Glee’ Season 4 Premiere Recap: Who Is ‘The New Rachel’?

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School is back in session on FOX’s Glee,  but not all of our favorites were back for their first day (RIP Rachel’s headband). Luckily, there are a hoard of new characters to keep us entertained. Oh, and Kate Hudson.

Note: Spoilers if you haven’t watched Thursday’s premiere, “The New Rachel.”

At the end of last season, Rachel (Lea Michele) arrived in New York City with a dream and a suitcase full of cardigans. When Season 4 kicks off, we see that Rachel’s optimism is slowly being chipped away by her stone-cold, alcoholic dance teacher Cassandra July (Kate Hudson).

Everyone knows that she’s as hard as nails — but a recommendation from Cassie could get you on Broadway (as a Flying Monkey, but hey, that’s still Broadway!). Hudson is fabulous as Cassandra. If her mashup of “Americano” and “Dance Again” doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, you and Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) must truly deserve one another.

She even has a new name for Rachel: “Little Miss David Schwimmer.” Looks like Sue isn’t the only one who can dish out mean — yet scarily accurate — nicknames.  And Rachel did kind of deserve the new nickname. NYADA Rule #1: Never throw shade at your teachers. Save your shade for your slutty roommate!

However, Rachel is determined to push through all of the drama and strive at NYADA. So what if Finn hasn’t called her in TWO MONTHS. Her and NYADA hottie Brody (Dean Geyer) bond over midnight skin rituals. How cute. He’s just full of elder knowledge like, “Our skin is like our paintbrush and our canvas.”

Back at McKinley, the New Directions are reveling in their newfound popularity. You see, all you need to be popular is a state title. With their new social status, glee club suddenly becomes the most popular club at McKinley. However, as Artie reminds the group, school social circles are like Game of Thrones, and “winter is coming, people!”

Meanwhile, the Fierce Five —  Artie (Kevin McHale), Blaine (Darren Criss), Brittany (Heather Morris), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Unique (Alex Newell) — are duking it out for the coveted role of being “The New Rachel” in the glee club. Well, Artie could care less. He just wants to be the one in charge of choosing the new lead vocalist.

After an intense “Call Me Maybe” sing-off, Artie picks Blaine as Rachel’s replacement. However, with adorkable new girl Marley (Melissa Benoist) in the picture, it looks like Blaine might have to forfeit that title.

Speaking of Marley, is it just me, or is New Directions latest addition a carbon copy of Rachel from Season 1? It’s no coincidence that these two share a duet in the premiere. It’s as if Rachel is symbolically passing Marley the torch — or in this case, the ugly sweater — in their rendition of Paul Simon’s “New York State of Mind.” Like Rachel, Marley is a small town girl with a big city dream of becoming a chart-topping singer. Thankfully, Marley is 100 times more likeable than Season 1 Rachel.

Marley isn’t the only new character this season. We also meet Jake (Jacob Artist), McKinley’s newest badboy. Forget Brody, I’m on Team Jake! Who doesn’t love a cute boy with a chip on his shoulder?

Jake is also Puck’s younger half-brother, which of course, adds to his attractiveness. However, it looks like the younger Puckerman is more of a lone wolf. Not to mention that his cover of The Fray’s “Never Say Never” is totally swoon-worthy. No wonder all of the ladies love him. Yes, we’re talking Marley. Those two are going to be the new Landon Carter and Jamie Sullivan  (“A Walk to Remember,” duh) — hopefully, without the tragic ending.

Marley, however, might have some competition from Kitty (Becca Tobin), McKinley’s new glee-otch. Kitty is a sophomore Cheerio and Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) new “Head Bitch.” Think of her as a mix of Season 1 Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Season 2 Santana (Naya Rivera). She even gives Sam (Chord Overstreet) a new nickname. Say bye-bye to “White Chocolate” and hello to “Richie Poor.”

However, Kitty’s real target is sweet, innocent Marley and her lunch lady mom. In one of the more heart-wrenching storylines of the episode, we find out that Marley’s mom is actually the obese lunch lady that everyone at school makes fun of, and associating with her is pretty much like social suicide. Thankfully, it looks like the glee club — and especially Sam — will have her back.

As for Kurt (Chris Colfer), he’s struggling to find his place in Lima now that all of his friends have moved on. Working at the local cafe is not how Kurt envisioned his post-grad life — and Blaine knows it. So Blaine Warbler (a.k.a. “The Best Boyfriend Ever”) decides to give Kurt the push he needs to live his dreams in New York. And in true Klaine fashion, Blaine tells him this via song (“It’s Time”).

Kurt then shares a tearful goodbye with his dad Burt (Mike O’Malley). In many ways, the relationship between Kurt and his dad is the most meaningful ‘ship on Glee. It’s nice to see a father accept his son for everything that he is — and encourage him to live out his dreams — even if it means losing him to the wonders of New York City.

Now that Rachel and Kurt are finally reunited in the city, there’s no telling where these two talented BFFs are going to end up. (Well, that’s not entirely true. We know that they’re moving off the island to Brooklyn.) All I know is that I’m down for the ride. Hopefully, this means Kurt will become the neo-hipster that he was meant to be.

On a side note, we also meet Sue’s baby daughter Robin. Yes, she actually had a baby. However, her high-profile baby daddy is still unknown. Now this is the Sue Sylvester I love. She pops in for one scene and adds the perfect dose of humor.

Buzz Moments

OMG!: Can we talk about the moment Blaine serenaded Kurt in the courtyard? I can’t be the only one who was feeling overly emotional when Blaine dedicated “It’s Time” to Kurt. I mean, “Best. Boyfriend. Ever.” On another note, Brittany wins the award for best line of the night: “It’s hard making out over Skype. You can’t really scissor a webcam.”

Thank you, TV gods: For keeping Mr. Schue’s screen time to a minimum. There’s only one teacher that I want to see on my screen, and her name is Cassandra July. Although, I wouldn’t mind if Burt (a.k.a. TV’s Best Dad) got a few more lines.

Awk-ward: Excuse me, Brody, I know that you’re starting to crush on Rachel, but trying to convince her to break up with Finn after less than 48 hours of friendship is a bit awk.

Hotness: When we first meet Brody, he’s half-naked, dripping wet and singing an 80’s rock classic. Enough said.

Fab-u-lous: Unique, darling, you better werk. I wasn’t Newell’s biggest fan when he appeared on Season 1 of The Glee Project, but I can’t be more impressed with his portrayal of Wade/Unique. Plus, you have to love someone who talks in the third person without cracking a smile! “Make no mistake. Unique will be the new Rachel.”

Can. Not. Wait.: For Finn and Blaine to come to New York. Unfortunately, gleeks, we’ll have to wait for episode four — the grimly titled “The Break-Up” — for that to happen, but here’s hoping that Klaine and Finchel have a few cute moments before then. Also, I need to know where this Sam-Marley-Jake triangle is going. Was Sam just trying to be a good guy, or does he have eyes for Marley? It’s not that I don’t love me some “White Chocolate,” but I think Marley and Jake would make a adorable couple. It’s kind of like a modern-day Grease! Or when Puck and Rachel had a one-episode fling on Season 1.

Celebuzz Meter (1-10): 8

Watch Glee Project winner Blake Jenner answer readers’ questions below.

Who is your favorite new character? Are you as bummed as we are that there weren’t any Finchel moments?  Sound off below!