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'Glee''s big return

Five reasons we’re excited

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You’d have to have been wearing some serious soundproof headphones not to hear the deafening hype surrounding Fox’s Glee. The cast has performed everywhere from the White House to Oprah, elevating the series to a veritable pop culture obsession — even though it’s been on hiatus for a full four months. Now, with its first season’s final nine episodes set to begin airing April 13 after American Idol, more eyes than ever will be on the musical comedy. So what does that mean for Gleeks? EW gives you the best reasons to tune in for this next batch of episodes, including — SPOILER ALERT! — major plot twists (Puck and Mercedes?!) and ginormous musical numbers (Gaga!).

1. ONE WORD: MADONNA
EW first broke news of the Madge-themed episode last fall, and now it’s become a reality (airing April 20). ”I have to say that the Madonna episode is the best hour of television I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Lea Michele, whose Rachel duets with Cory Monteith’s Finn on a mash-up of ”Borderline” and ”Open Your Heart.” Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) handle Madonna and Justin Timberlake’s ”4 Minutes” and also assist Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) in an almost scene-by-scene remake of the video for ”Vogue.” Plus, look for Glee versions of ”Express Yourself” and ”Like a Virgin.” And how does all this Madonna magic fit into Glee’s mythology? Simple: The Material Girl is Sue’s idol. Speaking of that tracksuit-wearing tyrant…

2. TWO MORE WORDS: SUE SYLVESTER
After being suspended and escaping to her condo in Boca Raton, Sue returns — thanks to some sexual blackmail involving Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) — with renewed hatred toward the glee club. ”I’m back to my tricks,” says Lynch. ”We have a new character — Jonathan Groff plays Jesse St. James from [Arival choir] Vocal Adrenaline — and I kind of help try to get Rachel to fall in love with this kid, get her off her game.” But in between all her plotting, Sue will also find time to pay homage to another blond pop star: Olivia Newton-John. When a video of Sue Jazzercising is leaked (much to her dismay), the Grease star reaches out to the embarrassed Cheerios coach. ”She gives me a call and says let’s remake the ‘Physical’ video for a new generation,” explains Lynch. ”’You’ve been humiliated, I was humiliated by my video, so let’s get out there and let’s redeem ourselves.”’

3. GREAT GUEST STARS
Broadway veterans Idina Menzel (Wicked) and Groff (left, Spring Awakening) both appear in multiple episodes as Vocal Adrenaline’s coach and star singer, respectively. Groff’s character romances Rachel and also joins New Directions, but his motives are unclear. ”He’s a little badass,” says Groff, who’s real-life BFFs with Michele since their time together on stage in ”Awakening”. ”It’s the first time that Rachel has met someone who wants to be a star as much as she does and is equally ambitious.” Menzel’s Wicked costar Kristin Chenoweth will also return for one episode as April Rhodes to duet with Matthew Morrison’s Will on a medley of Burt Bacharach’s ”One Less Bell to Answer” and ”A House Is Not a Home.” ”That’s my favorite thing we’ve done so far on the show,” says co-creator Ryan Murphy. ”It’s very intricately choreographed and very emotional.” Molly Shannon will bring the funny as McKinley’s new home ec teacher and badminton coach, Brenda Castle, who squares off against Sue. ”She’s the one character that puts Sue back on her heels,” says Lynch. ”She gets right in my grill and she’s not afraid of me.” And in a casting move that has Gleeks — and geeks — all atwitter, Neil Patrick Harris and his Dr. Horrible director, Joss Whedon, will reunite for a May episode in which the How I Met Your Mother star plays Bryan Ryan, a former classmate of Will’s who attempts to cut funding for glee club. Horrible, indeed!

4. HUGE MUSICAL NUMBERS
Get pumped to see more elaborate production numbers. ”We tried to push it a little more,” says co-creator Brad Falchuk. ”There will be more musical numbers, and they will be more spectacular.” One of them will be the cast’s cover of Lady Gaga’s ”Bad Romance,” which will have the kids dressed as various Gaga incarnations. ”All the costumes are outrageous and legit,” says Colfer. ”I actually went to the tailor this morning who makes the real Gaga outfits. They’re going all out.” Also expect covers of hits by Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Vanilla Ice, and MC Hammer, as well as a classic jam from Mark Wahlberg’s oeuvre. ”Puck and Finn are doing ‘Good Vibrations’ by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch,” says Monteith. ”We’re all rapping and [doing] these super ’90s dance moves. It’s incredible.”

5. CRAZY PLOT TWISTS
”I think we did a lot of Rachel/Finn [in the first 13 episodes], and in the back nine, everyone has a lot of stories and a chance to shine,” says Murphy. ”We’re just letting you know a lot more about the supporting characters.” To that end, wheelchair-bound Artie (Kevin McHale) and gothy Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) will reconcile and further their romance. Kurt and Mercedes join the Cheerios, which leads Mercedes to question her weight after being badgered by Sue. However, she finds an unlikely supporter in pregnant Quinn (Dianna Agron). Meanwhile, lovestruck Kurt sets up his father (Mike O’Malley) with Finn’s mother (Carole Hudson), which creates even more awkward moments between the two glee guys. And Will and Emma’s (Jayma Mays) relationship continues to be, well, complicated. ”Will might slut it up a bit,” says Morrison. ”He married his high school sweetheart, so this is his first time being single in 15 years.” Speaking of sluttin’ it up, bad boy Puck (Mark Salling) will have romantic entanglements with both Rachel and Mercedes while still dealing with his feelings for Quinn. (Says Murphy, ”He’s a man-whore, and we love it.”) But the biggest surprise for the producers is Glee‘s success. ”Everybody who’s involved in the show is like, ‘How the hell did this happen?”’ says Murphy. ”I’m not afraid of the hype, and the reason I say that is I’ve seen the back nine and they’re spectacular.” (Additional reporting by Archana Ram and Tanner Stransky)

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