By Ken Tucker
Updated September 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Adam Rose/Fox

The season premiere of the new-formula Glee (“Now with extra added smirks!”) had an advance push from the preview clips Fox released of Kate Hudson going hard-body Bob Fosse on us; if she didn’t quite inspire the curiosity Gwyneth Paltrow initially did (after all, the stakes were greater: Would Gwynnie Get Down?) (answer: affirmative), Hudson was certainly more of a draw than, say, John Stamos was. Plus, Hudson’s character NYADA dance teacher Cassandra July was there to do what some of us take, yes, glee in witnessing: Anyone who attempts to demolish the Kryptonite-hard ego of Lea Michele’s Rachel.

The episode titled “The New Rachel” was lumpy-paced and uneven, with the irritations outnumbering the pleasures, but those pleasures were significant, and hopeful for the season as it moves forward. Since I brought up the subject: Welcome, Melissa Benoist; your Marley Rose, even beneath that sad, droopy newsboy cap, is a very good addition to the show and you took quiet command of every scene you were in. In addition to being able to smile more sincerely than 99% of your new cast-mates (I do believe Kurt is your only competition there), Marley’s edited-side-by-side “duet” with Rachel blew the latter off the screen for its rare-for-this-series unmannered energy. And that’s really saying something when the song you’re pushing is Billy Joel’s bombastically self-absorbed “New York State of Mind.”

This episode had to accomplish a number of things: prove to us that it could juggle old and new characters in two locations, New York and Ohio; give iTunes its profit with a cover of “the song of the summer ‘Call Me Maybe'”; make sure Sue Sylvester had just enough face-time to cuddle her baby and out-do Hudson’s July for meanness.

So far, Becca Tobin is being encouraged to be excessively smirky even by Glee standards; she ought to be allowed to dial it back a little if the show wants her Kitty to be more than a robotic sourpuss.

Hello, Whoopi Goldberg.

As for Hudson’s guest arc, her Cassandra has already done what she was brought in to do — show off the sculpture; move with nicely edited conviction; tell Rachel she has a “stuck-up little bitch attitude” and “you suck.” In short, she fulfills the now time-honored Glee convention of being a character who says lots of viciously cruel things, cutting until other characters bleed emotionally, so that other subplots can literally sing the praises of tolerance, love, and anti-bullying* (*trademark, as of last night, Demi Lovato/The X Factor). Only five more episodes to go, Cassandra! Enough to let her ostentatious drinking problem to blossom further and, I sincerely hope, yield a smartly framed, non-smirk argument for AA: It’s the least and best preachment Glee could offer.

But I’ll take a decent Games of Thrones throwaway joke and the ongoing promise of a luminous Marley as guarded good signs that Glee might be willing to slither past its self-imposed limitations for a few episodes into its new season.

What’d you think of the premiere?

Twitter: @kentucker

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