The McKinley kids begin work on Grease;  Glee Project winner Blake Jenner makes his debut

By Erin Strecker
Updated November 09, 2012 at 05:41 AM EST
Credit: Adam Rose/Fox
S4 E5

Is this the show that you want? Last night’s episode of Glee – after a month-long hiatus – was, I think, what most people expected of the fourth season. Rachel, Kurt and NYC were nowhere to be found, and the entirety of the episode took place in Lima and McKinley with all the new high school characters, as people both young and old grappled with changing roles and relationships. That, and some classic hand jiving.

That’s right: While I predicted that Glee Does Grease would be an hour-long extravaganza – and it still might be next week, if the previews are any indication — last night we got our first teases of Rydell High, as auditions for McKinley’s fall musical began. Artie was once again directing, but this time he wanted a co-director. Finn, who was currently working at Burt’s auto shop, got corralled back in by Artie. Finn was a little bit of a directionless sad sack last night – reminding me of Troy Bolton in that SNL High School Musical spoof – but by episode’s end, he had redeemed himself.

Auditions began in earnest at the top of the hour, when Blaine – who seemed like a natural for Danny Zuko because of their mutual love of their hair – sang a passionate version of “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” while flipping through a not-at-all-creepy stalker scrapbook of Kurt photos. He then explained to the directors – a group that now included Mercedes and Mike, because why the heck not? – that he just wasn’t up for a big part in Grease, because he was still too devastated from his breakup with Kurt. Aren’t we all. Blaine got an unopened Gilmore Girls box set back from him. That’s enough for anyone to claim that they were only willing to be Teen Angel.

While Blaine may not have been interested in a leading role, others definitely were. Marley made no secret her plans to be Sandy, Sam wanted to be Kenickie (“Grease Lightning” is his ringtone!) and, in a genuinely surprising twist, Wade shared with Marley in the bathroom that he secretly wanted to be Rizzo. Sue — who overheard — did not approve, but I definitely approved of Wade and Marley’s co-audition song, “Blow Me (One Last Kiss).” Wade was brave, and, after the audition, told all the directors that he wanted to be considered for Rizzo. There are worse things he could do.

NEXT: Glee Project’s Blake Jenner joins the cast!

But that wasn’t the only shake-up going on at McKinley. Finn, trying to find the new Finn, headed to the football field and spied a kid doing some truly ridiculous and random dance moves on the field. Hmmm, he must have thought to himself. This seems like just the kind of stable-but-fun kid that I want to deal with. I bet he can sing! Finn must have remembered Kurt’s “Single Ladies” on the football field from a few years back, and how well that ended up going. The amateur dancer with the Bieber hair (Seriously. First thing Kitty and I agreed on.) was Ryder, played by Glee Project winner Blake Jenner. In addition to his moves, turns out he’s kind of a moron. Or, at least, not a good student. But in a truly random piece of reasoning, Finn convinced him — after waltzing into his class and talking to him — that joining the Glee club as an extracurricular was a good idea. The two then rocked out to some classic rock — doubling as Ryder’s Grease audition — and all was well.

Finn may have solved the problem of Danny, but the problem of Rizzo was just beginning. After conversing with the other directors (I’m sorry, but there was absolutely no reason for Mercedes and Mike to be there!) Finn said that he wanted to give Wade a chance. Artie disagreed, but said that he would go along with the idea. At that exact moment, Sue appeared in the choir room, and told Finn he had to go to the principal’s office with her — right now.

In Mr. Figgin’s office, Finn presented his case for why he wanted Unique to be Rizzo, with Schu backing him up. Sue was against Unique-as-Rizzo for a bunch of reasons, including one convoluted idea about how that might make him eventually wind up on the Cheerios, which she didn’t want. They argued back and forth, and then Finn went a step too far talking about differences, angrily telling Sue that as someone with a “retarded baby,” she should understand and want to help. Ouch. He immediately apologized, but she stormed out of the office anyway. Honestly, this seemed out of character for Finn – he may be a bit of dunce, but he’s not cruel. Although he did call Kurt a f** once, so I guess he has his moments.

NEXT: Grease callbacks and Will and Emma on the rocks

Full disclosure: At this point my TV started cutting in and out, and it was kind of like watching the program on mute, but then getting every fifth or so word. It’s quite likely I missed something. Technology woes! But anyway, the next moment I caught we were at callbacks with just about everybody. Some of the kids were nervous, so Mercedes and Mike showed them all how it was done – by kicking off a group version of “Born To Hand Jive,” complete with lots of dancing.

After the callbacks the cast list was posted, and it broke down pretty much exactly as I expected (although I was holding out hope that Blaine would get a chance to tackle Danny). Blaine will be Teen Angel, Sam will be Kenickie, Jake will be Putzie, Marley will be Sandy, Ryder – who clearly has a crush on Marley – will be Danny, and Kitty will be Patty Simcox. “Who’s Patty Simcox?” we all collectively wondered along with her.

I’ve completely ignored Will and Emma, because honestly, I’m in no way invested in their relationship. But last night, they talked (with part-time therapist/full-time coach Beiste) about Will moving to Washington. Emma reiterated that she didn’t just want to follow him around, and Will promised her it wasn’t like that. She then agreed to go with him for a few months, but – after her own private convo with Beiste – finally admitted to him at the end of the episode that she just couldn’t, but that she would support him. He seemed rather ok with this (he’s still going) and promised her when he came back they would get married. Stay tuned.

With Mr. Schuster Goes To Washington officially happening, Glee club needs a new director. And in the grand tradition of many other high school sitcoms, favorite son Finn was asked to fill in for a few months (which yes, was ridiculously convenient in that he’s an 18-year-old kid without a teaching license. Let’s all just go with it!) “If you’re willing, I can promise you there’s no greater joy in the world than helping a young boy like you turn into a man,” Schu said to him about teaching. I’m cautiously optimistic because I think we’ve all grown a little tired of Will’s lesson-of-the-week plots, so having a different instructor could definitely shake things up. Ryder is the new Finn and Finn is the new Schu. Circle of (high school) life!

NEXT: Musical grades and top lines

Musical Moments:

“Hopelessly Devoted To You”: Brokenhearted Blaine sings a ballad. Originally sung by Sandy in Grease, Blaine – in the throes of a bad breakup – tackles the soulful tune with a healthy amount of restraint. You all may be shocked to learn that I enjoyed a Blaine solo number! A-

“Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”: Marley and Wade rock out both in the hallways and onstage for their audition (Side note: This is a horrible choice for an audition song). I really dug the harmonies on this, and the word changes (“whiskey wish”!?) made me chuckle. A-

“Juke Box Hero”: Turns out, Ryder has a bit of an inner rock star in him. I don’t know that I loved Glee covering rock, but I do like any tune that gives Finn a chance to play drums. Nice debut, Blake Jenner. B

“Everybody Talks”: Jake and Kitty also did a two-for-one audition, and they killed it. I don’t care for her character, but Kitty has got some moves. And – sorry, Marley – great chemistry (both vocal and physical) with Jake. B+

Born to Hand Jive”: Another Grease classic. I’ll give it a grade once I’m able to see the performance of the whole group dancing together.

Top Lines:

“I’ve never seen Blaine so masterpiece theater.” -Artie. Story pitch: Blaine Anderson becomes obsessed with Downton Abbey; Kurt re-falls in love with him.

“All I do is study. I haven’t even seen Dark Knight Rises yet.” –Ryder

“50 Shades of Gravy” –Kitty to Marley. Normally her lines bug me, but I have to admit that while mean, this one made me chuckle.

“A very unnecessary lubrication of lightning.” – Sue, giving my favorite description of a Grease musical number ever.

“A strange weeping man-child with lotion in his hair but no adult friends.” –Sue FTW. I don’t ever want Sue to insult me. I fear she would peg me too accurately.

“Dreams aren’t free.” –Wade. It’s not funny, but I just liked this sentiment.

What did you think of “The Role You Were Born To Play”? Did you miss Kurt and Rachel? Happy to see Mike and Mercedes? How are you feeling about Finn’s future at McKinley? Wade/Unique as Rizzo? What are your first impressions of Ryder? And who else is excited for ALL GREASE ALL THE TIME next week?

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