NEW YORK (CBS) "Glee" is back! And it's second season premiere did not disappoint, from the new songs to the Sue Sylvester quips.
At the beginning of "Audition," everyone is back at McKinley High after summer vacation, and signups for school clubs are in full swing - but after New Directions' embarrassing third-place finish at regionals, no one wants to join. Mr. Schuester tells the group they desperately need more people to take on Vocal Adrenaline at nationals, which will be in New York.
Perennially creepy blogger and school gossip Jacob Ben Israel catches us up on what everyone has been up to - Rachel and Finn have spent the summer dating, Tina dumped Artie for Other Asian/Mike Chang ("They fell in love over the summer at Asian camp," Artie laments) and Quinn is baby bump-less after giving birth in the season finale. Brittany, still amazingly dumb, confides that while people thought she was on vacation, she was actually lost in the sewers.
Hoping to give New Directions some new cred, the group gives a performance of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" in the school courtyard. No one seems to notice (or care) except for two - foreign exchange student Sunshine Corazon (played by guest star Charice, a big star in her own right in the Philippines) and new guy Sam, whom Finn overhears singing Poison's "Every Rose Has its Thorn" in the locker room shower (a play on when Mr. Schue heard Finn singing in last year's pilot).
Sam sings "Billionaire" with the boys (and the now-expected suddenly-appearing-out-of-thin-air backup band) and he fits right in, even though Puck makes fun of his Justin Bieber hair.
There's another new player in the mix - Coach Ken Tanaka is gone ("nervous breakdown," Principle Figgins explains) and in his place is Shannon Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), whose first order of business is to convince Figgins to cut the budgets of the glee club and the Cheerios so that more money can go to football. Schue and Sue are furious, and the two team up to bring down their new mutual enemy.
Rachel corners Sunshine in the girls room and encourages her to audition, but does it in typical Rachel fashion - extolling the benefits of being a background player in the group. Sunshine listens, but then busts out a rendition of Lady Gaga's "Telephone." Rachel joins in for a back-and-forth battle, but before the claws come out Sue bursts into the bathroom and tells the two to shut up. The damage is already done - Rachel has found a new adversary, and she doesn't want to give up her role as the group's female lead.
Sue unleashes Operation "Mean Girls" on Coach Beiste, refusing to let her sit at a faculty lounge table for lunch. When she looks to Will for a place to sit, he follows Sue's lead and denies her as well. We see her in the locker room crying, but then feel less bad for her when she takes out her rejection on poor Artie, who has the misguided idea that making it onto the football team will help him win back Tina (the plan is to use him, and his wheelchair, as a "human cannonball" on the gridiron). When Finn poses the idea to Beiste, she dismisses them both. Finn is no longer the school quarterback.
Sue also demotes Santana to the bottom of the cheerleader pyramid for getting an over-the-summer boob job (so she'd get noticed more, she says), and reinstates Quinn as head cheerleader. A locker-slamming, Jerry Springer-style fight between the two ensues.
Rachel, meanwhile, is still plotting against Sunshine. She gives her directions to the glee club "audition" and sweetly wishes her luck, but the directions send her to a crackhouse. ("It wasn't an active crackhouse!" she rationalizes). When the group calls her out for being cruel, she tells them she did it out of love - that she doesn't want the dynamic in the group to change. They respond that she was simply looking out for her own selfish reasons.
She apologizes to Sunshine, who rocks her audition with a rendition of "Listen" from Dreamgirls, but it's too late - Vocal Adrenaline was tipped off to the competition, and the new coach, Dustin Goolsby (hey there, Cheyenne Jackson!) convinced her to transfer schools. Vocal Adrenaline is that much stronger now, and New Directions is still struggling - Sam doesn't even try out, he tells Finn, because he's afraid of invoking the wrath of Coach Bieste. He made the team as a quarterback, taking Finn's old position.
The episode topped off with the show-stopping "What I Did for Love" ("A Chorus Line"). It's Rachel's way of asking forgiveness for sabotaging the group for her own insecurities and ambitions, and she sings it with heartbreaking sincerity as a montage of changes, brought on by the new year, come up on screen.
Next week: The Britney Spears tribute episode!