Back at McKinley High, not much has changed. Rachel still makes the face of a hippopotamus in birth as she hits the high notes, Kurt’s still one of the girls, and Sue Sylvester still has it in for those crazy kids who get their kicks sashaying across an empty auditorium stage as nameless piano man hits the keys.

In the Season two premiere, “Audition,” Ryan Murphy continues his usual blend of metacommentary, camp so campy its almost realistic, and spirited homages to the power of the belted voice, with a few minimal updates. Musically, this is one of the weakest episodes of the series, with the requisite blend of show tunes and top-50 hits carefully rearranged for your auto-tuned pleasure. The opener brings us three new characters: the homophonically hilarious new football coach Biest, angelically blond transfer student Sam and peppy Asian exchange student / Oprah’s darling Sunshine Corazon.

In case you’ve never seen a single episode of Glee before, the stakes are what they usually are. Unless the rag tag group of singalong buddies can manage to pull off a petite miracle, funding will be cut and Glee club destroyed. This time, budget cuts come courtesy of newbie Biest, whose arrival prompts that unholiest of alliances to form: Sue Sylvester and Will Shuester. Unlike the last time these mortal enemies joined up, no bodily fluids are exchanged. Instead, Sue takes the reins on a no-holds-barred tour of terror to bully Biest out of the building. Though mean spirited as ever, her attempts fail (because Will, in a characteristic show of nice guy spinelessness can’t go through with it).

Meanwhile, Finn is a casualty of the war, losing his spot as quarterback to the fresh-faced, big-mouthed Sam, who sings a limp rendition of “Billionaire,” before he realizes that Glee club is uncool and retreats back to the football team. Fortune is kinder to formerly pregnant Quinn, who parlays well-placed information about head cheerleader Santana’s summer breast implants into her old place on the Cheerios (Sue calls the abused breasts “juicy vine-ripened chest fruit,” among other, less flattering epithets). The episode starts out with a bit of meta faux-documentary, courtesy of web nerd Jacob ben Israel, who gets Shue to summarize the Glee repertoire as 25% hip-hop, 25% show tunes and 25% classic rock. We get the hip-hop in the first number of the show, an insipid and poorly costumed “Empire State of Mind,” which does not benefit from Artie’s speech-rapping.

Artie is not doing so well. His goth Asian girlfriend Tina has left him for I-Pod dancer “other Asian” Mike Chang. They got their mack on at Asian camp. Tina, unsympathetic to Artie’s pleas at reuniting, tells Artie that Mike “tries to be into what I’m into. Like his abs.” A third Asian, Sunshine Corazon (guest star Charice) almost makes it onto the squad, but is prevented by Rachel’s raging ball of ego and neurosis. The two big-voiced, small-framed divas face off in the bathroom on a duet of Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s “Telephone,” but Rachel decides to send Sunshine to a crackhouse instead of to auditions. Sunshine makes it on stage eventually, singing “Listen” from Dreamgirls and giving Will his “I want to cry, but I’m so happy” face, but is stolen away by archrival Vocal Adrenaline (new musical director played by 30 Rock’s Cheyenne Jackson, who will hopefully be back), who gift her with a condo and a green card.

Things end as they usually end on Glee: Rachel, singing loudly, sort of weeping, hand to chest, mouth screwed open, and everything goes on as per usual. While, yes, she can hit the notes, it would be nice to have her sing something other than 1970s Broadway hits once in a while. In a show that’s both remarkably literal as well as cannily witty, “Audition” was a clunker. Different sorts of ‘auditions’ weave their way through the narrative, but with little cohesion, or excitement. But the stage is set for what will hopefully not be more of the same. Sue had the line that best sums up what really drives Glee: “Not everyone can be champions. Not everyone should be champions.” As much as we root for the underdogs, what underlies our faith is the creeping sense that in the end, we, and they, are doomed to disappointment. When Glee captures that difficult blend of sincerity and sarcasm, it is like no other show on television.

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