LOS ANGELES — "Glee" is back for its sophomore year with a new football coach, two new ear- and eye-catching students, and an identity crisis for big man on campus Finn.
There's also something of an identity crisis for Fox TV's hit series as trouble comes fast and furious for the McKinley High glee club and its members in Tuesday's debut episode (8 p.m. ET). There's barely room for the buoyancy that infused "Glee" last season.
"Let's show them how down we are," says glee club director Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), challenging his students to stage a number that will persuade others to join the club branded as a way station for losers.
Instead, the hour itself verges on being a downer. Will goes to the dark side with cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, Rachel's self-absorption becomes ickier and, most unsettling of all, a molestation accusation is played, literally, with a wink.
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But there's still joy to be had in the series that was nominated for a best comedy Emmy Award, losing last month to "Modern Family," as the glee clubbers make the most of "Empire State of Mind" and Lea Michele, as Broadway-bound belter Rachel, owns (no surprise) "What I Did for Love."
There's also the introduction of two fresh-faced students with singing chops: an exchange student with a big smile and bigger voice (played by teenage pop star Charice, whose fan club includes Oprah Winfrey); and a golden-boy athlete (Chord Overstreet of "iCarly," with cuteness of Justin Bieber dimensions).
Can they help McKinley's New Directions, which last year fell short at the regional competition, make it to the nationals in the Big Apple and defeat arch rival Vocal Adrenaline? Maybe.
The other McKinley newcomer is a female gridiron coach with a winning record, who quickly proves a formidable rival for Cheerios chief Sue (Emmy-winner Jane Lynch).
Coach Shannon Beiste (pronounced "beast" because "it's French," she helpfully explains) wants the school budget to put football ahead of cheerleading. That won't do for Sue, who enlists Will in a plot to undermine Beiste (an effective Dot Marie Jones).
A "female football coach is like a male nurse: sin against nature," snarls Sue. Coach Beiste doesn't quite have the hang of trash talk, telling Sue, "You're all coffee and no omelet."
Quarterback-singer Finn (Cory Monteith) becomes an inadvertent victim of the faculty clash and has to cope with the fallout while nurturing his reignited romance with Rachel.
Finn's former love, Quinn (Dianna Agron) is back in pre-pregnancy form and ready to reclaim her spot as Cheerios queen bee. Santana (Naya Rivera), meanwhile, is finding that the quest for physical perfection comes at a price.
In its first year, "Glee" neatly combined music, edgy humor and coming-of-age poignancy. As long as pain doesn't eclipse the show's charm, "Glee" viewers will have something to sing about as the season unfolds.
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