Television review: ‘Glee’

The second season of “Glee” is going to be much harder to pull off than the first.

It’s not that the knives are out — although having a special issue of People devoted to the show was truly weird and annoying. It’s just that while the glorious and joyful noise of the first season rocked most everyone back on their heels, we’re all caught up on the soundtracks and the live shows, Jane Lynch and Ryan Murphy have got their Emmys and now we’re looking forward to “Glee’s” becoming a real television show.

One with actual story lines instead of narrative transitions for groovy tunes. Characters who develop instead of having convenient revelations just in time for the big numbers, after which they fall back into their cartoonish character outlines. And please, God, no more jokes about Will Schuester’s ( Matthew Morrison) hair.

Even as “Glee” became an instant cultural landmark, its first season was plagued by many shortcomings. Narratives vacillated between the occasionally sublime (the sweet and lovely relationship between Kurt [ Chris Colfer] and his father) and the often ridiculous (Terri’s [ Jessalyn Gilsig] fake pregnancy). And pesky questions — where are Rachel’s fathers? Why doesn’t some PTA power mom demand a ban on slushies? — became increasingly loud and frustrating.

Most fans, and critics, chose to focus instead on the many wonders of “Glee,” but the long haul, and we all hope “Glee” is in it for the long haul, requires a little less flash and a bit more foundation.

Which the premiere of Season 2 seems to promise. Sort of. Maybe. Certainly the issue of the musical choices — which I, who came of age in the ‘80s, have written lovingly about — is addressed almost instantly with school gossip blogger Jacob (Josh Sussman) asking Will if he will respond to charges that his playlist resembles a “drag queen’s iPod.” Everyone’s back from summer vacation and up to date. With covers of “Empire State of Mind,” “Telephone” and “Billionaire,” “Glee” goes straight for the KIIS-FM set. (Will Ryan Seacrest join the celebrity guest-star ranks?)

More important, story lines are introduced that seem a bit more elastic, if also more traditional, than in the past. Rachel ( Lea Michele) and Finn ( Cory Monteith) are officially and sweetly together, but both have competition — Finn from multitalented new student Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Rachel from Sunshine, played by YouTube wunderkind Charice Pempengco. Quinn ( Dianna Agron) is back and ready to return to the Cheerios, over Santana’s ( Naya Rivera) newly enhanced dead body, and Tina ( Jenna Ushkowitz) has given Artie ( Kevin McHale) the shove in favor of last season’s dance hottie Mike (Harry Shum Jr.). Tension runs high among the adults as well when Dot Jones shows up as the new pit-bull-in-lipstick football coach, giving Sue a new, and marvelously matched, nemesis.

Though funny and fabulous, the tone of the season premiere is as harsh as those famously flung slushies, with an emphasis on girl fights and not nearly enough of Mercedes ( Amber Riley), Brittany ( Heather Morris) or Kurt. (Emma [ Jayma Mays] and Terri were both MIA.) But it’s a big cast and a long season, and promises have been made — Emma will have a new beau in John Stamos, Brittany will go face to face with her more famous namesake, and Kurt will finally fall in love, possibly with Sam. For the most part, the episode makes sense, with only one non-sequitur song — Rachel’s “What I Did for Love,” which seemed shoehorned in by Michele’s agent — and some interesting story possibilities, from both the new kids and the old ones.

Though I’d really like to meet Rachel’s dads at some point, wouldn’t you?