Welcome Back “GLEE”! The phenomenal phenomenon returned to TV on Tuesday night with a great big Hell-o! It was the first episode we’ve seen that was filmed after “Glee” became a bona fide hit, and the show winks at its newfound celebrity status, and reassures us that the next part of the season will be even more sensational than the first. And based on this premiere installment, we have many reasons to believe that ‘The Road to Regionals’ will indeed take the magic to the next level!

Right off the bat, we see that winning the trophy at Sectionals (and a Golden Globe for Best Comedy) doesn’t mean all that much in the day-to-day lives of the Gleeks and geeks at McKinley High School. Blue slushies are still waiting to splash the kids in the face, competitors are tougher than ever, and Sue Sylvester’s back with a vengeance.

That’s right. Despite her attempt to sabotage the Glee Club at Sectionals, the Cheerios Coach by-passed suspension by methodically drugging the Principal, putting him in a precarious position, grabbing some evidence and holding it over his head as blackmail. Next on Sue’s diabolical agenda is hatching a plan to annihilate the glee club for good, while mercilessly mocking Mr. Schuester’s hair. Oh it’s good to have her back!

There are a few things that have changed at McKinley. Rachel has decided that she and Finn are a power couple on-stage and off. Also, it’s basketball season, and Finn (Post-Quinn) secretly wants to ditch Rachel’s his/her cat calendars and pull a Jessica Simpson like Emma Pillsbury-rejectee, Coach Tenaka. FYI: Pulling a Jessica Simpson meant Ken lost his fiancé, gained forty pounds, stopped showering, and everyone acted like it was totally normal.

At glee practice, Mr. Schuester lets everyone know that it’s time to say ‘Hello’ to a new New Directions and the assignment for the week is to come up with a new song that has the word “hello” in the title. Unfortunately this assignment inadvertently assists Sue with her sabotage plans.

At Mr. Schue’s suggestion, Finn uses the assignment to get to know the new and improved Finn.  Singing The Doors’ “Hello I Love You,” (our first song back!) Finn fantasizes about the 2.0 version of himself, a rock star/basketball star/stud surrounded by cheerleaders and adored by all. Now in touch with his inner rock star, Finn decides to accept a dinner date with Britney/Santana (working on behalf of Sue’s Sabotage Plan) and inform Rachel that he doesn’t want to be her boyfriend.

Hell hath no fury like a diva scorned by her insecure leading man and Rachel sums up her feelings for Finn with a “Hello minus the O” song, the All American Rejects anthem, “Gives You Hell.” It’s a good FU song to Finn, fun to see the whole Glee Club getting into it, and great to hear Lea Michele sing anything. (Although her best vocal offering is still to come at this point!)

Mr. Schuester reminds Rachel that they are going up against Vocal Adrenaline at Regionals,  the Goliath of Glee Clubs. In other words, go to the music store, find a new “Hello” song, and do not fraternize with the lead singer of said rival glee club. Rachel accomplishes two of the three, giving in to the allure of Vocal Adrenaline legend, Jesse St. James (played by Lea Michele’s “Spring Awakening” co-star, Jonathan Groff).  You gotta love how he critiques her Sectional-winning performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” before convincing her to sing a duet with him (accompanied by the musicians he performs with when giving impromptu concerts for the homeless, natch). By the end of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Rachel has fallen head over heals in love. Girl’s always been a sucker for a guy who can sing harmonies with her.

Meanwhile, Britney and Santana are on a date with Finn. From comparing Rachel to an Israeli Pippi Longstocking whose sweaters make her look home-schooled to offering up random ridiculous factoids: “Did you know, dolphins are just gay sharks?” Britney and Santana gave us comedy on par with a Sue Sylvester scene. LOVED IT! (Also, I have to mention Britney’s other funniest line of the night… SUE: ANYTHING ELSE? BRITNEY: SOMETIMES I FORGET MY MIDDLE NAME.)

The final couple having a date night is Will and Emma. After being blocked by her OCD earlier in the day, Will takes a more romantic approach that involves dancing and singing along to Neil Diamond.  Swept up in the moment he attempts another kiss and Emma confesses that her OCD problem has rendered her experience in the sack nonexistent (and we have a new candidate to sing “Like a Virgin” in next week’s Madonna-themed episode). The night ends with the pair watching Jerry Bruckheimer DVD’s that Terry Schuester has left behind.

After his date with B/S, Finn apologizes to Rachel, who tells him that it’s too late because she’s found her Romeo/Edward Cullen (you know the girl’s obsessed – he’s a musician after all!) Finn suspects foul play and alerts Mr. Schuester, who springs into action and drops in on the “Highway to Hell”-singing Vocal Adrenaline. Ms Corcoran, played by Lea Michele look-alike, Idina Menzel listens as Will informs her of the romance brewing between their star pupils, and soon they’re on his couch making out while she chatters on about her glee club in a very Rachel-esque way. (Also, she did say that most of the men she makes out with are gay… perhaps a clue that she is indeed Rachel’s MIA Biological Mom.) Finally, like Rachel, she tells it how it is and informs Mr. Schuester that his life is a mess, before giving him her card and saying to call her when he’s all sorted out.

On the other side of this romantic farce, Sue Sylvester delivers one of her finest lines of the episode, blasting Britney and Santana for being “the stupidest teens she’s ever encountered… which is saying something since I once taught a cheerleading seminar to a young Sarah Palin.” They inform her that Rachel is singing love songs with the enemy, and a new plan is hatched.

Certain that the other choir kids will make Rachel choose between love and glee club, Sue assembles a group of “mustache-sporting teenage girls with glandular problems” to share cautionary tales of not following your heart. Rachel’s response is characteristically dramatic, as she confronts the forbidden object of her affection and warns him of the life and death stakes of their situation. Of course, she means death in the Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were” sense of it, but Jesse gets the idea and introduces himself to her, this time as the guy who’s nuts about her and would never hurt her. She gives in to their secret romance and we see Idina Menzel waiting in the wings. Should have known any guy with the names Jesse and James was bad news.

Back at school, Emma and Will put their plans for romance on hold. It turns out their song was Will’s Junior Prom song, and before he goes and serenades another girl to the musical stylings of Neil Diamond, Will needs to figure out his own needs. Perhaps when he does, Emma will be able to kiss him without needing an hour of prep time. 

Rachel lies to Finn and informs him that she and Jesse are over. Finn shows her the dates he circled on her crazy calendar, but she tells him that they can’t be together either… for the good of the team. Finn promises that he won’t give up that easily, and all the flip-flopping back and forth, and ups and downs of all our couples are summed up in a satisfying Glee Club performance of “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles, that ends with an emotionally wrought Rachel walking off the stage .

AND THEN… We get a sneak peak at the Madonna episode and Sue Sylvester’s “Vogue” music video, and I hope that my expectations for this being no less than the greatest hour of television ever are met! Bring on “The Power of Madonna!”

Story by Elissa Farkas

Starpulse contributing writer