In 10 Words or Less
Musical comedy meets the sophomore slump
Loves: Good musicals
Dislikes: Style over substance, bland performances
Hates: Wasteful Blu-Ray releases
The Story So Far...
Exploding out of the gates with a mix of cheerful pop music, dark comedy and heavy melodrama, Glee captured the hearts and minds of critics and audiences, bringing the musical back into the spotlight as it showcased a gaggle of underdog high school singers and their struggles in a world that doesn't accept them or their art. The show's produced a number of DVD releases, with half-season volumes and best-of collections, and DVDTalk has reviews of several of them.
With a series that dared to explore a low-lying genre via a large ensemble cast, quickly building a sizable and loyal audience while juggling a multitude of storylines, one had to wonder if the magic could be maintained. But unfortunately, the show relied too much on what worked well in the first season, and stagnated in the second, introducing new characters, then ignoring them, while never quite fleshing out the original cast. Then there was the whole thing about the creators talking about changing the cast to keep things fresh, only to stick with the popular characters, possibly out of a fear of alienating fans, while eventually doing just that.
But enough about Heroes. We've got a whole different second-season disappointment to discuss today. Even if there are a lot of similarities.
After unapologetically embracing Ryan Murphy's unconventional musical offspring, it felt like, after season two, maybe someone should have apologized to the fans, who, based on the show's late-season ratings, had had enough. As good as the first season was, it lingered in storylines like the Finn-Quinn baby thread and the obnoxious Will-Terri fake-baby plot far too long, so it was good to see them wrapped up. However, the show seemed to be back to bad habits, getting stuck in a rut in the second season, bringing us back to the same drama again and again. Unfortunately, this problem is compounded this season by episodes that sacrificed story and characters for iTunes singles, guest stars and theme episodes.
Though the season is somewhat dominated by the very high-school concept of couples, including the on-again, off-again relationship between glee club stars Finn (Cory Monteith) and Rachel (Lea Michele) and the various bad relationships that the kids' teacher Will (Matt Morrison) can lay claim to, and the annual glee choir competitions remains an ever-present raison d'etre for the show, homosexuality and homophobia are key themes, represented by Kurt (Chris Colfer) and cheerleaders Brittany (Heather Morris) and Santana (Naya Rivera). All three experience legitimately life-changing growth this season, with Brittany and Santana becoming fully-realized characters as well, graduating from the realm of walking punchlines. While Morris has always been a big deal on the show, Rivera's really come forward to shine, as both a comedic actor and a singer, with her performance of Amy Winehouse's "Valerie" ranking as a season two musical highlight.
Though Brittany and Santana's story is a good one, it's Kurt's experience that made the biggest impact on the show, as his torment at the hands of Dave Karofsky, a closeted football player taking out his confusion on the school's only openly gay student, forced him to leave school. As a result, bullying came to the forefront on the show and Santana was inspired to consider her own feelings toward Brittany, her friend with same-sex benefits. But more important, it sent Kurt to Dalton Academy, where he meets Blaine (Darren Criss.) The de facto leader of The Warblers, the school's a cappella group, Blaine not only added a new, impressive voice the show's soundtrack, becoming THE singing star of the show, but he let Kurt actually be a gay teen for the first time (discounting his oddly predatory attempt to woo Finn in the first season.) Best of all, he wasn't there just to date Kurt, which would have been rather easy, rather serving as a mentor to his new pal. He also served up three of the best songs of the season, out-Perrying Katy on "Teenage Dream," tearing it up in an awkward serenade on "When I Get You Alone" and giving a definitive performance on Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know."
Blaine isn't the only new addition to the show, as the series loaded up the cast in the second season, continuing a trend from the end of the first go-round. Sam (Chord Overstreet) signed on as a transfer football player who also sings, but there wasn't much for him do until the season was basically over, unless he was half-naked, channeling Justin Bieber or being on the receiving end of Santana's barbs. The same goes for Sunshine (Charice) whose amazing voice goes to waste in just a few appearances. The new football coach, Beist (Dot-Marie Jones), was far more integral, giving the show someone who could stand up to Sue, and another part of the show's war on intimidation. But even she pales in comparison to the star power projected by Holly Holliday (Gwyneth Paltrow), a substitute teacher with a lust for life and Will. Though only in town for a short while, her performances were memorable, especially on the censor-friendly version of Cee-Lo's hit "F you."
The music is and will probably always be the best thing about the series, which isn't hard when you're cherry picking hits songs, but even the originals they came up with were good, with "Loser Like Me" being a very good pop song. But even the music became an issue, for a number of reasons, first and foremost being the sheer amount of it. Obviously when you sell the number of downloads Glee has, there's a temptation to add even more opportunities to move product, and the show did just that, to the point where there were episodes that had as many as nine songs in 44 minutes. That doesn't leave a lot of time to tell good stories. Maybe this would have been forgivable if the songs were particularly interesting, but so many are just note-for-note covers, where earlier episodes put unique spins on music. When you have to crank out so many songs though, well...creativity takes time.
The music issue came to the fore in another way with the preponderence of theme episodes, which forced songs into the show even when it doesn't really make sense. The Britney Spears episode, which saw several characters dream Spears songs under the influence of anesthesia in the dentist chair of Dr. Carl (John Stamos) (an example of the show's fluid sense of reality), was essentially a handful of music videos strung together. The less said about the "Rocky Horror Glee how" the better, as the performances were mostly generic (Jayma Mays "Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me" is well done and appropriate) and the changes to the show were unnecessary, though the "Rumours" episode, built around the Fleetwood Mac album, actually worked because the feel of the album matched the feel of the episode, with both focusing on friction between artists falling out of love but still working together. Meanwhile, outside of the Kurt/Blaine duet on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," the Christmas episode is just mawkish and ridiculous, thanks in no small part to the over-the-top "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," complete with a green-skinned Sue Sylvester as the Grinch. No scene in this entire set more accurately illustrates what can go wrong with Glee.
The 22 episodes of the second season of Glee are spread over four dual-layer Blu-Ray discs, which are packed in a slightly wider than average Blu-Ray keepcase, with episode titles and special features printed inside the back cover. Unfortunately, they are all but illegible through the case's blue plastic. The main menu offers a choice to play all the episodes, select shows, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. There are no audio options but subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French.
The 1080p AVC-encoded (18 MBPS) video looks terrific here, with fantastic detail and lush color that is a revelation in comparison to the HD broadcast. The level of detail is actually a hindrance in places, as the concern that HD would show actors in a harsh light has come true, with several cast members looking a bit worse for wear (not naming any names.) They've even got a handle on the sharp red that's the signature color of the series, which has burned too hot on previous releases. Fleshtones look similarly good, though the black levels could be a bit deeper. Overall, a tremendous looking release.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks naturally sound best during the musical numbers, exploding with the more boisterous tunes, which fill the surrounds and get healthy support from the LFE. You're not going to find much in the way of directional sound or anything otherwise dynamic though, as the dialogue scenes tend to be front-and-center, delivering some minor atmospheric effects in the surrounds. Everything is clean and crisp though, with the voices sounding strong and well-defined. Hearing individuals stand out from the crowd in the group numbers adds a lot to the effect of the music.
There's a pretty nice spread of extras on this set, starting with the useful Glee Music Jukebox feature which takes you directly to the songs on each disc. Outside of a few spots where songs cut off a beat too early, this is what the Glee Encore Blu-Ray should have been (though full-length songs would be nice), giving you the chance to enjoy the show's biggest strength. It's easy to while away far too much time watching these performances.
Disc one offers two other extras, focused on the Rocky Horror episode. "The Making of the Rocky Horror Glee Show" (6:47) is a look behind the scenes on the big theme episode, with interviews for the cast and crew, including director Adam Shenkman, and plenty of on-set footage. There's some fun stuff here, especially Colfer's comments on the costumes and Mays' thoughts on the episodes' abs focus. It could have been a bit longer, focusing on the music as well (there's a small amount of that, like a clip of Mays' audition for the series with "Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me") but it's certainly entertaining. It's followed by an exclusive cut song from the episode, "Planet, Schmanet, Janet." Don't get too excited though, as the song is short and the video is just the famous Rocky Horror lips singing the tune.
Disc four is where you'll find the rest of the extras, starting with "Building Glee's Auditorium with Cory Monteith," a 5:31 featurette about the effort that went into recreating the actual high school auditorium the show originally shot in, with Monteith touring the finished product. It also gives some insight into the roles of the production designer and set decorator, via interviews, offering nice behind-the-scenes info. "Day in the Life of Brittany" (5:45) is far less informative, but way more entertaining, as the character of Brittany S. Pierce tours the set, interacting with the crew, who prove why they are behind the camera.
"Shooting Glee New York City" (10:31) is a rather extensive wrap-up of the show's experiences filming on-location in the Big Apple, loaded with on-set footage and interviews. The thing though that stands out most is choreographer Zack Woodlee's explanation on how Artie got up on the fountain at Lincoln Center. "Guesting on Glee" (8:06) highlights another big element of season two, with interviews with the show's big guest stars, including Paltrow, Charice, Carol Burnett, Kristen Chenoweth, Jonathon Groff and Stamos. Another guest star, of sorts, is the reason for "Stevie Nicks Goes Glee" a 3:34 look at the singer's set visit during the filming of the show's take on her famous "Landslide." Her statements about it are a bit over-the-top, but hey, so is she in many way.
A couple of best-of compilations are up next, with the 2:15 "Sue's Quips," the 2:51 "Santana's Slams" and the 2:20 "The Wit of Brittany." Though the Santana lines are entertaining, and Sue's are funny, Brittany's madness is going to win every time. And while the title "Getting Waxed with Jane Lynch" brought many possibilities, what it delivered was a truly interesting 6:08 look at the making of Madame Tussauds' wax statue of Sue Sylvester.
The final extra is the largest, a 15-minute clip from the 2010 San Diego Comiccon panel, featuring Rivera, Morris, Jenna Ushkowitz, Amber Riley,Kevin McHale, Colfer, and Murphy. Colfer wins the prize for knowing his audience, by wearing a Decepticon shirt, but everyone pleases the crowd in this fun, informal chat, as it's hard to fail when the crowd screams for everything you say.
The Bottom Line
Season Two left a lot to be desired for fans of Glee, a fact that's easy to see from not only the show's declining ratings but also the reactions of the show's creators in approaching the third season. But despite that, the show's strengths remain ever-present, if you're willing to stick through the less engaging elements. The presentation however is top-notch and there's a decent number of bonus items to make your purchase a more worthwhile option if you're a Gleek.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.