Musical comedy meets the sophomore slump
The Story So Far...
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 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.
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.
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