Glee: Season 2 - Volume 1
R1 - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (5th March 2011).
The Show

As Ryan Murphy's Tuesday-night-hit “Glee” returns to the FOX airwaves after a much needed winter break, I'm apprehensive about the show's future. Almost at once a critical darling, the series struggled to find a large audience during the fall 2009 TV season. (Only to find a loyal band of self-proclaimed Gleeks, myself included, that stuck with it all the way though the first beautifully-crafted thirteen episodes.) It wasn’t until later, when “Glee” rebooted itself for the spring 2010 TV season – and a healthy promotional campaign from 20th Century Fox which included a barrage of reruns – that the series found massive success. When it came back for the final nine episodes of the first season last spring, with its new audience in mind, “Glee” was a different show – far less cynical and satirical, and much more commercial. Sad to say “Glee”, especially in the early episodes of the second season, has become such an unstoppable rating monster that it’s all but completely forgotten any underdog roots and is in danger of losing much of what made it so charming in the first place.

In some ways the show still works, and occasionally Murphy and company reach the same level of brilliance that made “Glee” one of my favorites of the 2009-2010 TV season, so it isn’t a complete waste. Not yet anyway. Just note that, whereas I somewhat unapologetically gushed over a favorite musical-satire in my review of the first season a while ago, there are quite a few negative criticisms I need to get off my chest here. “Glee” is in danger of becoming almost exactly what it fought so valiantly against during the New Directions’ initial outing. Unless changes are made before you know it Murphy’s show will be little more than a deplorable “High School Musical” (2006) knockoff. But, I’m getting ahead of myself; let's recap a bit.

Last season saw optimistic Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) start up The New Directions, McKinley High School’s very own glee club. Over the season long arc a veritable cast of characters joined the ranks of Schuester’s gaggle of misfits including: giddy ingénue Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), kind-hearted quarterback Finn Hudson (Cory Montieth) and his football buddies Noah “Puck” Puckerman (Mark Salling) and Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.), the only out gay kid at his school Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), wheel-chair bound Artie (Kevin McHale), stuttering Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), soulful Mercedes (Amber Riley), and the schools pregnant cheerleading captain Quinn Fabray (Diana Agron) and her two Cheerio cronies Santana (Naya Riviera) and Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris). Schuester led the team to a third place finish at the Regional Championship in the season one finale, where Quinn also gave birth to a baby girl that she gave up for adoption. Finn, who was dating Quinn until he found out that she cheated on him with the father of her child and his best friend Puck, finally got together with love-sick Rachel. Will Schuester triumphed professional over his nemesis, award-winning cheer-coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), only to fail in his personal life where his marriage to a high school sweetheart collapsed, and a subsequent follow up relationship with phobic guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) went nowhere but down.

Season two picks up from there, with Will trying to make the best of a bad situation. His love, Emma, has a new boyfriend. Sylvester is back with a terrible ferocity looking to take glee down, but Schuester’s club is so depressed over their loss that they can’t muster the strength to fight back. And his attempt to attract new members to the club nets Will just two possible canidates: Sunshine Corazon (Filipino pop sensation Charice) and a transfer student with a Bieber-cut and a big mouth named Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet). The delicious – but frankly depressing – irony in the writing and casting of these two characters is that Corazon, who disappears after the first episode, had a terrific voice (belting out a song from “Dreamgirls” (2006) better than anyone else on hand would be able to for “Glee”) while Evans is a flat character with a flat voice. Sam sticks around, joining “Glee” for real a little while later, and can be kind of funny-cute in the first few episodes when he begins to let his inner geek leak out (speaking Navi to impress a girl – Quinn, in the only subplot she gets any play in during the included 10 episodes – and delighting her with some stupid space trivia), but the writers have no idea what to do with him just six episodes into the season, and he already seems like dead weight by the mid-season finale. Overstreet also needs a helping hand from ye-olde “auto-tune” for even simple material but, unlike Cory Montieth who makes up for his lack of vocal prowess by playing some mean drums, can’t even play his guitar out of a three-note strum.

It’s often said that you have to take the good with the bad, and that’s certainly true with “Glee: The Second Season, Volume 1”. Although still among one of the best things on broadcast (but not cable) television right now, in its second season “Glee” is decidedly inferior to what it once was. The addition of Dot Marie Jones to the cast as the tyrannical-but-complex football coach Shannon Bieste (pronounced beast) is one of the few smart new characters; the promotion of two other minor characters (Brittany and Santana) to the main cast is also wise in that it interjects some new blood into the somewhat stale cast. The unfortunate flip side to this is that many other, “older” characters – namely Artie and Mercedes – and even the main protagonists – Will, Rachel and Finn – suffer considerably from lack of development. Kurt, one of the only old-standards to get any sort of progression of character so far this season, is just poorly written. He was interesting in the first season, not explicitly for his sexual orientation, but because he was complex (his relationship with his father was brilliantly done, I think). Murphy, who almost solely writes the characters storyline by himself (because he was that lonely gay kid in school; Kurt is his way of working though his own past), fails to realize that simply making the character gay isn’t enough. It's wasn't what made him intriguing. All of Kurt’s complexity is just sort of thrown out the window – which is shame because Chris Colfer plays the character really well – and that’s detrimental as a Kurt plot-arc involving bullying becomes one of the main focuses during the half-season, but it loses steam due to the sudden one-dimensionality of the character.

More good-bad: Co-creator and writer Ian Brennan’s sharp ear for ridiculous dialogue keeps me coming back, just because I want to hear what Lynch’s Sue Sylvester is going to say next – yet, sometimes even he (or more likely, showrunner Ryan Murphy, with his revision notes) can go too far. Sue in general is getting to be too big of a caricature, losing much of the depth that she had built up with her storyline last year. Likewise, the show can be poignant and refreshingly progressive when it wants to be – if less so than it once was – but can feel a bit too on-the-nose and rushed with certain storylines. The big reveal that Dave Karofsky (Max Adler), the big bad homophobic jock that becomes a problem for Colfer’s Kurt, is himself a repressed homosexual – and is secretly in love with Kurt to boot – is just too much, even for the fantasy world of “Glee”. The fact that Murphy then asks viewers to permit Karofsky’s redemption leaves a bad taste in my mouth; it comes dangerously close to – if not completely succeeding in – deflating a serious, topical issue and plotline into some soap-opera-ish deus ex machina that’s simply misplaced.

But it’s the bigger things, or the smaller things really, that are “Glee’s” current undoing. Should-be-simple concepts like character development seem to matter little or not at all these days, and even a basic sort of thing like continuity is laughably bad to the point that I think the writers might be purposefully screwing around to see if anyone is paying attention (I have to believe that; the alternative is that the writers don’t care about what they write, and that just makes me entirely bummed). Finn, a character who already suffered from a mild bipolarity in the first season, is now completely destroyed and instead forced into any role – borderline retarded doofus, unlikable douche bag, or sing-song leader – at random whenever the writers need him to, with no thought to consistency or content of character. As to the continuity: the writers can’t even seem to figure out if Kurt and Finn (now brothers by marriage) live in the same house anymore – even though that was a plotline that was discussed heavily last season!

Old characters just don’t make sense anymore. New characters, like Chord Overstreet’s Sam, just don’t work (it’s become increasingly clear that the actor was simply cast so he could stand around in his underwear; something he’s done it at least twice this season, including in one episode, as Rocky, in this DVD set). And even though the Shannon Bieste character remains likeable thanks to a wonderful turn by Jones, I cant help but feel that there’s some condescension in her and Schuester’s friendship. Their kiss in episode six (“Never Been Kissed”) is the wrong sort of uncomfortable; not the kind that makes “Glee” fun… just the kind that makes it awkward.

The once solid satirical roots of the show – built upon a terrifically sarcastic medley of Journey songs – struck down stereotypes by playing them up in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of way. It had real characters that were both consistent and developed; characters we actually cared about. The first season of “Glee” had a sense of knowing irony that bit back, something that I hope it regains (consistently) before it’s too late. Sure, the first half of the second season is still totally watchable, but it has flaws. Big flaws. As it is, I keep turning in; enjoying the show when it’s good (which it still can be in spades), and groaning when it’s not. Here’s hoping that the second half of this second season is better – or at least more consistent – than the first half.

“Glee: The Second Season, Volume 1” includes the first 10 episodes from the series' sophomore effort spread across three dual layer (DVD-9) discs. I question the point of this release. Fans will surely want the entire second season, and will shell out the cash for the inevitable “Complete” boxset coming in September, so who exactly does “Season 2.0” really appeal to. Reruns are plentiful, and Hulu and Fox even have some of these for streaming. This 3-disc set is half of a whole, and a problematic, inconsistent half at that. The problem here is that plotlines remain unresolved, new characters remain half-developed, and the number of episodes (two short of a mere dozen) make the sheer amount of event episodes and tent-poles daunting when crammed so close together. In a boxset twice the size, with 20 (or even 22) episodes, it’s easier to take densely packed blocks of story, and the sense of resolution offered by a complete season is far more rewarding than the unfinished feeling that this half-step release provides. I know come September I’ll be looking forward to the “Complete Second Season” in high definition, hoping that as a whole “Glee Season 2” will make a heck of a lot more sense. The episodes included in this set are:

- "Audition" - School is back in session and the Glee kids are in for a surprise. Expecting to be top dogs at McKinley, The New Directions are in for a bit of a shock when they return from summer break to a cascade of slushies and other forms of harassment. Will teams up with Sue after they both have their budgets cut to fund the football program under the leadership of a new mannish coach named Shannon Bieste. Finally, New Directions hold open auditions while power-couple Finn and Rachel are in disagreement as to who they should let join the group… but will anyone even show up at tryouts?

- "Britney/Brittany" - A visit to the dentist (John Stamos) sparks a series of Britney Spears (guest starring as herself) focused hallucinations for Brittany, Santana, Rachel and Artie. Said dentist turns out to be Carl Howell, guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury’s new beau, which causes problems for Will. The brilliance of this episode is the shot-for-shot recreations of Spears’ most iconic music videos; the forced device of having the kids put under sedation to enter into the fantasies is less sound. Also, this episode undoes some previous character history; Mercedes father is a dentist and Lima is a shockingly small town (something that writers continually state but seemingly forget). Surely most of the kids go to him for dental work?

- "Grilled Cheesus" - Or, as I like to call this episode, “Glee” gets God. When Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley) winds up in the hospital, Kurt and the other New Directions face questions of spirituality and religion. Kurt has a crisis of faith due to the church’s thoughts on his sexual orientation. Meanwhile Finn makes a Grilled Cheese sandwich that seems to have an oddly familiar face (hint, look that the title) burnt into the crust.

- "Duet" - Schuester assigns the kids a duet project for the week, which Finn and Rachel decide to throw in order to boost beleaguered Sam. A love-triangle develops between Artie, Tina and Mike Chang. Kurt thinks that someone else in the Glee club may be like him; something he contemplates while taking care of a recovering Burt.

- "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" - In “Glee’s” most ambitious episode to date, the New Directions stage a production of the too-hot-for-school “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Will gave the go-ahead because he wants to impress Emma, who loves the movie, but she’s busy getting cozy with Carl. Network executives (guest stars and “Rocky Horror” alums Meat Loaf Aday and Barry Bostwick) vet Sue Sylvester as they consider giving her a local weeknight news program, but there’s a catch – she needs to bring them a juicy story. Elsewhere, football players Finn and Sam discuss body image when it’s revealed that both need to appear on stage in their tighty-whiteys. The problem with this episode is that the writers have tried to cram way too much into a single forty-minute episode. Not only do they attempt (and almost succeed) to recreate the entirety of “Rocky Horror”, but also shove in labored subplots and a ton of characters, making everything seem rushed and, as a result, not as good. Had “Glee” made this a two-hour episode (or even 90-minutes) it would have been great; as it is it just doesn’t seem right. Plus, you actually have to like “Rocky Horror” for this episode to work, which a lot of people don’t, so you’re mileage will vary.

- "Never Been Kissed" - In another event episode, “Glee” takes on the teenage bullying phenomenon (and, by proxy, homophobia) but unfortunately stumbles. Kurt’s conflict with angry footballer Dave Karofsky comes to a head and leaves Kurt looking for a new place to call… school. What he finds is a fancy private place called Dalton Academy; a perfect all-boys institution that’s like a happy utopia where bullying doesn’t exist and no one uses the f-word (the three lettered one). It’s here that he meets Blaine (Darren Criss), a confident and out gay member of Dalton’s own glee club. Meanwhile, a wave of firsts – kisses that is – washes over McKinley High. My biggest criticism here, besides the above mentioned “forced reveal and redemption”, is that it begins the writers process of the writing Kurt out of the show without actually writing him out of the show (I’ll discuss this in more depth later this year with the complete second season). Also, Blaine is underdeveloped, but that has more to do with the “half-ness” of these 10 episodes; the character is getting more screen time in the newer episodes currently airing on TV.

- "The Substitute" - Schuester gets sick for the first time in years, which means the kids have a substitute (guest star Gwyneth Paltrow). Also, through an astonishingly unexplained bit of plot, Sue becomes principal for the week. In the only real subplot that Will gets in season two (at least so far) his ex-wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig) reappears to play nurse… and possibly rekindle their relationship. Meanwhile, the incredibly popular sub lets the glee club pick their own songs for a change, which culminates in a mash up of “Singin’ in the Rain” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella” – something that turns out to quite possibly be the worst thing to happen in music EVER. Somewhere, Gene Kelly’s ghost is plotting to kill someone for retribution.

- "Furt" - It’s a “Glee” Wedding! Yep, in yet another big episode, previously-engaged Burt Hummel and Finn’s mom Carole (Romy Rosemont) tie the knot and throw one heck of a party to celebrate… with a little help from the Glee kids, of course. Keeping with the theme, Sue plans to marry – bum-bum-dumb – herself. Guest star Carol Burnett plays Sue’s Nazi-hunting mother in a cameo that’s totally wasted. And, finally, the Kurt-Karofsky conflict is resolved in a startlingly inept way when Burt and Carole use their Honeymoon money to send Kurt off to the swanky Dalton Academy. Parts of “Furt” work; but most of it just doesn’t. From the awkward dialogue that brings up the unclear living arrangements of the Hummel-Hudson household, to unnecessary scenes with Sue, much of this episode squanders the warm-and-fuzziness that should surround one of the only relationships that the writers have played straight from the beginning. (The whole parental dating and remarriage plot with Burt, Carole and their respective kids was one of the more poignant pieces of season one).

- "Special Education" - It’s time for sectionals (already?) in another tent-pole episode crammed with subplots and songs that leave little breathing room for actual plot, character development or even a decent amount of suspense as to who will take first place in the competition. Rumors spoil relationships from within New Directions, meaning, once again, Finn and Rachel are on the outs. Puck, who’s suddenly a character again after disappearing into the juvenile detention system for no basically reason a few episodes earlier in the season, seeks out a replacement to fill the vacancy left by Kurt. And Kurt himself struggles to fit in at Dalton, which isn’t – surprise – as storybook perfect as he imagined.

- "A Very Glee Christmas" - Things come to a close with a startlingly mediocre Christmas themed episode. Unsurprisingly the plot mirrors “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. As you’d expect, Sue plays the Grinch; not so expectedly, her assistant Becky (Lauren Potter) actually dons antlers and a dog nose to play the part of Max. Resident dumbass Brittany is especially dunce-y this episode as a sixteen year old who still believes in Santa Claus. The fact that even the teachers placate her delusions just makes it worse. The mid-season finale plays up the Holidays in the worst way – and neglects to add a bit of Hanukah joy even though both Rachel and Puck are Jewish (something that the writers mention all the time in other episodes) – with sappy sentimentality and not a trace of irony. I’ve said it before, but I like my holiday specials to be a bit mean, or at least funny in a twisted way. This one isn’t, it’s just idiotic. Which is a shame because “Glee” really could have done better.

Video

I’ve gone from watching the show in 720p HDTV to 1080p via Blu-ray, back to HDTV, and now standard definition DVD, and one thing’s for sure – “Glee” looks good no matter the delivery format. Sure, the stronger compression, high resolution, and generally more filmic attributes of high def blu-ray make that the best viewing option, but as no Blu-ray option exists for this mid-season release, the DVD set suffices. Colors are bright and nice saturated, skintones are natural, the image has nice depth, clarity and detail are acceptable, and encoding and print anomalies are next to nil. Overall, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks great.

Audio

Again, the lossless DTS-HD mixes on the first season Blu-ray were pretty much perfect so the downgrade to lossy English Dolby Digital 5.1 is a bit disappointing… but for TV on DVD this is still quite good. Identical to the HD broadcast audio the 348 kbps 6-channel mix on all three discs sport adequate range, solid fidelity, decent clarity (I’ve heard the show sound better – in high definition, of course) and proper balance in the surrounds. The ADR work remains questionable at times, with a few of the musical numbers looking awkward. But, then again, cramming as much music into forty minutes a week as the “Glee” crew do is bound to take a toll somewhere, and unfortunately it’s the dubbing that gets hurt most it seems. (On that note: for as overly ambitious as “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” was it actually has surprisingly solid ADR.) Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Extras

The supplemental package is pretty standard fluff – hopefully the eventual Blu-ray (and DVD) of the complete season will have more substantial bonus material, like another Picture-in-Picture commentary with Murphy and company. The useful “Glee Music Jukebox” music feature from the previous season reappears here (more on that below), while a handful of decent but short featurettes make up the rest of the extras. A deleted scene features a new song from “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”. Unless otherwise noted all material is encoded in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.

DISC ONE:

Each disc includes “Glee: Music Jukebox” – the nifty music feature also found on the first season Blu-ray and DVD. “Music Jukebox” arranges all of the music from each episode into easily categorized playlists, so, if you so wish, instead of rewatching entire episodes, you can view the big musical numbers from the season in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. “Jukebox” essentially creates all-new chapter stops for the episodes, cutting out the entire plot. A “Shuffle” option randomizes the music contained on each disc; a “Play All” option (51 minutes 28 seconds total runtime) is also included. Disc One includes these songs:

- "Empire State of Mind"
- "Telephone"
- "Billionaire"
- "Listen"
- "What I Did For Love"
- "I’m A Slave For You"
- "Me Against the Music"
- "…Baby One More Time"
- "Stronger"
- "Toxic"
- "The Only Exception"
- "Only the Good Die Young"
- "I Look to You"
- "Papa, Can You Hear Me?"
- "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
- "Losing my Religion"
- "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
- "One of Us"
- "Don’t Go Breaking My Heart"
- "River Deep, Mountain High"
- "Le Jazz Hot!"
- "Sing!"
- "With You I’m Born Again"
- "Lucky"
- "Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy [Mash up]"

DISC TWO:

More “Jukebox” music feature means that more songs appear on disc two. A “Shuffle” option randomizes the music contained on this disc; a “Play All” option (40 minutes 42 seconds total runtime) is also included:

- "Science Fiction Double Feature"
- "Over at the Frankenstein Place"
- "Dammit Janet"
- "Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul"
- "Sweet Transvestite"
- "Touch-a, Touch-a Touch Me"
- "The Time Warp"
- "One Love (People Get Ready)"
- "Teenage Dream"
- "Start Me Up/Livin’ on a Prayer [Mash up]"
- "Stop! In the Name of Love/Free You Mind [Mash up]"
- "Conjunction Junction"
- "Forget You"
- "Make ‘em Laugh"
- "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag [Mash up]"
- "Singin’ in the Rain/Umbrella [Mash up]"
- "Ohio"
- "Marry You"
- "Sway"
- "Just the Way You Are"

Go behind the scenes of depravity at its finest with a featurette titled “The Making of the ‘Rocky Horror Glee Show’” which runs 6 minutes 47 seconds. Matthew Morrison, Jayma Mays, John Stamos, Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, episode director Adam Shankman and series choreographer/producer Zach Woodlee discuss production mishaps and share other stories about making the biggest tent-pole episode in “Glee” history. The original idea of having Uncle Jesse himself (Stamos) play Frank-N-Furter sounds delightfully wrong; too bad Fox caved at the last minute fearing the wrath of awful parents groups. Ms. Riley was good in the role though, so I guess it isn’t too much of a loss. The featurette on the other hand is too short to really get into it. These little episode-centric mini-docs could easily be 15 or 20 minutes each.

A throwaway bonus song, er, deleted scene (I really hesitate to really call it that) for “Planet, Schmanet, Janet” from “Rocky Horror” runs 1 minute 6 seconds.

DISC THREE:

The neat “Music Jukebox” music feature also appears on disc three and includes the following songs. A “Shuffle” option randomizes the music contained on the disc; a “Play All” option (24 minutes 55 seconds total runtime) is also included:

- "Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina"
- "The Living Years"
- "Hey, Soul Sister"
- "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life"
- "Valerie"
- "Dog Days Are Over"
- "The Most Wonderful Day of the Year"
- "Merry Christmas, Darling"
- "Baby, It’s Cold Outside"
- "You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch"
- "Last Christmas"
- "Welcome Christmas"

“Getting Waxed with Jane Lynch” (6 minutes 8 seconds) is a featurette that isn’t quite as scary as the title suggests. Lynch takes viewers to Madame Tussauds wax museum for the unveiling of an all wax replica of one Sue Sylvester. Pretty neat, and Lynch, as usual seems to be the complete opposite of her character: really nice and pleasant.

“The Wit of Brittany” (2 minutes 20 seconds) is a featurette that collects all of the great one-liners that McKinley’s most lovably dumb Cheerio has uttered so far this season.

“‘Glee’ at Comic-Con 2010” (14 minutes 53 seconds) is – aside from the “Music Jukebox” – probably the best special feature in this set. The pretty-obviously titled featurette includes about a third of the cast and crew panel from last years San Diego Comic-Con. Morrison, et al answer questions from the audience, discuss the show, and seem happy to do so.

Surprisingly there are no pre-menu or bonus trailers included on any of the three discs. Is Fox finally learning that people don’t want to be forced to watch advertisements on DVD's that they legally purchased? One can hope.

Packaging

“Glee: Season 2, Volume 1” is a DVD-only release. The 3-Disc Set contains the first 10 episodes from the second season and comes packaged in a narrow-spine clear Amaray keep case with an embossed slipcover. Note that a “Complete Second Season” boxset is planned for release later this year on both Blu-ray and DVD.

Overall

Although the episodes following the return from Winter hiatus (none of which are included in this set) have been consistently better – including a terrific football themed episode that followed the Super Bowl and featured a half-time show more impressive than the real thing – the ten episodes contained in “Glee: Season 2, Volume 1” represent a dire low point for Ryan Murphy’s musical TV series. There’s quite a few uncomfortable laughs to be had, some show-stopping performances and catchy numbers, and the writers patented sharp and quick-witted dialog remains funny and amusingly wicked. In short, much of what makes “Glee”… well… “Glee” in the first place, remains thankfully intact and the show remains almost addictively watchable. But massive flaws in continuity, character development, plot logic, and theme make the first half of “Glee’s” sophomore season pretty frustrating. I also see little point in buying a half-season set of a TV show. The practice of half-season DVD releases was bad when “Battlestar Galactica” (2004-2009) did it; it’s bad now. Even though the AV is solid for standard definition, I recommend holding off on this purchase. Scoop up the inevitable boxset of “Glee: The Complete Second Season” later this year – it’s bound to have more in-depth extras and the benefit of a blu-ray release. Plus you’ll have the entire story arc. For those reasons, “Glee: Season 2, Volume 1” is one for serious fans only.

The Show: B- Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: B-