Most TV shows have a way of evolving throughout their runs, and FOX’s Glee is no different — although “devolving” might be the more accurate description. At one point, Glee had strong satirical elements, as its original tagline — “A biting comedy for the underdog in all of us” — can attest to, but any narrative sharpness was gone by the end of season one, and it rarely makes an appearance in season two, now out on Blu-ray.
Now Glee doesn’t have to be laced with wit to be a good show, but its increasingly soap-like narrative threads, disregard for previously established plot points and character traits and glut of guest stars remind one of co-creator Ryan Murphy’s previous show Nip/Tuck. And just like Nip/Tuck would cut to another sex scene when the drama threatened to go stale, Glee inserts a musical number — many of which, it must be said, remain electrifying and the primary reason to watch the show. If most of the numbers aren’t terribly integrated and are more of a detour than a complementary narrative thrust, well, let’s not put too much pressure on the show, OK?
Season two opens with the glee club reeling from a loss at regionals and looking to right the ship with the addition of some new members — Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) and Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink). But being that most of Glee’s plotting revolves around the various romantic permutations the show explores, it might be easiest to put the season’s quality in perspective by looking at the hook-ups.
The love triangle between Rachel, Finn and Quinn (Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Dianna Agron) is mostly one aggravation after another, with Rachel and Finn both tipping the over-eager scales (albeit, in different ways), and Quinn entirely underrepresented. The fame/love dichotomy that Rachel is constantly battling with is a potentially interesting one, but the show keeps her treading water — the re-appearance of Jonathan Groff’s Jesse St. James near the end of the season is a particularly lazy way to keep her in the lurch.
Also rather aggravating is glee coach Will Schuester, who Matthew Morrison plays with such a smarmy edge, it’s difficult to root for anything he does. In season two, he has to watch his love Emma (Jayma Mays) fall for her dentist (John Stamos, in one of the tolerable guest arcs) while fending off the advances of ex-wife Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig). But no worries, Will gets some loving courtesy of substitute teacher Holly (Gwyneth Paltrow, in one of the not so tolerable guest arcs), who’s a more carefree version of himself.
Other relationships that yield more dramatic fruit (let’s be honest — the show has mostly ceased to be a comedy in any real regard) are those of Kurt (Chris Colfer), who has to deal with harassment from a closeted bully (Max Adler), budding feelings for a classmate at his new school (Darren Criss) and confusion from his well-intentioned dad (Mike O’Malley). Here, we have easily the most satisfying relational arcs of the series, even if the whole business of having Kurt transfer to an all-boys school back to McKinley is just idle moving of chess pieces. Colfer is able to tap into real emotional pain amidst the glibness of much of the rest of the show, and his scenes with both Adler and O’Malley are riveting.
Even more surprising is the emotional richness we saw in the relationship between Santana and Brittany (Naya Rivera and Heather Morris), two characters who transcended their one-note status as the bitch and the airhead in season two as they revealed how much they cared about each other.
Glee still has problems maintaining a good balance among its large ensemble cast, meaning relationships like the one between Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Mike (Harry Shum Jr.) get pretty much glossed over.
Of course, the show leaves plenty of room for Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the domineering cheerleading coach and sworn enemy of the glee club. Lynch and Lauren Potter, who plays her henchman Becky, never cease to be entertaining, and Sue is the one comedic element of the show that works, but it’s also a horribly written character. She careens from irredeemably evil to sentimentally caring in the space of just a few episodes; just a pawn used by the writing staff to inject some conflict and/or heart whenever needed. Lynch deserves better, but her comedic chops make for a character that’s iconic anyway.
Also bothersome is season two’s increasing self-awareness of its own supposed profundity. This results in a string of very special episodes giving us banal observations on sex, alcohol and the utter meanness of high school kids. I’ll take the rich satire of Alexander Payne’s Election (which is blatantly cribbed from to lackluster effect in episode “Prom Queen”) over these mealy-mouthed portrayals of social problems any day.
As for the music, it remains a kind of cultural force all its own. On the whole, the performances are largely enjoyable, with the pop songs generally getting a much-needed facelift — any Katy Perry song sounds instantly better when it’s not her singing it — and the musical theater renditions reminding us of the greatness of the originals.
Glee will probably never reach any kind of television greatness. It hasn’t taken it long at all to become sloppy and wildly inconsistent, but it’s also a unique melodrama/musical hybrid that makes it unlike anything else on TV. For that reason alone, it remains a show to keep an eye on.
The Blu-ray Discs
The 22 episodes of season two are spread across four discs, all presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The show retains its glossy, slick appearance here on Blu-ray, with bright, bold colors and rich surface detail. The image is always at peak sharpness and colors and contrast are stable throughout. I doubt it could look much better than this.
Audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and the audio even outpaces the superb image quality, with excellent range and dynamic sound, particularly in the musical numbers, which feature similarly glossy production values. Non-musical scenes also offer perfect clarity.
Each of the four discs features Glee Music Jukebox, which allows one to skip directly to the musical numbers on the disc. A shuffle mode is also available.
On disc one, we also get a short making-of of the rather atrocious “Rocky Horror” episode. Like most of the extras here, it’s a fluff piece and no one addresses the bowdlerizing of the original music. Also on the disc is an audio-only version of cut song “Planet Schmanet Janet” from the episode.
The rest of the extras are found on disc four, with most of the featurettes between five and 10 minutes. Monteith brings his dopey personality to an overview of the construction of an auditorium set, which replaced the actual high school auditorium used in season one. Morris acts in character as Brittany for a set tour, with all of her goofy ignorance front and center.
There’s a making-of the season finale’s shoot in New York City as well as a look at the season’s guest stars and the surprise appearance of Stevie Nicks during the shooting of “Rumours.”
Probably the best featurette is the look at Madame Tussaud’s’ creation of a Sue Sylvester wax figure, which shows Lynch undergoing the grueling casting process and its eventual unveiling at the Hollywood location.
The Glee 2010 Comic-Con panel Q&A is also included, but since this is from before season two even began shooting, it’s rather out-of-date here. Rounding out the disc are three collections of clips featuring the best lines from Sue, Santana and Brittany. Oddly, the majority of the quips in each segment come from the first season, which seems to be an implicit endorsement of the first season’s writing over the second’s.
The Bottom Line
While season two is quite a mess, the show’s presentation on Blu-ray is superb, and there are enough moments to make you want to keep plugging away at the series, even against your better judgment.