Before I had seen it, I figured FOX’s Glee would rank somewhere between Kate Gosselin and Justin Bieber on the pop culture scale of annoyance. Don’t get me wrong — I like musical theater, but there just seemed to be something about the show that would provoke a love-it-or-hate-it response. And I expected my reaction to be the latter.
So, after tearing through all 22 episodes of the first season in quick succession, I was surprised at how ambivalent I remained toward the entire production. On the one hand, Glee is packed with engaging performers, from Broadway stars Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele to the delightfully unhinged Jane Lynch and Stephen Tobolowsky, but on the other, it’s reaching for a brand of tonal snarkiness that plays like a kid-gloves version of Alexander Payne’s Election. And don’t get me started on the relationship drama — obviously necessary for a show about high school life, but so overplayed, it threatens to weigh down the entire enterprise.
Glee takes place in the cultural wasteland of small town Ohio — not exactly the ideal location for someone who loves show tunes — and William McKinley High School has a lot more love for athletics than it does for the fledgling glee club. The entire school is under the thumb of cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Lynch), who’s guided her squad to every award in sight thanks to a regimen of hard work and unrelenting belittlement.
Glee club is on its way out the door (a too-friendly-with-the-students director played by Tobolowsky doesn’t help matters) when Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Morrison) steps in to rescue it. A former member himself, Will realizes it’s one of the few experiences that’s made him happy in life.
Initially, the club attracts the school’s misfits, led by overachiever Rachel Berry (Michele), who believes herself destined to be a star — she’s got the talent to back it up, but not the social graces — and eventually, the club is filled out with members from all of the school’s social spheres in a fit of happenstance that’s about as probable as the appearance of a cadre of backing musicians every time one of the characters bursts into song.
As a musical, Glee is pretty successful, dividing its numbers between diegetically motivated rehearsals and performances as well as the old musical standby – the fantasy number. While the cast has the magic of TV post-production to aid their performances, there’s still no doubt that it’s a talented group, and the singing and choreography is almost always the highlight of every episode.
Plot-wise, the show has some diversifying to do if it doesn’t want to run out of steam really quickly. Most episodes hinge on the fact that glee club is just one wrong move away from being cut from the school’s budget, and the menacing Sue Sylvester is always there, eager to give the final push. Season one’s pulled-back-from-the-grave turnaround pretty much ensures it’s a story strategy we’ll see more of.
Still, though the show often walks a tightrope between endearing and grating, it’s overall a winner, with an exuberance that feels lacking in a lot of television. As long as it sticks with impressive and genre-pushing musical numbers and plenty of wiseass remarks from Lynch, Glee will have something worth watching.
The seven-disc complete first season DVD set comes with its fair share of bonus features — the same that appear on the separate volume one and two releases. The volume one extras appear on disc four, and include featurettes on casting, the making of the show and many short snippets on a number of cast members. There’s a faux-promotional video for McKinley High and a music video as well.
Most of the other bonus features appear on disc seven, including dance lessons from the show’s choreographer, clothing tips from the show’s costume designer and episode-specific looks at the Madonna show and the finale, which features a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Spread across several discs is a song-only feature that allows you to jump right to the musical numbers as well as a karaoke feature, which silences the lead singer’s voice and gives you the lyrics on the screen.
Glee is responsible for some blips on that pop culture annoyance scale, but for the most part, it endears despite its flaws.