Fox // 2010 // 1000 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // September 28th, 2011
"It's a Britney Spears sex riot!!!"
There is an inherent dichotomy to American popular culture: we love to build things up, just to tear them down. The minute something becomes a hit, we're looking forward to the crash and burn. Thus is the case with Glee, whose freshman season ramrodded itself into the cultural zeitgeist with one Platinum and two Gold cast albums, an encyclopedia of pithy phraseology, and one of the greatest TV villains since Joan Collins' Alexis Carrington-Colby. Pre-release clips of their musical numbers flooded Facebook, Twitter hung on every new series development, and iTunes sold mp3 singles immediately after the episodes aired. As you'll see from my review of Season One, I was sucked in right along with everyone else. But when the buzz of a season-long bender wears off, sobriety can be a bitch, and Glee: The Complete Second Season is our AA wake-up call.
Welcome back to McKinley High. All is pretty much as we left it last spring. Cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is still a raging meglomaniac. Her arch-nemsis Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) is still championing his Glee Club and rarely teaching Spanish. Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) still has little control over his staff. And the students continue to address their adolescent issues through music and dance.
However, there are some noticeable changes. Guidance Counselor Emma Pilsbury (Jayma Mays) gets married. The school has a new female football coach in Shannon Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones). Puck (Mark Salling) is remanded to juvenile detention for attempting to steal an ATM. Karofsky (Max Adler) torments Kurt (Chris Colfer) into transferring schools, where he befriends The Dalton Academy Warblers' frontman Blaine (Darren Criss). Wrestling captain Lauren (Ashley Fink) joins the Glee Club at Puck's invitation, setting off a most unique courtship. The football team's new golden boy, Sam (Chord Overstreet), is recruited into the Glee Club by his teammate Finn (Cory Monteith) in order to qualify for Regionals, and then falls for his ex-girlfriend (Dianna Agron). The Rachel / Finn / Quinn love triangle grows more complicated, as does Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany's (Heather Morris) friendship. And everyone has their eyes set on getting to Nationals in NYC...except for Sue, who would rather see them rot in Hell and does her underhanded best to make that happen.
Ah, fictional television high school, how we love and hate thee.
I was a late first season convert to Glee, finding its fresh take on the classic MGM Dream Factory formula a welcome addition to the barren wasteland of Gossip Girl, 90210, The Vampire Diaries teen tripe. It was a trip to see how Ryan Murphy and his team could reinvent both modern and classic tunes, weaving them damn near seamlessly into a worthwhile and often compelling narrative. Let's face it, the show became John Hughes: The Next Generation. But sky high expectations and the inevitable creative drought wreaked havoc on the show's second year consistency. The resulting 22 episode split season is a veritable roller coaster of inspired storytelling, big name guest stars, overly ambitious plans, and extremely poor execution.
The first 10 episodes of Season Two roared into the fall season, with three stunts strategically placed for maximum effect. "Britney/Brittany" leveraged the Britney Spears music catalog to great effect, cementing ensemble dance captain and fan favorite Heather Morris as a Glee all-star. Ryan Murphy's use of Emma's dentist boyfriend (John Stamos) to induce musical fever dreams through anesthesia was inspired and the hormone-enraging climactic performance of Toxic before a school assembly was comic gold. Unfortunately, the series Halloween entry, "The Rocky Horror Glee Show," didn't fare as well. The episode couldn't possibly have lived up to the hype surrounding it, while pasteurizing Richard O'Brien's racy lyrics, toning down the source material's overt sexuality, and a weak episode narrative ultimately proved its undoing. Even the surefire "A Very Glee Christmas" missed its mark, with repeated airplay given to all of the musical numbers nearly a month in advance, Sue playing The Grinch (far from original), and Brittany's naive belief in Santa (a well-worn holiday convention). Only Kurt and Blaine's beautiful rendition of Baby, it's Cold Outside stood out, as both a key turning point in their relationship and beautiful theatrical staging.
However, there were two unsuspecting episodes in the first half of the season that left an indelible mark on the audience. "Grilled Cheesus" found Kurt's dad suffering a heart attack and Finn turning to God -- in the face of Jesus found on a grilled cheese sandwich -- for answers to life's toughest questions. This was a showpiece for both Chris Colfer (whose magnificent take on The Beatles' I Wanna Hold Your Hand left not a dry eye in the house) and Cory Monteith (whose dimwitted comedic timing and heartfelt sincerity has never been more effective). The other gem was "Never Been Kissed," which sent the Kurt/Karofsky bullying storyline rocketing towards its boiling point, introduced Darren Criss to the series, and gave Dot-Marie Jones what may be the finest moment of her acting career thus far.
Then came the break. Some may look at it as a chance to catch your creative breath and return stronger than before. Others see it as a momentum killer which very few series can recover from. What Glee had going in its favor was the post-Super Bowl time slot, a sure-fire ratings grabber if there ever was one, and they used it to stage some of the biggest musical numbers ever created for television. Fronted by flame-twirling and BMX flipping Cheerios performing Katy Perry's California Girls, and a football field full of zombies doing a mashup of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Heads Will Roll by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the episode cost Fox an estimate $4 Million but drew an audience of 27 Million viewers. Sure the advertising pulled in some huge bank for the network, but the show itself left most fans flat. And that downward trend carried through Season Two's remaining 12 episodes.
You may be asking yourself, what happened? The answer isn't all that complex. Showrunner Ryan Murphy ran a tight three-man creative team with producing partners Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. Where most shows hire out writers and directors, these boys did everything themselves. While that's fine for a short series run (as seen with many British series), by the time you get to episode 40, you're running on creative fumes...and it shows.
The Kurt/Karofsky conflict went on far too long, quickly undermining what initially was a powerful statement on bullying. Characters were taken too far afield even with their respective quirks, resulting in things like Rachel sending a young competitor (Charice) to a crack den, and the idiocy of Sue marrying herself. John Stamos' character was billed as having a more important arc that never really materialized. Casting Carol Burnett as Sue's mom seemed like a genius move, but they never came close to leveraging her talents. The "Blame it on the Alcohol" episode was pulled right from the annals of ABC's After School Special bible. Sue's assembly of her Legion of Doom to keep the Glee kids from making it to nationals in New York was petty and contrived. The competition between schools became little more than retread scripts with different songs. And the majority of the kids relationship troubles wasn't anything we hadn't seen before.
I say majority because aside from the Kurt/Blaine flirtation, we got to see a relationship develop between Santana and Brittany that was not only well thought out and beautifully executed but surprisingly heart-wrenching. I hate Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac with a passion, but the Landslide trio of Holly (Gwyneth Paltrow), Santana, and Brittany, as well as Santana's solo on Songbird were two of the season's emotional high points. Speaking of Gwyneth, I never thought I'd say this, but the introduction of her Holly Holiday character brought some much need energy and self-deprecation to the back-end of a season that was faltering under the weight of its own popularity.
One final note and we'll wrap this up. Is it just me or is Matthew Morrison really beginning to grate? I certainly can't fault his triple threat abilities, but the cartoon smarminess of Will Scheuster's character is getting too much to stomach. Whether that's the fault of the writing, or whether he's taking it too far in performance, I can't tell, but it needs to stop. Granted, he's playing off the over-the-top antics of Jane Lynch, but what made that relationship work so well in Season One is that Will was the grounded reality anchor. The minute he goes equally zany, you lose your audience.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, those of you who watched the network HD broadcasts will immediately see how much softer and flatter the image is. Granted, today's DVD transfers for current series are far better than what you'll find in shows from 5, 10, and 20 years past, but they certainly do not have the life of their HD counterparts. You won't be disappointed with the Dolby 5.1 audio though, as these tracks capture the pulse-pounding, foot-stomping energy of Glee's musical numbers with as much gusto as you'll find anywhere else. Just don't look for any action on the surrounds during the dialogue sequences.
When it comes to bonus features, Fox once again delivers a fan-favorite package...
* Glee Music Jukebox -- Every musical number, regardless of how small, is available to you in compact form. Each disc captures the performances relating to those episodes. Consider it Season 2 on speed.
* Glee at Comic Con 2010 (15 min) -- Ryan Murphy and many of the cast travel to San Diego to get up close and personal with the Gleek masses, prior to the premiere of Season 2. The shocking thing here is how little story development had taken place for a series that was ready to restart production. And I'm not just talking storylines, but character arcs as well. Just another indication that Ryan, Ian, and Brad did not possess the game plan of many hour-long shows.
* Shooting Glee in NYC (11 min) -- Road trip! Cast and crew head to the Big Apple for the season finale.
* Guesting on Glee (8 min) -- Katie Couric, Carol Burnett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cheyenne Jackson, Charice, Kristin Chenoweth, John Stamos, and Jonathon Groff.
* The Making of The Rocky Horror Glee Show (7 min) -- Adam Shankman directs this very special episode that underwent many changes before airing. First, John Stamos was supposed to play Frank N Furter, but the production team got cold feet. The day they shot Time Warp, the call was 7:00a. They didn't actually start shooting until 9:00p.
* Getting Waxed with Jane Lynch (6 min) -- Not as dirty as it sounds. Madame Tussaud's Hollywood Wax Museum creates their own Sue Sylvester, with the help of Jane Lynch. From start to finish, it was a four month process, including a star-studded Hollywood Blvd unveiling.
* Building Glee's Auditorium (6 min) -- Cory Monteith gives a tour of the school's new theatre on Paramount's Stage 16, based on the Cabrio High School auditorium in Long Beach, CA where they filmed the entire first season.
* A Day in the Life of Brittany (6 min) -- Follow Heather Morris (in character) as she traverses the Paramount backlot.
* Stevie Nicks goes Glee (4 min) -- The legendary singer/songwriter surprises the cast and crew with a set appearance and an inspiring speech.
* Santana's Slams (3 min) -- The bitch queen cuts loose with a barrage of takedowns.
* The Wit of Bittany (2 min) -- Every genius Heather Morris/Brittany S. Pierce moment this season. What are you going to be for Halloween? "I'm going as a peanut allergy."
* Sue's Quips (2 min) -- A parade of Sue Sylvester's most devastating insults.
* Bonus Song (1 min) -- "Planet, Schmanet, Janet" is sung but not seen.
What surprised me most in revisiting Glee: The Complete Second Season is how much I actually forgot. For as memorable as Season One was, there are huge chunks of Season Two that simply didn't stick. You might think me harsh for taking a beloved series like this to task, but you know in your heart of hearts that much what I say is true. Season Two could have been far more rewarding than what ultimately transpired, and Season Three is not off to any better start. And given the huge production faux pas that played out in the media over the summer (e.g. Chord Overstreet's dismissal; the planned and quickly rescinded exit of Lea, Cory, and Chris at season's end), we might be witnessing the beginning of the end for Glee. Oh well...live fast, die young, and leave with a show-stopping production number.
The jury's still out on the series, but Season Two is under house arrest.
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 1000 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Music Jukebox
* Official Site