Judge Brett Cullum is a big singing dork.
Our reviews of Glee: The Complete First Season (published September 14th, 2010), Glee: Season Two, Volume One (published February 28th, 2011), Glee: The Complete Second Season (published September 28th, 2011), Glee: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published October 5th, 2011), Glee: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) (published November 22nd, 2012), Glee: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray) (published October 21st, 2013), Glee: Encore (published April 27th, 2011), Glee: Encore (Blu-ray) (published April 28th, 2011), and Glee: The Concert Movie (published December 29th, 2011) are also available.
"That was the most offensive thing I've seen in 20 years of teaching—and that includes an elementary school production of Hair."
I'm not sure how a show about complete dorks who sing in a show choir hit it big, but there you are. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well: I myself was belting out pop hits in between getting my braces tightened back in the day. Yep, I was a member of my school's "vocal styling" group that went all the way to the state championships. I'm as big as they come when you talk about geeks. But in a spiritual way, who wasn't in the "glee" club metaphorically if not literally? The thing is, everybody in high school feels like an outsider no matter who they are. That's why Glee works and why over fourteen million viewers "gleek out" every week. What makes the perfectly named show live up to its own title is that it has joy and passion to spare, a love of kids and music that is infectious. This is the real High School Musical, and this time around the material is absolutely watchable for adults as well as teens. Oh, and it is also a bunch of super talented performers singing popular songs from yesterday and today. That doesn't hurt. Nor does the fact that it is funny, smart, and well played.
Facts of the Case
Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison, Link Larkin in the Broadway version of Hairspray) is the down-on-his-luck Spanish teacher who decides to try his hand at directing the school's flailing glee club. He was in the group when he was a young guy, and the current ambivalent director has just been fired. Hoping to recapture some of his musical glory days he finds a ragtag group of misfits to coach, and together they hope to win against formidable sister school rivals at regionals. He's got the girl who thinks she's a star (Lea Michelle, Broadway version of Spring Awakening), the high school quarterback who secretly loves 80s power ballads (Cory Monteith, Final Destination 3), a knocked up cheerleader (Dianna Agron, The Romantics), a heavyset black girl who can belt (Amber Riley), a kid in a wheelchair (Kevin McHale), a gay guy (Chris Colfer), an Asian girl (Jenna Ushkowitz), and a few others—all of the "loser" variety. What Schuester also has are enemies in the form of the always-manipulative cheerleading coach supreme, Sue (Jane Lynch, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and his wife, Terri (Jessalyn Gilsig, Heroes), who is faking a pregnancy to get more attention. Luckily, in his corner is the OCD-afflicted school counselor (Jayma Mays, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) who also happens to have a crush on him. Popping in for cameos and featured roles are the best and brightest of Broadway including Neil Patrick Harris (Assassins), Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked), Idina Menzel (Rent), Victor Garber (Godspell), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening). Oh, and plenty of other stars turned up like Josh Groban and Olivia Newton John.
The concept of the show was something cooked up as a movie idea by a guy who just thought two hours of a glee club heading to regionals would be enough to sell to Hollywood. Well, nobody picked it up until the guys who had a hand in creating Nip/Tuck decided to give it a television treatment. Even then the concept seemed sketchy, because we got a broadcast pilot on May 19, 2009 and no new shows until the following September. It turned out to be a genius move, because it let the Glee hype machine start rolling. The premiere grabbed about 8 million viewers, but the second half of the first season backstretch pulled in in excess of fourteen million viewers. The show had an American Idol lead-in, and it made sense to have a night on Fox dedicated to talented singers doing what they do best.
Another genius move came in releasing the songs on iTunes as the episodes aired. Old hits were new hits again once the Glee kids got a hold of them. Many artists at first refused the show rights to perform their songs, but when Rhianna saw her sales of an old CD jump up 189% in one week performers and record companies saw the power of the series. Soon singers were begging for the choral treatment, and now it has become a badge of honor to be done by the show. Lady Gaga and Madonna rushed to the producers proclaiming "take everything you want!"
Perhaps the single most brilliant aspect of Glee is that it gets what it means to be a teenager, and plays on our collective memory of just how that feels. Everybody is an outsider whether they are the head cheerleader, the high school quarterback, the gay guy, or most talented singer in school. It's amazing to think that the same guys who made the very adult and sinister Nip/Tuck figured out how to play up the dark side of high school and still make it youthful, bright, and springy. Often the satire has teeth, but any commentary is delivered with a smile and jazz hands. Most of the musical performances are indeed stage performances, and that makes the musical aspect work even better. They rarely had characters break out in to song unless there was a darn good reason, and thus they reinvented the musical for television.
We've seen a couple of incarnations of Glee on DVD, but this is the first high definition treatment of the whole freshman season. The Blu-ray offers up a definite step up in the audio and visual department with a higher resolution transfer and five speaker DTS-HD Master audio. The improvement in quality from the DVD edition is nice in that regard, and the details as well as color saturation are markedly improved. Glee is a show broadcast in high definition, and these Blu-ray discs come the closest to recreating the look and feel of the broadcast versions. The 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation shows off the cinematic quality of the series nicely with only the occasional soft shot that feels purposeful more often than not. The only issue I could see is a slight chromatic blue wash to some black levels, and a minor amount of banding here and there. It's minor, and nobody will notice unless they pour over each frame. In the sound department we get a track that is lively and never bottom heavy which allows the musical numbers to feel spry and not overly processed. Interestingly enough the full five speaker treatment is often saved for the musical sequences, and when we get to the school drama there is a less active sound field. It's a very nice technical presentation that certainly offers more than the DVD counterpart.
New and exclusive to Blu-ray is a commentary on the director's cut of the pilot. Rather than it merely being simply an audio track, we get a split screen with cast and crew on the left side being taped while talking in a high school auditorium while the episode plays on the right. Cast joins the creators with the only notable absence being Lea Michelle. All of the DVD supplemental features are here as well. They look like a ton of extras, but most of these bits and bites were found all too easily on the Internet as part of the show's on-line promotional campaign. Here's a run down of the same old DVD features for you:
• Extended Scenes: Rachel and Mercedes' full performance auditions for the Glee Club. (4 min)
• Video Diaries: Go inside the Flip Video magic with Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Cory Monteith, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, Chris Colfer, and Dianna Agron, as they travel to New York for the industry Up-Fronts. (17 min)
• Featurette: Making of a Showstopper—The magic and madness needed to bring the season finale's "Bohemian Rhapsody" to life. (18 min)
• Featurette: Fox Movie Channel's Glee Casting Session—A behind-the-scenes look at how the show and its ensemble came together. (12 min)
• Featurette: Unleashing the Power of Madonna—Go behind-the-scenes with the cast and crew as they prep and film this landmark episode. (11 min)
• Featurette: Bite Their Style: Dress Like your Favorite Gleek—Costume designers Lou Eyrich and Jennifer Eve talk about the influences used to create each character's look. (9 min)
• Featurette: Staying in Step with Glee—Join choreographers Zach Woodlee and Brooke Lipton, as they teach you the steps used for "Rehab" in the pilot episode. (6 min)
• Featurette: Welcome to McKinley!—Principal Figgin's freshman orientation, as produced by the school's A/V Club. (5 min)
• Featurette: Deconstructing Glee with Ryan Murphy—A quick nuts and bolts look at the show with the show's co-creator. (3 min)
• Featurette: Dance Boot Camp—Choreographer Zach Woodlee shows the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into in episode's dance routines. (3 min)
• Featurette: Jane Lynch: A to Glee—Quick web video capturing a moment of Jane in the makeup chair. (1 min)
• Featurette: Meet Jane Lynch—Another quick web moment with Jane explaining Sue's inner She-Beast. (1 min)
• Featurette: Five Things You Don't Know About Jayma—Fox.com offers up quick cast info nuggets to the internet Gleeks. (1 min)
• Featurette: Six Things You Don't Know about Amber (1 min)
• Featurette: Seven Things You Don't Know About Cory (1 min)
• Featurette: Seven Things You Don't Know About Chris (1 min)
• Music Video: "Somebody to Love"—Fox promotional video set to the club's adaptation of the Queen hit. (3 min)
• Glee Music Jukebox: All the Season One musical numbers available to you in individual scenes running on each disc, so that you can watch all the numbers without the context of the show.
• Sing-Along Karaoke: Four musical numbers to which you can unleash your inner Gleek. (11 min)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only thing I can truly find to complain much about is a lack of an episode guide means you have to intuitively know where your favorite episodes are. Otherwise you have to boot up each disc individually and track through a sort of clumsy interactive menu to find them. I wasn't thrilled with the way the controls work, but what a small gripe overall.
The only small gripe I can direct towards the show is that sometimes in Season One it felt like they were stretching story lines. It was as if nobody ever expected Glee to make it past a half season, and so they had to draw things out and often repeat themes and issues already brought up a couple of times in the series. I think it was simply pure shock on the part of the writers when they realized they had to keep things rolling for a whole year. But mostly, they handled it all very well.
No matter who or what you were in high school, Glee will speak to you. Another inevitable fact is that in every episode you'll probably find one song that you'll be able to hum along with. Glee is a savvy smart comedy that carries on the tradition of John Hughes as if he had teamed up with Kander and Ebb. Somehow these kids make show tunes and even Burt Bacharach hip again, and finally we have a show where Broadway's best can pop in to deliver a tune or two to the nation. I don't think there's ever been a more unique show that relied on the tried and true formula of outsider kids and infectious songs. I hope Glee continues to be as strong in charming as it passes on past its freshman year. This Season One Blu-ray set is the way to go if you're a true "gleek" with the best transfers and extras the studio can offer.
Guilty of doing the impossible: making show choirs the most popular groups in school. Okay, maybe not that large of a miracle…but making dorks a little more chic everywhere.
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