“Glee” is a musical soap opera, and Season 3 features the series’ trademark near-nonstop performance numbers and plenty of suds.
How soapy? Three screen minutes hardly pass before one character is released from the hospital and another is admitted. This season an overbearing sibling surfaces, a new gay character comes out of the closet and is persecuted, pairs of lovers try to marry, an older woman has a miracle baby with complications, characters try to blackmail others, helicopter parents intrude, characters face off in a Congressional election, others are forced to do things like strip for money in a poor economy, and the seniors are in perpetual panic mode because the world as they know it is coming to an end. There’s plenty of life-after-high-school angst and, of course, the usual amount of new loves and breakups.
As for the music, this season includes “Glee” tributes to the Jacksons, “Grease,” Whitney Houston, “Saturday Night Fever,” and “West Side Story,” with Ricky Martin doing a guest spot.
The previous season earned the highest audience share, but I felt that creator Ryan Murphy and his creative team went too far in trying to assemble every conceivable type of outcast and cast them in serious relationships. “Glee” has always been as pedantic as Spanish teacher and Glee Club coach Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), but last season the messaging got in the way of believable dramedy and some of the plot lines bordered on the ridiculous. Season 3 bounces back nicely.
Enter “The Glee Project,” a separate reality series that offered a seven-episode arc in the show as grand prize. The first winners of that competition are showcased here, with Damian McGinty playing Irish exchange student Rory Flanagan (and coaxing some very funny responses from vacant-minded Brittany) and the dreadlocked Samuel Larsen getting the role of “Jesus” Joe Hart, a different kind of Christian. Even the runners-up appear, with Lindsay Pearce playing a Rachel clone who’s the headliner for a rival group, and Alex Newell shining in a performance show-stopper as a young man who thinks of himself as a woman (and dresses like one onstage). This season fans are also introduced to Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies), the spoiled daughter of a local wealthy merchant who sponsors a new rival Glee Club after Schuester turns her down.
But some of the regulars feel like brand-new characters as well, with great dancer but poor singer Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) getting more performance time and the chance to sing, and Glee Club nemesis Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) getting the chance to strut her stuff more in several song-and-dance numbers. Coach Beiste (Dot Jones) returns big-time with a bigger character arc, and Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter), who has Down’s syndrome, has more to do this season and falls for the only other handicapable person she knows: the wheelchair-bound Artie (Kevin McHale).
All of the other regulars are back: Quinn (Diana Agron), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Rachel (Lea Michele), Finn (Cory Monteith), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Puck (Mark Salling), Santana (Naya Rivera), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Brittany (Heather Morris), Sam (Chord Overstreet), and Blaine (Darren Criss), along with “adults” Emma (Jayma Mays), Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), Shelby (Idina Menzel), and Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba).
Though the structure of each week having a theme and a lesson from Mr. Schuester can become a little tiresome, the series has a nice rhythm this season, balancing the serious with the comic and the musical with the dramatic. You care about the characters and are wowed by the music. For “Glee” fans, what else is there?
As with the second season, “Glee” looks superb. I saw no compression issues with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to four single-sided 50GB discs. Colors are warmly saturated, skin tones look natural, edges are well defined, black levels are strong, and the level of detail? If the actors were really high school kids you’d be able to see every zit in all its red, embarrassing glory. There’s some grain, but only enough to remind us that we’re not watching an overly scrubbed disc. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1 widescreen.
The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 rocks the way previous seasons did, with plenty of thumping bass and pulsing sound across the field. When the music subsides, though, it’s a mostly center-channel affair, with some sounds being shunted to the rear speakers, but not as much as you’d expect. But with music coming every five minutes, you don’t really have much time to be critical. It’s a non-stop iPod party. An English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also provided, but I can’t think of a reason anyone would deliberately select it, unless their ancient receiver was incompatible with the standard Blu-ray audio mix. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.
As with previous releases there’s a “Glee Music Jukebox” where on each disc you can head straight for the songs. One nice bonus feature is “Meet the Newbies,” a substantial (13 min.) intro to the new characters and actors. On the flipside there’s “Saying Goodbye,” where the original cast talks about the three-year arc leading up to their “senior year.” Smaller features include a clip showing Dot-Marie Jones and Jayma Mays giving the Culver City Middle School a check for music education at a school assembly, a behind-the-scenes look at the “Props” episode, an “Ask Sue” in-character mailbag, a montage of Sue’s third-season “quips” (i.e., insults and trash-talk), and three deleted/extended scenes that run a total of 11 minutes.
After a slightly disappointing second season, “Glee” bounced back like a superball this year. Younger fans may not love Kurt’s black-and-white tribute to old-time TV Christmas shows (which is excellent, by the way), but everything else should resonate. For the performances and production values alone, the show deserves high marks.