GLEE (TV SERIES) - Season 2 Blu-ray review

Blu-ray is the way to go, if you're a Gleek.

James Plath's picture

Not since "Star Trek" has there been a TV show so phenomenal that it spawned a group of followers who named themselves after their favorite show . . . a word that's now a part of the English lexicon. "Star Trek" had its trekkies, and "Glee" has it's gleeks--as in a combination of "Glee" and "geek."

Its first season "Glee" won Emmys for Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Guest Actor (Neil Patrick Harris) Outstanding Sound Mixing, and Outstanding Supporting Actress (Jane Lynch). It's part soap and part "Fame," with the antics of the faculty pushing it into the realm of "The Office" as well.

The series is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck"), and as high-school sitcoms go it's mostly familiar in that the students look to be in their twenties. Otherwise, this comedy is far more irreverent than what we've seen before, and the second season is also more risqué. There are plenty of sexually charged dance routines, plus, what high school are kids allowed to hold hands and kiss in class? Still, all of the cliques from the typical American high school get cheerfully lambasted, including the multi-tiered popularity structure. In a clever dig at "branding," cheerleaders wear their uniforms constantly in this show, and are coached by a woman (Lynch) who's a composite of every female gym teacher you've ever had. I'll probably catch some flak for saying so, but "Glee" gleefully has fun at the expense of all stereotypes.

The show tries to make a comment about funding priorities, low teacher pay, miniscule small-town dating pools, and those high school crushes that can resurface years late, but the funding crunches ring a little hollow because the Gleeks seem to have a full-time pianist and a string section that pops up on occasion, and just one of their production numbers would cost more than any high school could muster for a spring musical. This season the numbers get even more elaborate, and the show pushes the boundaries in other areas as well.

Matthew Morrison plays Will Schuester, a high school Spanish teacher who never teaches Spanish but instead is only shown serving as faculty coach of the Glee Club. So why would a fairly cool-looking teacher want to align himself with the bottom-feeders in the social pool? Because when he went to that very same high school, Glee Club "ruled the school" and it pains him to see the Glee Clubbers being such social outcasts. He thinks he can bring them back to their former glory, but for every action there's a reaction, and the push to his pull comes from Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester (Lynch) and various nefarious "henchmen" she recruits. None of this drama seems to get processed by Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba), who cheerfully abides by the adage that ignorance is bliss.

This season, New Directions (the club's name for themselves) works toward nationals, while internal and external dramas threaten to sabotage them. It's the usual suspects: Sylvester, various entities from Vocal Adrenalin (the club's chief rivals), and love interests and egos within the group, all of whom threaten to put an end to their dreams.

Schuester is as caught up in the drama as his students this season, dating a hot substitute teacher (Gwenyth Paltrow) but still having the hots for the OCD-plagued school counselor, Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), and falling into a familiar comfort-zone with fellow Glee Club alum/alcoholic April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth).

The kids are no different. They love, they pine, they cheat, they backstab, they "out," they repent and they come together this season. Rachel (Lea Michele) is still determined to become a star, quarterback/Gleek Finn (Cory Monteith) is still confused as ever, Noah Puckerman (Mark Salling) takes up with weight- and personality-challenged Lauren (Ashley Fink), popular girl Quinn (Dianna Agron) wants to hang onto something she seems to be losing, Mercedes (Amber Riley) demands star treatment, Kurt (Chris Colfer) returns to McKinley High, Blaine (Darren Criss as Kurt's boyfriend) gets more air time, Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz) gets bigger roles, Artie (the Gleek in a wheelchair) takes a back seat, dancer Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.) gets promoted to full-time cast member, Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany (Heather Morris) remain as confused as ever about their feelings for each other, and Becky (Lauren Potter) wants to join Glee Club. Jonathan Groff also returns as Jesse St. James, the former Vocal Adrenalin member who tried to sabotage McKinley High's New Directions by coming onto Rachel. This is also the season that a tragedy changes the way Sue Sylvester relates to the Glee Club.

While "Office"-style humor and multiple dramas provide some interest, everything is really just a bridge to the next musical number, because, like "Fame," it's the high-energy musical numbers that drive the show. And boy, do the numbers get bigger and better this season. The "Britney/Brittany" episode is particularly strong, but so is one that has Paltrow singing up a storm, as well as "The Rocky Horror Glee Show."

Frankly, I can't imagine watching this in short increments a week at a time with commercials in-between. I also can't imagine Gleeks watching it on anything besides Blu-ray, with it's superior English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio and see-every-blemish clarity.

Twenty-two episodes are included on four Blu-ray discs:

1) "Audition." Season 2 begins with a whole new set of try-outs and tribulations.

2) "Britney/Brittany." Heather Morris really shines in this episode about the kids getting hooked on dental happy gas because it induces Britney Spears hallucinations (and yes, Britney guest stars).

3) "Grilled Cheesus." Fun episode has the gang convinced that they've seen an apparition of Christ in a grilled cheese sandwich, and it sparks all sorts of ontological discussion.

4) "Duets." You'd think that an assignment to pair off would be a bonding experience, but Schuester's idea backfires.

5) "The Rocky Horror Glee Show." Yeah, it's dress-up time.

6) "Never Been Kissed." This episode is all about new friends and a boys vs. girls mash-up competition.

7) "The Substitute." Gwenyth Paltrow takes over Glee Club when Schuester is out with the flue, and darned if she isn't a female version of him.

8) "Furt." A visit from Sue's mother (Carol Burnett) causes stress, but so does the announcement by Kurt's dad and Finn's mom that they're getting married.

9) "Special Education." New Directions competes in sectionals, while Emma and her dentist beau hit a rough patch, same as Finn and Rachel.

10) "A Very Glee Christmas." Ho ho ho, because Brittany still believes in Santa. Meanwhile, Sue is up to mischief again, sabotaging the secret santa for faculty.

11) "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle." Sue's Cheerio's compete off-campus, while the school hosts a football championship.

12) "Silly Love Songs." Valentine's Day brings all sorts of drama; meanwhile, a Warbler's performance brings Kurt closer to his unrequited love, Blaine.

13) "Comeback." Sue gets involved with Glee Club, while Sam creates a tribute band and Brittany helps Rachel with a social-status problem.

14) "Blame It on the Alcohol." Glee Club gets behind Principal Figgins' anti-drinking campaign; meanwhile, Schuester shows Coach Beiste he's not such a bad guy.

15) "Sexy." Paltrow is back to sub for Sex Ed. Dang!

16) "Original Song." Under pressure to be original, New Directions tries to come up with new music for regionals.

17) "A Night of Neglect." Next challenge: Nationals, but Sue has a new plan to thwart Glee Club.

18) "Born This Way." Feel-good episode has everyone wearing a t-shirt that admits one thing they were never happy about themselves, with the goal being out-and-accept.

19) "Rumors." As relationships within Glee get rocky, Schuester decides to get the kids to sing songs from the Fleetwood Mac album "Rumors."

20) "Prom Queen." Yet another thing to divide the club, as pairs of Gleeks vie for Homecoming King & Queen in an episode that proves to be traumatic for Kurt.

21) "Funeral." A death brings the Glee Clubbers closer together.

22) "New York." At New York, the kids do their darndest to win nationals.

Is it as strong as Season 1? I don't know. Musically, I think it's a tie, but the plots stretch a little too much into Silly Putty territory this season, with some plot threads left hanging, or else hastily tied together. This season some of the things the kids do are really mean and vicious (one "outing" is particularly disturbing), and the make-up period seems not nearly long enough to be realistic. More bad things happen this season too, which means more sad moments, making the title slightly ironic.

"Glee" is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and the Blu-ray quality is superb. So is the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to 50GB discs. I saw no compression issues, and while there's the tiniest bit of noise in backgrounds on several deep-focus shots, the Blu-ray looks even better than On Demand HD episodes on TV. Colors are warmly saturated, skin tones look natural, edges are well defined, black levels seem spot on, 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. It's a stronger video presentation on Blu-ray than we saw in Season 1.

The audio is the biggest reason for going with the Blu-ray if you're a fan of the series. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio really gets the job done, with the mix distributing the vocals and instrumentation across the speakers so that it creates a fully immersive concert sound. The bass is thumping and the midtones and high notes have great clarity and precision. But the rear effects speakers take a nap when there are no musical numbers. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish, and French.

There are a lot of little bonus features, with the longest a 15-minute clip from the "Glee" panel at Comic-Con 2010 featuring most of the cast talking about the show. There's also a behind-the-scenes on-location feature, "Shooting Glee in New York City" (10 min.). Then there's an eight-minute "Guesting on Glee" featurette with on-camera interviews with Season 2 guest stars, and a very brief (3 min.) "Stevie Nicks Goes Glee" in which we see the former Fleetwood Mac and solo artist visit the set during shooting of the "Rumours" episode."

Monteith narrates a pretty straight five-minute look at construction of the show's big auditorium set, while Morris stays in character with Brittany for a funnier look at "A Day in the Life of Brittany," also in the five-minute range. Brittany returns for "The Wit of Brittany," a two-minute clip collection of her naïve takes on life.

Santana has her own clip collection ("slams") of around three minutes, while Sue Sylvester also gets a two-minute collection of put-downs and put-ons. We also get a look at the making of the Jane Lynch wax figure at Madame Tussaud's.

Musically, there's the popular "Glee" music jukebox feature that allows fans to access and play all the musical numbers separately from the episodes, and a bonus song, "Planet, Schmanet, Janet," from "The Rocky Horror Glee Show."

Bottom Line:
This season, like the first, "Glee" won a Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy, and while it strays farther from the realm of believability this season--more over-the-top, with numbers that are even more MTV music-video than we saw the first season--it's still a fun, well-acted and well-produced show. Pun intended. And Blu-ray is the way to go, if you're a Gleek.


Film Value