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Reviewed by Will Harris
hat I said to open my review of “Glee: Season One, Volume One – Road to Sectionals” is no less apropos now that Fox has deigned to release a proper full-season set for the show’s first year, so it seems perfectly appropriate to offer it up again:
There is an unofficial subgenre within the world of television known as “the love-it-or-hate-it series,” so known because there’s virtually no middle ground when it comes to viewers’ feelings on a show. This is very much a fair assessment of Fox’s “Glee.”
It’s true, you know. It’s a bunch of people singing and dancing around a high school. As often as not, it bears absolutely no resemblance to real life.
So why, then, is it so damned addictive?
Blame it on the music, my friends, and the dancing, too. You can even give some of the credit to the charisma of its stars. Mostly, though, it’s about the music – and I’m perfectly fine with that. I was officially hooked on “Glee” after the pilot episode, specifically the performance of “Don’t Stop Believing,” which was the sort of heart-soaring television moment that only comes around once in a blue moon. Even since, I’ve been right there with the rest of the Gleeks, watching every week to hear what songs the kids from McKinley High will be belting out, cheering them on to sectionals, and hissing at their nemesis, the despicable Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), as she and her cheerleaders try to stomp on their dreams.
The first half of the season was about as strong as television gets, with Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) building up the spirits of the students by showing them the proper way to raise their voices in song, ultimately leading them to victory, and if “Glee” had ended immediately thereafter, this would be a full-fledged 5-star review. Indeed, that’s the rating which was doled out for “Glee: Season One, Volume One – Road to Sectionals,” which was released at the tail end of 2009. Even when it first showed up in stores, you couldn’t really blame Fox for trying to ride the show’s success for a few extra bucks by splitting the season into halves and releasing each as its own DVD entity, but since they’re releasing “Glee: Season One, Volume Two – Road to Regionals” at the same time as a full-fledged complete season set, it wouldn’t surprise me if the two half-season sets go out of print pretty rapidly. I would be curious, however, how many people end up just sticking with Volume One without bothering to pick up Volume Two.
It’s not that the second half of the season didn’t find “Glee” hitting a huge number of highs. “The Power of Madonna” was brilliant (the mash-up of “Borderline” and “Open Your Heart” was arguably the show’s single best musical moment of the year), “Bad Reputation” hilariously tied together the lives of Sue Sylvester and Olivia Newton John, and the combination of Joss Whedon directing Neil Patrick Harris made “Dream On” into an instant classic. Still, it felt as though the series had begun to focus more on instant musical gratification than on moving forward. The roads to sectionals and to regionals felt a little bit too similar (didn’t we just do this?) and many of the plot lines seemed to be standing still for several episodes. Even guest stars were recycled, and while it’s always great to see Kristen Chenoweth belting out a number, it definitely made for a bit of a repetitive feel.
None of this changes the fact that “Glee” broke new television ground, proving that singing and dancing does have a place in prime time television if it sounds good, looks good, and, most importantly, can maintain a buzz for an extended period of time. It does, however, make one wonder if the series will suffer through similar problems with repetition in Season Two.
Given that there’s already talk of a Britney Spears and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” episodes, it’s clear that creator Ryan Murphy isn’t afraid of maintaining an “event television” vibe around the series, but let’s hope that he continues to develop the characters as well without stringing us along or relying on remarkable coincidences. We were teased too much with Will’s relationship with the school guidance counselor, Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), and although there was some wonderful material with Rachel being reunited with her long-lost mother (played by the eerily-similar-in-appearance Idina Menzel), you could hear viewers’ eyes roll when it turned out that her mother just happened to be the coach of a rival glee club. Better we should get more stuff like the scenes with Kurt’s dad (Mike O’Malley) dealing with his son’s sexuality, or Artie struggling to come to terms with life in a wheelchair. In a series filled with so many awesome musical numbers, it takes serious effort to produce character moments that stand out. We know Murphy’s got that kind of writing talent. Let’s just hope he takes a breath between songs to get more of it out there for Season Two.
Special Features: They’ve provided fans with a pretty decent hook-up when it comes to bonus material, playing to this show’s specific demographic by offering sing-along karaoke and a “jukebox” of music from the show. There are also several featurettes, including “Staying in Step with ‘Glee,’” “Bite Their Style: Dress Like Your Favorite Gleek,” and looks into the Madonna episode as well as the performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the season finale, plus many others that give you a background on the show, delve into the training of the dancers, and so forth. There are video diaries from the actors, a look at Jane Lynch, and for those who purchase the Blu-ray, there’s the very cool “Behind the Pilot: A Visual Commentary with Cast and Crew,” which gives you the chance to watch the pilot side by side with the cast. Long story short: Gleeks won’t be disappointed.