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Reviewed by Will Harris
ou know how you can tell that “Glee” is still a phenomenon in its second season? Because, as with the show’s first season, Fox is trying to wring a bit of extra cash out of the series by releasing a set featuring the first 10 episodes. And even though the fans know full well that a complete season set is inevitable, you can bet that a sizable number of them will buy this, anyway.
Okay, just wanted to put that out there. Now we can actually sit back and start talking about how Season Two is going so far.
Like many shows which come roaring out of the gate to huge acclaim, there were a lot of people waiting for “Glee” to show up for Season Two and fall flat on its big, fat face. Fortunately, those spoilsports were in the minority, but even the less cynical viewers were curious as to how long such a unique series could maintain its creative momentum. The obsessive Gleeks might be giddy with each and every song served up by the show, but it’s a weekly tightrope walk with the mainstream to figure out the right algorithm of how many songs to sing, how old or new the songs should be, how often to dedicate episodes to single artists, and so forth. Oh, right, and then there’s the non-music portion of the show, but really, who cares about “Glee” when the characters aren’t singing?
Just kidding. Actually, the incorporation of drama into the series is a major segment of the aforementioned tightrope, and given that it doesn’t get a tenth of the amount of attention that the show’s song selections do, it’s a testament to creator Ryan Murphy’s efforts that he continues to make an effort to keep it bubbling immediately below the surface as often as not.
Of the students, it’s Kurt (Chris Colfer) who drives more of the drama than any other, whether it’s dealing with his relationship with his father (who, within the course of these 10 episodes, is hospitalized, goes into a coma, recovers, gets engaged, and gets married), his faith, his complicated relationship with Finn (Cory Monteith), or his sexuality. Additionally, his storyline expands outward when, after a decidedly awkward encounter with a member of the football team, he transfers to Dalton Academy and meets a cute new boy named Blaine (Darren Criss) who shares his sexuality. After reading the previous two sentences, you will likely be unsurprised to learn that no one else at William McKinley High comes anywhere close to matching Kurt’s level of character development in the first half of Season Two, but there’s still plenty of teen angst going on.
With Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) having started seeing Mike (Harry Shum, Jr.), Artie (Kevin McHale) somehow manages to find a rapport with Brittany (Heather Morris), while new student Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) finds sparks of romance with new mom Quinn (Dianna Agron). Meanwhile, on the adult front, there’s still the ongoing saga of Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and Emma Pilsbury (Jayma Mays), a relationship which has been complicated by Emma’s new dentist boyfriend, played by John Stamos, the introduction of a rather mannish new football coach (Dot Jones), and, of course, the tension between Will and his arch rival, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), who manages to find moments of humanity here and there, some feeling more earned than others.
But we’ve spent enough time on the drama. Let’s talk about the music. If there was any question as to whether “Glee” would start back strong, it was dismissed during the cast’s phenomenal performance of “Empire State of Mind” in the season premiere, but the show rightfully received some bashing the following week, when it wasted virtually an entire episode lovingly reproducing Britney Spears videos. Not that it wasn’t great to see Heather Morris take the spotlight, but it was little more than a single joke stretched to episode length. Far more successful was “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” which showed love for the source material while legitimately incorporating it into a storyline. (And, of course, major bonus points were earned by the guest appearances by Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf.) In addition, there’s also an entertaining – if decidedly ridiculous in premise – Christmas episode, plus concept episodes, including one where the students team up for duets and another where the guys sing songs traditionally performed by girls.
What else is there to discuss? Right: the guest stars. Beyond Mr. Stamos’s story arc and the aforementioned gentlemen from the “Picture Show,” Carol Burnett turned up as Sue Sylvester’s Nazi-hunting mother, an event which was not exactly disappointing but wasn’t quite as awesome in practice as it looked to be in theory. Conversely, though, Gwyneth Paltrow absolutely hit it out of the park with her turn as a substitute teacher who, whether incidentally or intentionally, steals Will’s thunder while he’s out sick.
The very long answer to a very short question: Season Two of “Glee” is, at least so far, virtually as strong as Season One. It remains to be seen, however, where the remainder of the season will take the show, but here’s hoping things aren’t quite so Kurt-centric in subsequent episodes, if only to give the other students more of a chance to shine.
Special Features: A glance at the bonus material for this set definitely strengthens the suspicion that this mid-season release is designed solely as a money-grab. Yes, there are a few short featurettes, including a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the “Rocky Horror” episode, a glance at the “Glee” cast at Comic-Con 2010, and, most enjoyably, “Getting Waxed with Jane Lynch,” which details the creation and unveiling of the Sue Sylvester wax figure for Madame Tussauds Hollywood. Beyond that, though, there’s not much more than a Brittany best-of collection and the obligatory jukebox feature, which allows you to jump straight to the songs. The biggest bust of the bunch, though, is the DVD WORLD PREMIERE (their capitalization, not mine) of an “exclusive bonus song.” It turns out to be "Planet, Schmanet, Janet," and it lasts less than two minutes. Big whoop.