Friday, October 8, 2010

Glee: Road To Sectionals Starts The Quirky Comedy Off Wonderfully (But Isn't Worth Buying Now)!

The Good: Very funny, Good character depth, Decent musical performances, Good DVD bonus features, Good acting.
The Bad: Soap opera quality is disappointing, I'm sick of handheld cameras.
The Basics: A LOT of fun, Glee overcomes its predictable elements at the beginning of its first season by presenting wonderful song and dance numbers which are entertaining.

[I originally reviewed "Glee" Season 1, Volume 1: The Road To Sectionals before "Glee" Season 1 made its way to DVD. My rating for the DVD set was 8/10. I've got a pet peeve now. I'm sick of television shows putting forth partial seasons just to earn an extra buck off fans. Instead of being patient and releasing the entire season, shows like "Glee" have rushed to market DVD sets with a partial season. I've lowered my rating on this DVD set to 4/10 because it is now obsolete and ought to be avoided. All of the content on these discs is in the full "Glee" Season 1 DVD set. But for those who haven't discovered the series, here's a primer as I await the full boxed set to review!]

It seems pretty wonderful that the morning after my wife and I finished watching Glee Season 1: The Road To Sectionals that the show was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Comedy. The nod to Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester for Best Actor is nice as well (he won't win, though, largely because his character seldom has anything funny to do - my bet is on Jim Parsons) and this promises to make the Emmy Awards at least entertaining for the actual competition this year's nominees represent. My wife and I sat down to watch the DVDs of the first season of Glee largely because we had heard good things about it, but never managed to catch it on television. What we didn't know at the time was that "The Road To Sectionals" is not the complete first season. We felt like we might actually be missing something and now that we have seen it, we were right; we WERE missing something.

Glee, which is often hailed as unlike anything else on television, seems to fill the same niche that Arrested Development once filled for FOX as a comedy based on humor with awkward deliveries and handheld camera work. The characters are largely self-centered and unlikable (also like Arrested Development) and the show has several "secrets" built in that make it have a soap opera quality that draws the audience back to it week after week. Glee simply does what it does with a lot more flair and music than the more deadpan Arrested Development. On DVD, it is nice to have the episodes all together because the serialized nature of the story truly does progress nicely and make one want to watch the next episodes.

The Spanish teacher at William McKinley High School, Will Schuester, used to be in the Glee Club there and when the previous faculty advisor to the club is fired for inappropriate relations with a student, Will sees his chance to reclaim his glory days. But almost immediately, Will finds his life plagued professionally by Sue Sylvester, whose cheerleading squad, the Cheerios, dominate the budget for extracurricular activities and who loathes the glee club. But as New Directions, the glee club, seems to be a good launching point for Rachel Berry, most of the rest of the school sees the club as dumb and social suicide. Eager to make his team competitive, Schuester blackmails the high school quarterback to join New Directions and he creates a powerful singing couple when Finn teams up with Rachel.

Unfortunately, as Will's wife Terri becomes pregnant and resentful of Will's time spent with New Directions, Finn also gets in serious trouble by getting the head cheerleader, Quinn, pregnant. Terri's pregnancy, though is a hysterical one and she soon enlists Quinn's aid in deceiving her husband by taking her baby as her own when she give birth. But Quinn's pregnancy is more complicated than that, arguably because the cheerleader had sex with Puck and her unborn baby was fathered by him and she cannot bring herself to be honest with Finn about that. While Sue Sylvester sends Cheerios into New Directions to spy on the club and ruin it, Will tries to hold the club together and prepare them for Sectionals where a win means continuing the competition and losing means losing the club for good. All the while, Will is fawned over by the guidance counselor, Emma.

Glee is, in many ways, a soap opera comedy that breaks out of its assumed niche largely because the plot is frequently broken up by song and dance numbers that are not seen frequently on television these days. The result is a show which feels like a variety show when it is a tongue-in-cheek comedy. The humor in Glee is frequently verbal – though there is a recurring slapstick gag involving slush drinks being tossed in the faces of members of the glee club – and most of the deliveries are very dry humor. The frequent straightman is actually Will Schuester, which is why I think his nod by the Emmys is more a nod for the show than a legitimate bid.

Throughout the first season, the main plot threads – Terri's faked pregnancy, Quinn's baby drama, and Emma's flirtation with the married Will – are planted like time bombs and there is a sense of inevitability to many of the revelations. Similarly, as the title of the first season suggests, there is the inevitable trip to the Sectionals competition which is smartly where the boxed set ends. Glee is heavily serialized in this season and as a result is ideal for a DVD presentation. But because there are so many plot threads one is waiting on, there are remarkably few actual surprises in the first season. It is of no real surprise, for example, when Kurt comes out (he spends the first few episodes prancing and lisping like a stereotype, so when he actually makes it explicit, few viewers will be surprised). What is far more intriguing is how Kurt's father reacts to the news. As well, the “surprise” involving Sue Sylvester when she admits a girl with Down's Syndrome to the Cheerios is no real surprise for seasoned television audiences (though it is still a pleasant reveal that I shall not ruin here).

Rather annoyingly, with all of the spectacle on the show in this boxed set and the infrequent use of several of the characters' names (one is solely referred to as “Other Asian” in this season), it is easy to miss many of their names and after watching the discs as a marathon the last few days, my wife and I were unsurprised we could not name all of the characters. This does not mean they are bad characters, in fact they are all pretty well defined in this season and while many of them do deplorable things, they are still entertaining to watch. In the first season, the principle characters include:

Will Schuester – The Spanish teacher who is trapped in a loveless marriage (and frequent sweatervests), he regains his love for life through leading the New Directions glee club at McKinley High. This puts further strain on both his marriage to Terri and his friendship with the football coach, Ken Tanaka. Emma, however, sees his devotion to the club as very attractive and she works to not make an overt move on him. As he prepares to become a father, he finds his distance from his wife difficult and his desire to see New Directions succeed becomes more important to him,

Rachel Berry – A 16 year-old girl, she has been practicing to be a celebrity and her talent becomes a key asset to New Directions. However, her own arrogance continually undermines her. She is Jewish and despite having a brief flirtation with Puck, she has a huge crush on the unavailable Finn. She often vies for the solos for the group,

Finn Hudson – Captain of the football team and the head quarterback, he is blackmailed by Will with pot that is not even his to join New Directions. There, he begins to find an exciting new outlet for one of his untapped talents. When Quinn tells him she is pregnant, he struggles to find a job and balance football and Glee club. As he is knocked down pegs on the social ladder as a result of his association with New Directions, he begins to learn a lot about himself,

Quinn Fabray – The head cheerleader of the Cheerios, she is also the head of the chastity club. However, a brief affair with Puck changes her fate when she gets pregnant. Unwilling to have the punk football player raise her child, she strings Finn along, making him believe he is the father. But as her pregnancy progresses and she is unable to sink New Directions, Sue Sylvester uses her for target practice,

Kurt Hummel – A gay student whose performances for New Directions give him the inner strength to come out to his father and the school. But when his father is hazed for his sexuality, he has a tough choice to make about getting a solo intended for a girl. He develops a crush on Finn,

Artie Abrams – Wheelchair bound, he complicates New Directions when the budget is cut and he requires a special bus to get the team to and from Sectionals. Vocally gifted, he plays the bass frequently and manages to keep up on many of the dance numbers from his chair,

Noah Puckerman - (“Puck”) He is a generally athletic and irresponsibly Alpha male at McKinley High. After getting Quinn pregnant, he tries to step up (though he keeps sending sexy text messages to Santana), though she will not let him. He is Finn's best friend and also on the football team. His experiences in New Directions leads him to apologize to Kurt for prior abuses,

Tina – An Asian student with a stutter, a week in a wheelchair as one of Schuester's assignments gives her a new respect for Artie,

Mercedes – A black student with an amazing voice, she often fights for more contemporary numbers and represents Rachel's best competition in New Directions,

Terri Schuester – Will's conniving wife, she finds herself unwilling to confess her hysterical pregnancy to her husband and instead works hard to make him think she is still pregnant. With her dippy sister, she snags Quinn for her deception and plans to take Quinn's baby when the time comes and pass it off as her and Will's,

Emma Pillsbury – The likable guidance counselor, she falls hard for Will. Realizing that he will never leave his pregnant wife, she allows Ken Tanaka to charm her. She is often Will's greatest ally,

Ken – The football coach, he is a friend to Will, until he realizes that Emma is more attracted to Will than she is to him. Still, he proposes to Emma and is shocked when she says “yes,”

Santana And Brittany – Two Cheerios who are sent by Sue to pass on secrets of New Directions that she may use to try to destroy the glee club,

and Sue Sylvester – Will's nemesis, the head coach of the cheerleaders, she is a militant woman with a dark sense of humor. Because of the endorsements she brings in for the Cheerios, Principal Figgins is frequently forced to look the other way on her antics. She gets her own television segment spouting her crazy philosophies and she devotes herself to destroying New Directions.

Jane Lynch plays Sue Sylvester and the moment she first appears on screen, she begins to dominate the show. Say what you will about the song and dance numbers, which range from show tunes to pop numbers to hip-hop songs presented a cappella, the reason to watch Glee is to see Jane Lynch rock as Sue. She is a master of the deadpan and the way she spouts some of the most ridiculous lines without ever cracking a smile makes the biggest laughs for these thirteen episodes.

On DVD, Glee Volume 1 has the first thirteen episodes and is loaded with bonus features. The last disc has introductions to several of the actors and behind the scenes auditions for many of the parts. There are also web and FOX featurettes that are included which show how the show was being promoted. But arguably the most fun and funny bonus feature is the “Introduction To McKinley High,” which has Principal Figgins walking new students through the school. It is entirely campy and makes for a great exclusive feature.

Ultimately, Glee stands out for style more than substance, but it works because the show is solidly entertaining and that makes for a great DVD release. Even so, because there is an even better DVD release which includes all of this material, it is impossible to recommend "Volume 1: Road To Sectionals."

For other comedy shows on DVD, please check out my reviews of:
The Big Bang Theory - Season 1
Sports Night
30 Rock Season 1


For other television program reviews, please check out my index page.

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment