Saturday, January 29, 2011

Glee Season One Is Capped Off Erratically With The Road To Regionals

The Good: Funny, Great choreography, Decent performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Seems melodramatic at too many moments, Repetitive feel
The Basics: The second half of Glee Season One does not pop quite like the first half, though the overall season is more than worthwhile.

It is rare that I actually review two things at once, but the truth is, I found myself stuck on how to review Glee Season One. I was annoyed with Fox for releasing the season in two volumes, the second of which was released concurrent with the Season One boxed set as Glee: Season One, Volume 2 - The Road To Regionals. I had reviewed Glee: Season One, Volume 1 - The Road To Sectionals (check it out here!) and ultimately downrated it because there was the full season set and I always opt for the full season over the consumer-exploitative season breakdown when there is a full season of the show to buy. As far as reviewing it goes, I felt the review of The Road To Sectionals was very thorough, so I was not eager to repeat content in reviewing the full season. So, while this might read as more of a review of The Road To Regionals, I would advise the reader go read the other review before reading this one and buy the Season One boxed set instead. The only plus side here is that The Road To Regionals is all that those who already have The Road To Sectionals needs to complete Glee Season One. There is no original or unique content in the Season One boxed set that is not in the two volumes that comprise it.

As a result, Glee Season One is more than the sum of its parts. The two halves of the season - the full season is only twenty-two hour-long episodes - hold up less well on their own than the season does together. That said, The Road To Regionals is far from flawless. Indeed, the second half of the season does not have the focus and sense of purpose and intent that the first half and as a result, it holds up far less well than the first half did on its own. For those unfamiliar with Glee the story oscillates between faculty members and students at McKinley High School. The show is a dramedy that focuses on the glee club, New Directions, at McKinley High School in Ohio.

On the faculty side, Mr. Schuester is excited that New Directions has a chance to move on to Regionals, but he is equally excited by the potential represented by his impending divorce. This opens him up to having an actual relationship with the guidance counselor, Emma. But between having a flirtation with the coach of the competing Vocal Adrenalin and Emma's uncertainty about taking the relationship to the next level, Mr. Schuester finds himself particularly vulnerable when Sue Sylvester makes her reappearance. After blackmailing principal Figgins, Sue returns to McKinley to try to ruin New Directions and insinuate her own agenda at the school, an agenda which includes promoting her cheerleading squad the Cheerios and pumping Madonna's greatest hits over the loudspeaker at the high school constantly. As Regionals looms, Mr. Schuester finds himself under attack by increasingly strong competing interests.

On the student front, Rachel's new relationship with Finn hits the skids almost immediately as Rachel's eagerness to be in a relationship leads her to a control freak level which he finds intimidating. While Finn waffles, Rachel moves on to a relationship with Jesse, the lead singer of Vocal Adrenalin. But the lies surrounding her relationship with Jesse quickly come to an end when Jesse jumps school districts and joins New Directions. This changes the power base of New Directions and with Finn no longer the male lead, Kurt is displaced, Artie is marginalized and Mercedes comes to realize she will not be shining as a soloist in the group.

The second half of the first season of Glee is riddled with a sense of melodrama that the first half did not seem quite as mired in. Sure, there is a whole soap opera quality to the first season of Glee with baby drama, high school and adult relationship drama and the inherent competition that comes from people trying to shine in a theatrical setting like glee club. Unfortunately, what this does for the first season of Glee is make is erratic on the character and plot level. The Road To Regionals lacks the sense of urgency and pace that made The Road To Sectionals work so much. Almost every episode in the first half of the season references the impending Sectional competition, but Regionals seems like a peripheral event, despite the need for New Directions to win it to keep its funding.

As a result, The Road To Regionals drifts some on the plot front until *bang!* the season comes to an end with Regionals. This is not to say nothing happens. The relationships with Rachel and Jesse, the quest for love Mr. Schuester is on, the machinations of Sue Sylvester, they all play off one another well, but the second half of the season does not feel like it is going somewhere until it gets there. It becomes more about the melodrama than the characters and that does not work nearly as well as the first half of the season did.

Especially lost in the mix is Schuester. Schuester is working on getting a divorce and he skanks around in an unfortunate way given his characterization in the first half of the season. He makes out with three women, which is problematic when he is characterized as such a good, loving guy in the first half of the season. It's like in The Road To Regionals Schuester goes from being an upstanding guy who a lot of people would be interested in to a pretty average and obvious Guy. It's disappointing and those who like Schuester in the first half of the season have to make a lot of excuses for him in the second half of the season.

On the flip side, Finn's character becomes more interesting and he grows at a realistic pace. When Kurt sets Finn's mother up with his own father, Kurt's plans range from the loving (he truly cares about his father's happiness) to the utterly self-serving (he has a crush on Finn). But in the first half of the season, Finn was uncomfortable with Kurt's crush and when the two move in with one another, that internal character conflict is not simply swept under the rug. Finn has a very normal character arc as he tries to become more tolerant of Kurt's homosexuality and the idea of living so close with him.

But the one who has the best arc - not only of the second half of the season, but of the first season entirely - is Quinn. Quinn is the bratty Cheerio who is a part of the Celibacy Club who is pregnant and in the second half of the season, she is ready to burst. But the socialite girl actually goes on a character journey as she wrestles with her feelings for Puck (the baby's father) and her loss of status. This leads her to a surprisingly good presence in the penultimate episode of the season, "Funk," and makes the initially annoying blonde chick worthwhile to watch.

But the real star of Glee is Jane Lynch. Lynch plays Sue Sylvester and she plays her as one of the greatest villains to grace television in years. Indeed, not since Louie De Palma (Danny DeVito's character on Taxi for those not of a certain age!) has there been an antagonist in comedy that has been so compelling and well-conceived, as well as well-acted. Lynch steals every scene she is in and when Glee gives her a bigger canvas in the Madonna episode, opposite Olivia Newton-John in "Bad Reputation," and in a key role in the first season finale, "Journey," Lynch proves she is worthy of each and every award she has been nominated for (and, mostly, won!) for the role.

I suspect Glee Season One either will replay less well over time or that this show will suffer from Boston Public Syndrome. The first season of Boston Public was amazing, but it never recovered from it and it is, arguably, the only season of the show worth watching. Glee has a lot to come back to with its second - and beyond - season, but it also has a formula and with The Road To Regionals, Glee illustrates that it might have shot its best out early and is finishing more on hype than substance.

For other contemporary television shows, please visit my reviews of:
V Season 1
30 Rock Season 4
The Big Bang Theory Season 3

The Road To Regionals - 3.5/10
Season One - 7.5/10

For other television episode or DVD boxed set reviews, please visit my index page.

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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