Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rest Of The World May Have Drunk The Kool-Aid, But For Me, Glee - Season 2, Volume 1 Is More Mediocre Than Great!

The Good: Continues the story well, Social messages, Dance/Music numbers are engaging and fun, DVD bonus features.
The Bad: Exceptionally repetitive, Soap opera feel, Value of the volume (only ten episodes).
The Basics: When Glee returns for a second season, the writers, producers and cast do little to shake up the successful formula, including ripping off the fans with a half-season!

It is a very rare thing that I let a work I've seen go for a while before reviewing it. Truth be told, it usually only happens when I get too busy to do any reviewing and in the case of Glee - Season Two, Volume One it has been two months since I watched the ten episodes in this three DVD set. It has taken me so long to review the set for two reasons: I knew I enjoyed the content a lot more while I was watching it and I knew I would pan the pathetic DVD release because the full season release was going to be a much better use of fans' dollars.

Glee is one of those shows which I enjoy a great deal more when I am watching it than any other time. I do not find myself contemplating it when it's not on and while I'll admit I've not thought to add it to my permanent collection, if I were to, the three-disc (barely!), ten episode set Glee - Season Two, Volume One collection would not be something I would purchase, especially with the full Season Two release only a few months away now. This DVD release is a cheap excuse to exploit the fans of Glee by pushing out more products faster and keep the merchandising current. Patience is the reward for the fans who pick up Glee Season Two, which will include these three discs, plus all of the content that finishes off the season.

What kept me from reviewing the set most, though, was that Glee - Season Two, Volume One is largely unmemorable. The show continues to do what the first season did exceptionally well in that it has exceptionally well-designed song and dance numbers and it raises any number of social issues neglected by other shows, like atheism, gay and lesbian civil rights and bullying. But these issues come up in frequently melodramatic ways opposite the safe and pleasant song and dance routines, diluting their impact. It's almost like the show's executive producers, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Dante Di Loreto figure the best possible way to keep the show popular throughout the entire country is to sneak their liberal commentary in between pop dance numbers and, hey, if they offend anyone, they'll probably forget why by the time Brittany is done dancing. It's insulting to anyone with a brain or liberals who actually stand by their principles of gender and sexuality equality, safe public schools, and religious freedom. Two months after watching the episodes in this season, I had no particular memories of anything save the kids using anesthesia to remake Britney Spears videos and Meat Loaf and Barry Botswick appearing for a Rocky Horror production that doesn't see the light of day.

In other words, there is nothing bad in Glee - Season Two, Volume One, but there is nothing unpredictable or unfamiliar either. Opening with members of the McKinley High glee club, New Directions, coming back for the new school year and discovering they are still the lowest rung on the social strata, the glee club looks for new members to save their team by getting their numbers back up. This comes at a turbulent time for the football players in the glee club as the new football coach, Coach Beiste (pronounced "Beast") demands more from the football players, like Finn and Puck. After a rocky start at McKinley, Beiste and Will become friends and worth to thwart Sue Sylvester's machinations.

Amid a series of soap opera-like events, Finn and Rachel have their new relationship tested and broken, Quinn begins dating the new football playing member of New Directions, Sam, and Artie pines for Tina after Tina begins dating Mike Chang. Kurt has the most intense arc, however, when his father has a heart attack and slips into a coma and his atheism is countered by the faith of most of the rest of the glee club members. Kurt is harassed by a football player, Karofsky, who beats him up until Kurt is left with no choice by to leave McKinley High.

Thematically, this volume of Glee is conceptually wonderful but is annoyingly guarded in its execution. "Grilled Cheesus" finds Finn having a crisis of faith and praying to a grilled cheese he thinks has the face of god in it. This comes when Kurt's father has his heart attack and while Kurt is able to articulate his objections to the spirituality of his fellow New Directions members, Mercedes is persistent enough to wear down his resolve. As an atheist, there is something offensive about watching a show where the counterarguments to Christianity are made in articulate ways, but fall entirely by the wayside because pushy people with faith just keep going. Atheists are not weak-willed people who will simply flip when they are badgered about god enough.

Similarly, Sue Sylvester's anti-bullying campaign is a great idea. Her coming to Kurt's aid is a great character arc and it's wonderful to see the show push for an anti-bullying message. But the fact that Kurt suffers the consequences for Karofsky's abuse weakens the message. What are viewers supposed to think; bullying is okay because the bullied can transfer schools? Kurt's life is saved (the bullying is escalating to dangerous levels) only by the fact that his father and step mother happen to have a windfall. And why shouldn't the poor or middle class be protected from bullies?! On the character level, it makes even less sense for Sue's arc. Until the anti-bullying storyline where Sue reveals her hatred for bullies, due largely to how her sister was bullied as a kid, Sue was a bully to . . . well, pretty much everyone. It doesn't soften the character to have her say she's not a bully when she continues to make life hell for the members of the glee club.

This volume of Glee is appropriately filled with great mixes of current popular music from Britney Spears, Cee Lo Green, Alicia Keys, and All-American Rejects. The music is good and well-presented and the dance numbers are often extraordinary. But they are nothing particularly different than viewers saw in the first season. There is just more of it.

I suspect that in the years after Glee jumps the shark (it hasn't happened yet!), analysts will see that it was a show that got exceptionally lucky; Glee fills the niche audience of fans of music videos (who no longer are able to get music videos through the channels formerly devoted to them!) and reality television shows. The psuedo-reality of the competitions along with the high school melodrama of relationships for teens is presented with the engaging backdrop of music, sets, costumes and choreography that is fun to watch. But it is little more than fun - cotton candy for the television audience - and Glee - Season Two, Volume One is overpriced fluff. Hold out for the full second season, which is bound to get a much more thoughtful, thorough and timely review from me than the cashgrab that appeared right around the time that Glee was getting amazing exposure with its post-Super Bowl episode.

For other works featuring Dianna Agron, please check out my reviews of:
I Am Number Four
Glee - The Complete First Season
Glee - Season One, Volume One: The Road To Sectionals
Heroes - Season Two
Veronica Mars - Season Three


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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