Glee: Season 1 Vol.2 - Road to Regionals Review
The break did it a bit of good. It had time to air itself out, clean out the cobwebs, lay down the shake and vac…There’s an analogy in there somewhere.
Returning to the screens after several month’s hiatus, Glee: Season 1 Part 2 picks up shortly after the New Directions’ victory at the Sectionals. Despite the team’s well-deserved win, however, emotions are mixed, and it isn’t long before Will Shuester receives word that the club’s electricity bill is eating into the school’s budget. Principal Figgins thusly informs him that if the club is to survive any longer, then it must place in the upcoming Regionals. And for Sue, that’s more of enough reason to get started on sabotaging Will’s and his students’ dreams. While she sends her spies Santana and Brittany to seduce Finn, Rachael finds comfort in the arms of Vocal Adrenaline lead Jesse, who may also have ulterior motives. Sure enough, the Glee club is already on shaky ground, and they’re gonna have to work together through many more hardships if they’re to make it through one more year.
One more year being the key phrase. It’s telling in itself as it reflects the uncertain future of Glee’s televised run at the time. With just nine episodes of the first season left, Glee has a lot of ground to cover given the grand task that the writers have assigned it. Although one would think that putting together huge choreographed numbers in training for huge sing and dance contests would take more effort than we actually witness during the episodes themselves, it isn’t really about such specifics; the creators are quite content filling all the gaps between with the usual trials of growing up, while interspersing the narrative with expected smash hits. But this time around they do have a few new tricks up their sleeves, deciding to mix up the proceedings a little with the introduction of artist-specific themed weeks.
While initially the prospect is quite daunting, what with placing primary focus on a genre defining act - who isn’t going to appeal to everyone - the move actually turns out alright. The second episode in this collection sees Madonna getting all the love, with her songs cherry-picked in order to accompany the emotional journey of our young leads and their approach into adulthood, while later on Lady Gaga is turned to for far greater comic effect. Both of these big-budget examples, whilst tackling obvious issues that the show set up from the beginning, allows Glee to remind us what having fun is all about, which at many a time even itself had forgotten. Elsewhere, the show’s ambitions for its song and dance numbers soar higher than ever with its eclectic choice of songs and some dazzling videos to accompany; moreover as relationships develop and storylines branch out to other characters, some of the more underwritten cast members do get to flex their chords a bit more and partake in some nicely unexpected duets. Much of the music here is still tuned to modern tastes, but it’s nice to see the show sometimes go in a completely different direction and surprise us with odd - and fairly obscure - numbers such as “Run Joey Run”. At times, I couldn’t help but think it missed a few opportunities though. For all the talk of “bad reputation” in episode 17, I kept waiting eagerly for that Joan Jett number which never kicked in. Likewise, where’s ELO or The Bee Gees when you’ve got a roller derby in town and Olivia Newton-John making cameo appearances!?!
Personal minor quibbles aside - and perhaps too telling of my own tastes - Glee’s better moments, then, arrive when the series doesn’t try too hard to juggle various subplots, which was one of my biggest complaints last time. Now that it’s largely dispensed with Will’s wife and cleared up the convolution around the Quinn storyline, it no longer bares that bitter sting of permanent defeat, and instead starts to feel like it knows exactly what it wants to be. The cynicism is still here, but it’s so delightfully channelled through the ever reliable Sue Sylvester - who even gets to steal the kids’ thunder in some cracking music video appearances - that it’s impossible not to crack a smile or laugh out loud at a show that thrives off satire, even if not every note is pitch perfect. It’s so finely tapped into its young audience that its designated targets seem as appropriate as they are predictable, with the Youtube phenomenon, teen movies and celebrity-dom being perfectly exploited for our amusement. Glee has also clearly moved on to the point that it’s big enough to pull in major names, which does provide a few awkward moments. Olivia Newton-John’s and Josh Groban’s appearances never convince in the way they’re perhaps supposed to, which at this point is concerning, what with talk of future guest appearances who threaten to turn the series into something indigestible. We’ll wait and see I suppose.
Although clearly more fun this time around, the abundance of gags does come at the expense of some character development, which ultimately leaves the viewer to wonder if the show is already starting to run out of ideas. More obstacles are thrown in the path of the kids and adults: Rachael and her new love interest, plus the discovery of her mother’s identity; Will and Emma take an unexpected break, and Finn’s mother is now dating Kurt’s father. But it’s as if the show is on a constant loop as strong feelings of déjà vu seep in. Episodes featuring Kurt and his father trying to bond and Artie coming to terms with his disability, for example, predictably fail to deliver anything over what’s been previously conveyed, while the rousing school speeches, which often pave the way for acceptance within the school community, are shrugged off by everyone come the next week, so that the cycle of childish backstabbing can continue. Such is the destiny of Glee it seems.
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Glee is anamorphically presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is flagged for progressive playback. In terms of quality it’s exactly the same as before: slightly soft and enhanced with the power of edges. As mentioned last time colours fair pretty well, but louder primary ones come dangerously close to bleeding; in fact red does and also greatly affects skin tones, which rarely have an air of consistency about them. Contrast could be better, blacks are acceptable, but for the time being it’s all perfectly watchable. With the Blu-ray now out, I’m all the more curious to see how it compares.
The soundtrack is very impressive, not in any great ambient sense - though the school environment carries over lively enough - but in balancing the dialogue well and counting where it truly matters. The musical showpieces sound particularly lavish; once they kick in the surround system takes on new life in making active use of the sub-woofer with a nice amount of bass, while vocals and instruments feature a good amount of separation across front and rear channels. A nicely encapsulating feeling all round.
Glee Music Juke Box accompanies all discs and simply provides the means to skip straight to the show’s songs.
Disc 3 contains all other bonus materials, and once more they’re a light selection of behind-the-scenes stuff, ranging from 6 minutes to 15 minutes in length. Staying in Step with Glee is a brief look at the dance choreography, as Zach Woodlee and Brooke Lipton teach us a little number, while Bite Their Style: Dress Like Your Favourite Gleek takes us on a tour through the wardrobe department as Costume Designers Lou Eyrich and Jennifer Eve talk us through the process of picking out the show’s character-defining costumes. Unleashing the Power of Madonna with Music Supervisor PJ Bloom, Music Producer Adam Anders, and select cast members explains how the show set about paying homage one of the world’s biggest pop stars, and finally Making A Showstopper focuses on the series’ finale in which Vocal Adrenaline perform a glitzy version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.