I always sorta wondered if “gleek,” the word for a geek in love with the show Glee was unique to the Glee television show or predated it. Are there show choir groupies out there called “gleeks” that go to Sectionals and Regionals along with their favorite high school singing groups? Probably not. Still, all self-respecting “gleeks” need to grab up Season One of their favorite new show on DVD.
Glee didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but certainly its popularity with both fans and critics was a little surprising. It’s not like a high school show choir covering '80s and '90s tunes while dealing with such heavy high school issues as homosexuality, teenage pregnancy, disabilities, bullying, eating disorders, and religion screams "big hit." Still, you never know what a little Journey will do in the right hands (and feet.)
It seems unlikely you need a summary of the plot if you’ve even bothered to click on this DVD review. You’re probably a bigger fan than I am, but just in case, the show features Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), a Spanish teacher at an Ohio high school trying to restart the Glee Club that was his joy as a student at the same school. He’s opposed by general indifference to Glee from the students and by direct opposition from cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), who sees any activity that might pull attention and money from her “Cheerios” as a threat. Will manages to put together a combination of outsider losers and cool kids to make a run at the Regional competition for show choir. That's something I literally had no idea existed until I watched this show.
The students include the confidently insufferable Rachel (Lea Michele), kinda dorky quarterback Finn (Corey Monteith), disabled Artie (Kevin McHale), gay Kurt (Chris Colfer), sassy Mercedes (Amber Riley), jerk athlete Puck (Mark Salling), pregnant Cheerio Quinn (Dianna Agron), and a few others who are equally stereotypical. They spend the year moving slowly towards getting enough people to actually compete and then trying to win over a team that features Jesse (Jonathan Groff). In the meantime, they deal with literally every high school problem known to man.
Glee is basically a soap opera with music. The kids hook up or try to hook up in all sorts of combinations: Rachel and Finn, Finn and Quinn, Quinn and Puck, Puck and Rachel, Puck and Santana (Naya Rivera), Rachel and Jesse, Finn and Kurt, Kurt and Mercedes, Artie and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), and I feel like I’m leaving out a few. Meanwhile, Will deals with his slightly kooky wife (Jessalyn Gilsig), his slightly kooky school counselor crush (Jayma Mays), his rival coach (guest star Idina Menzel), and even a low-level vibe with his archenemy Sue. When they aren’t dealing with “issues” it’s all about the hormones on this show.
Of course, it’s rare when they aren’t dealing with “issues.” There is some crazy, after-school-special mania with the creators that requires they say things about tolerance and acceptance every week. I’m fine with the concept, but do they have to make all their characters such major clichés? Kurt isn’t just gay, he’s GAY. Mercedes isn’t just sassy, she’s SASSY. Artie isn’t just disabled, he’s DISABLED. Why have one character with Down’s syndrome when you can have two? Why have a pregnant character unless her parents are intolerant religious hypocrites? Why say, “just be true to yourself and who you are” once when you can say it every week over and over?
Still, the clichés and soapiness (and the occasional odd changes in tone) are nothing to cut down the enjoyment of the music. The musical numbers, elaborately produced and choreographed, are the highlight of each week, and the episodes are packed with them. They run the gamut from rehearsals, performances, and the old “here’s how I’m feeling on the inside” numbers. There is, literally, something for everyone. Broadway chestnuts like “Tonight” and “Defying Gravity,” '70s tunes as varied as “Highway to Hell” and “Lean on Me,” '80s rockers like “Jump” and “Don’t Stop Believin,” '90s smooth R&B like…well, you get the picture. Different songs, genres, and styles are thrown together in a mash of pure entertainment bliss. The dancing is almost as amazing, and if the whole thing didn’t come across as super processed, it would be darn close to perfect.
The music and the performances make it possible to keep going when the level of clichéd drama gets just a little too high. Plus, Morrison’s earnest performance as Will, the one fairly grounded and normal person involved, and Lynch’s well-deserved Emmy winner as the brutally honest and quick Sylvester. The only real problem is that sometimes you have to take a second to realize what she said, and when you start laughing, you miss the next thing she says. She’s not the only funny one; Salling’s Puck kills, and the rest of the kids (in character only, most of them look about 28) get good culture-based laughs when they aren’t going for something cheap and easy.
Season One of Glee is a little too uneven to be great, but it has great aspects, and the base is there for the show to really take off, story-wise, with Season Two. If you haven’t jumped on board, now is the time to catch up, and if your toes are tapping as you listen to the Acafellas' rendition of “I Wanna Sex You Up,” then you are probably going to like what you see overall.
The Glee: The Complete First Season DVD starts out looking impressive when it comes to extras. “Over Two Hours of Special Features” is plastered on the back, and the inside lists things like “Things You Don’t Know About Kurt,” “Glee Music Jukebox,” “Glee Music Video,” and “Deconstructing Glee with Ryan Murphy.” Unfortunately, with one or two exceptions, these all turn out to be ho-hum, short, lame, or all three.
None of the episodes have a commentary track. I think I’m on record as despising gang-bang-type eight-person commentaries a la The Office, but not bothering to record one commentary for 22 episodes is pretty lazy and ignores the fact that not every Glee fan is a 15-year-old theater geek.
As Glee lives and dies on its production numbers, music plays a big part in the extras. “Sing Along Karaoke” and “Jukebox” are both advertised prominently with the set, but both are kind of so-so. The “Jukebox” function allows you to jump directly to the musical numbers in each episode. Each episode of the last nine, that is. The first 13 episodes don’t have this feature. Why? Who knows, but it corresponds to the split between the first and second half of the Glee season. They probably could have gone back and added the function to the first part of the season, but they didn’t. The Karaoke function is pretty good if you’re into Karaoke, but it only exists for four songs. Not four songs per episode, four songs for the entire season. Seems a little chintzy. You also get a “music video” of the Glee cast performing “Somebody to Love,” but it actually looks more like a promo for the show that played before it premiered. There are also two performances that weren’t shown in full on the show of Rachel and Mercedes auditioning for the club.
Another big music extra, and really the most interesting thing in the extras, is called “Making a Showstopper,” which takes 17 minutes to breakdown the season-ending musical number “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s impressively detailed and gives you a reminder that there is no way high school show choirs could do any of these numbers. Some of the dancers in this song look about 30 and have been dancing professionally for years. Still, if you want a true behind-the-scenes feel, this is one of the few features that provides that. There is also an extra that tries to teach you the steps for the “Rehab” number done early in the season by Vocal Adrenalin. I can’t imagine anyone over 16 trying to learn the steps via this DVD, and then what would you do with the knowledge?
Another pretty good extra is a 10-minute behind-the-scenes of the Madonna episode. Like the “Showstopper” extra, it’s detailed and feels like it was made for grown-ups, as was the “Casting Session” featurette that talks not only about casting but how the show was conceived and sold to Fox. It’s some of the stuff that you don’t often hear talked about and it’s very interesting.
Unfortunately, once you get past the “Showstopper,” “Casting,” and “Madonna” extras, most of the rest comes across as filler. Two extras that have Jane Lynch’s name on them last a grand total of two minutes and five seconds, COMBINED. Co-creator Ryan Murphy spends about two minutes explaining the basic outline of Glee, and there is a three-minute look at something called dance boot camp. That seems to consist entirely of the cast saying, “I’m not a good dancer” and “These dances are hard and I do the worst at dancing them.”
The remainder of the extras include a nine-minute look at the costumes that is pretty ho-hum, some video diaries, and something called “Things You Don’t Know About…” for three of the cast members. But it’s along the lines of “I like cats” or “I like steak” or “I like to walk in the sun” or other things you may not have known but don’t have much trouble believing or much interesting in knowing. “I once hit a man and kept on driving” would have been more of a thrill. Finally, there is a "Welcome to McKinley High" orientation video hosted by Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) that has almost nothing to do with the show but is really funny mainly for the intentionally poor production and acting.
It seems like a lot of stuff, but it’s really not that much. Still, why would you care about that, you’re some sort of Glee geek...a Gleek, if you will. Hey, I just came up with that. Not really, of course. If you are a Gleek, you’d love this even if it had nothing at all, and since it has more than nothing, you’ll probably love it.