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Matt Rowe's MusicTAP

-Established 1997-

page added: 9/14/10

Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits

Glee: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray Disc)

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Glee: The Complete First Season
2009-2010 (2010) - 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray on September 14th, 2010
Also available on DVD


Program Rating: A
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: C+

In the Spring of 2009, while I was still caught up in the euphoria over the recently-aired finale of Battlestar Galactica, Fox previewed the pilot episode for Glee - a show that wasn't going to debut on their network until the Fall. And I had absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.

But my wife, Sarah, loved it. She couldn't stop talking about it and arm twisting me to watch it with her. Heroically, I continued to resist. Jump ahead to last Summer, with not much on TV but reality crap and reruns - Sarah finally sees her opening. "Come on, just watch this show with me. Trust me." Turns out, she's DVR-ed the Glee pilot and starts it up. And I watch... and my eyebrows go up. About 5 minutes in, I turn to her and say, "Wow, there's a lot more going on here than I expected." And another 60 minutes or so (and a stunningly cheesy-good cover of Journey's Don't Stop Believing) later, I was pretty blown away.

Glee's plot is deceptively simple. Matthew Morrison plays Will Schuester, a low-paid Spanish teacher at William McKinley High School, charged with restoring the Glee Club to its former glory. His rival is one Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch, of Best in Show and 40-Year-Old Virgin fame), the cut-throat coach of the school's award-winning "Cheerios" cheerleading squad. In order to revive the Glee Club, Will needs money from the school's limited activity budget, and Sue's not willing to give up one dime of her Cheerios' share. Their animosity quickly explodes into a campy, no-holds-barred war to see which team can win more awards and become most popular with the students. Will ultimately hopes to lead his Glee Club to a sectionals win... while Sue hopes to crush Will and his Glee Club into the beaten and whimpering mass of losers she's sure they are. Caught in the crossfire are those same students, including young diva-in-training Rachel (played by Lea Michele, whose amazing voice has her well on the way to becoming the next Barbara Streisand or Kristin Chenoweth), football QB Fynn (who secretly loves singing in the shower) and Fynn's Cheerios-leading girlfriend Quinn (also a founding member of the chastity club... only not so much with the actual chastity), along with several other insecure teens of every stripe.

A lot of the early criticism of Glee centered around the fact that the characters seem more like caricatures, that all the music sounds like it's been run through Auto-Tune software, and that the whole thing feels like some weird High School Musical clone for pre-teens. And then you actually WATCH a few episodes... and you realize that the first two things are deliberate. The characters DO start two-dimensional and the music DOES sound glossy... so you don't realize the show's depth until it smacks you on the nose. You'll be watching and you're mildly amused, and suddenly the plot and characters twist and you're unexpected blown away. And then it shifts back to glossy again and you realize that this show is both fast on its feet AND pretty deftly working you over. The effect is rather like the result of one of your drinking buddies daring you to step into a boxing ring with a cutsie Girl Scout. And after a few minutes of smiling at you through her braces and dancing around your lumbering ass, she clocks you with a roundhouse right and then clotheslines you as she giggles all the while, and you realize that the joke's on you: She's really a future Olympic champion and she's got your number, brother.

Let me tell you, anyone who says this show is a High School Musical clone has never seen either Glee or High School Musical. You know what it reminds me of? You remember that ever-so-delightfully twisted Reese Witherspoon/Matthew Broderick high school film, Election, by Alexander Payne - the same guy who later directed About Schmidt and Sideways? Yeah, Glee's a bit like that, combined with a dash of Christopher Guest-style humor, and with all your favorite pop songs mixed in for good measure. The show was created by Ryan Murphy, who wrote the screenplay for Running with Scissors and later created the FX series Nip/Tuck. It is, I am somewhat surprised to admit, pretty damn brilliant. Needless to say, the criticism of Glee evaporated fairly quickly as its first season played out. The show was recently nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, and won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy. It's won a Peabody too. And you'd better believe it deserves the accolades.

The HD video quality of Fox's new Blu-ray release is very good on the whole. Colors are bold and there's terrific detail. It's not quite up to the standards of, say... Disney's Lost or Universal's Battlestar Galactica Blu-rays, but it's as good or better than most of Warner's recent TV Blu-ray titles. Though the blacks appear a little crushed on occasion, and you do see some compression artifacting from time to time, the Blu-ray is certainly an improvement over even Fox's original HD broadcasts of these episodes. It's in the audio department where the Blu-ray REALLY shines, however. Glee is a series that succeeds or fails based upon its music, and these episodes just sound fantastic in 5.1 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The dialogue is clear and the songs themselves are terrifically presented, with wonderful clarity, dynamic range and staging. Yes, you can hear liberal Auto-Tune in the audio post-production, but again that's by design. In any case, while watching - and listening - to these Blu-rays you'll feel like you're right on stage with the cast as they belt their vocals out. A BIG thumbs up on the audio side here.

[Editor's Note: There have been a few reports of audio-sync problems with this set. I haven't experienced any such issues while watching the actual episodes on the Oppo BDP-83, however I have noticed that the sync is occasionally a little off when watching songs in Jukebox mode. This may be an issue with specific player models only.]

Thankfully, Fox's Blu-ray edition of the Complete First Season has ALL of the extras that were on the previous Season 1, Volume 1 - Road to Sectionals DVD, in upconverted SD (including the Welcome to McKinley! piece, the music video, the Casting Session and Deconstructing Glee featurettes, the audition videos, the cast-shot video clips and more) and it further includes ALL of the extras from the new Season 1, Volume 2 - Road to Regionals DVD as well (including the Power of Madonna piece, the costuming and Showstopper featurettes and more) - though these are actually in full HD for the Blu-ray. Each disc in this set includes a special Glee Music Jukebox, which is essentially a song-selection menu allowing you to skip directly to the various songs in the episodes on the disc. This is a simple feature and an obvious inclusion, but for a show like this it's absolutely welcome. There's also a Sing Along/Karaoke feature that allows you to either sing along with the cast - or all by yourself - on 4 popular songs from the show. And exclusive to the Blu-ray Disc is a Visual Commentary option on the extended Pilot episode. Basically, you get a split screen showing (on one side) most of the cast sitting with series creator Ryan Murphy and select other crew members in a screening room, along with the actual episode (on the other side). As the episode plays, Murphy takes the lead and they all crack jokes and chime-in about the episode as they watch with you. It's starts out slowly, and a little awkwardly, but once they get going (and get a little more comfortable) the tone relaxes and it's actually more entertaining than I would have expected. I'd love to see one of these with just the cast members at some point, and/or one with just the producers, so they can really start talking about the show in a little more depth. But this works - it's clear the cast and crew really get along and seem to enjoy working together. What I would REALLY love to see in the future is a longer documentary specifically going behind-the-scenes on the making of a typical episode, showing the process from the start to finish - from writing, through rehearsal, recording and shooting to the final cut - something that would show just how much work is involved in creating the series. Maybe that's a possibility for the Season 2 Blu-ray. In any case, the extras here are not exactly comprehensive, and their tone is a bit EPK/saccharine, but everything is light and fun - much in keeping with the tone of the show. My one REAL complaint with this Blu-ray is that the BD-Java menus take FOREVER to load - as much as 2-3 times longer than most Blu-rays on my Oppo BDP-83. I'm not sure why, but it's irritating and I can't imagine teenage fans having a lot of patience with it.

Glee is smart, funny, ever-so-subversive... and insidiously entertaining. If you've ever sung the lyrics to a classic 80s song in the shower, and you can recall that feeling of how oh-so important everything seemed when you were back in high school, you'll find something to like here. Jane Lynch alone is worth the price of admission - she plays the show's villainess with a comic, almost moustache-twirling gusto. And to the degree that there's a message, it's that all those things that made you feel different and alone as a kid, turn out to be strengths later in life. Not bad. The second season of Glee begins on Fox on Tuesday (9/21), and I suspect that - if you give it a chance - you'll be surprised to discover that you enjoy the show as much as I do. Recommended.

Bill Hunt
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