If TV talent shows and Joseph Campbell have taught us anything, it’s the importance of the journey. Since Orpheus trekked to the underworld or Dorothy took her first step on that yellow brick road, we’ve known that all good narratives require a journey, a rule Glee creator Ryan Murphy has really taken to heart.
The makers of Glee have embraced the journey motif with such gusto (not only by following up their ‘Road to Sectionals’ first instalment with a 9 episode ‘Road to Regionals’ DVD featuring a finale entitled ‘Journey to Regionals’, but also by bowing out on a medley of songs by 80s stadium fillers – you guessed it – Journey) that you might start to become suspicious. Bit much, isn’t it? Are they taking the piss?
Thankfully, or perhaps gleefully, the answer is yes. For the most part. Murphy and co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan know just what they’re doing with their slant on American high school archetypes, and do nearly all of it with their tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks. Pronouncing his game plan as wanting “to do a sort of postmodern musical”, Murphy has ended up with a soft centre satire that swings, perhaps a bit too unevenly, between sharp, pithy, reference-filled dialogue and sappy life lessons, all backed by a top 40 soundtrack.
Fitting for its school setting, lessons feature heavily in Glee. Like those weird bits at the end of Inspector Gadget cartoons when Penny used to remind us to wipe from front to back or make sure we use oven gloves when handling something hot, we come away from Glee with a host of morals.
Episodes in this half season are somewhat clunkily themed around issues of popularity, body image, sexuality, and absent parents, each complete with its very own hugging and learning moment. In just a few episodes we’re told to spend time getting to know ourselves, love our bodies, stick up for our friends, be true to who we are, and, for god’s sake, do not any one of us stop believing. Exhausting though this barrage of life affirming sentiments may be, at least the show’s heart is in the right place.
Originally commissioned for just 13 episodes then extended to the full 22 after enjoying phenomenal ratings success, Glee‘s reported $3 million per episode budget makes this second instalment truly the volume that success built. Notable guest stars include Neil Patrick Harris as Bryan Ryan, Mr Shue’s high school nemesis in the Joss Whedon directed Dream On, and Kristin Chenoweth returning as alcoholic April alongside new cast members Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff, plucked from Broadway to play Regionals rivals Vocal Adrenaline’s coach (Menzel) and leading man (Groff).
This volume’s opener, Hell-O, does some hasty unravelling of the threads tied up at the end of episode 13, so they can be slowly retied in time for the season finale. Glee fans (or Gleeks) know that each episode follows essentially the same plot: a force (usually Principal Figgins, acting as puppet for the demonic and inimitable Sue Sylvester) arbitrarily threatens to disband Glee Club, one or other of the kids questions their identity for a bit, until they all come together at the end as Glee Club receives an executional stay until the next arbitrary hoop to jump through appears. But with singing.
In terms of character, Glee knowingly follows the jock bully/bitch cheerleader/fashionista gay guy/sassy black chick/neurotic Jewish diva template, each of the above given a postmodern awareness of their clichéd roles.
A moment of brilliance comes in the form of Jane Lynch’s scene-stealing Sue Sylvester. Known predominantly for her roles in Christopher Guest’s satirical mockumentaries, Lynch’s bullying cheerleading coach does have to be the most awesome thing in a tracksuit since, well, ever.
Early reviews may have exaggerated their insistence that Glee was the antidote to the insidious High School Musical franchise but Glee‘s cartoonish irony and jabs at the American Christian right are certainly more akin to fellow Fox creation, The Simpsons, than Disney’s vapid East High.
The show is at its best when sending up celibacy clubs by making a pregnant cheerleader their former president and taking swipes at right wing darlings Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but perhaps we should wait for the release of Judd Apatow’s upcoming Bo Burnham collaboration to decide who really wears the anti-HSM crown.
If you can stomach the odd bit of expository dialogue, propensity to prefix words with ‘Gl’ and unconvincingly quick births followed by surely illegally quick adoptions, then you’ll enjoy Glee‘s take on this volume’s ‘underdogs with heart versus soulless perfectionists’ story arc.
It can be glichéd, perhaps a little glawkish, but it’s undeniably gl… Ok, I know. I’ll stop now.
Perfect for diehard fans, the extras feature a Glee Jukebox, letting you watch every song from the episodes without any of the talky bits inbetween, a karaoke sing-along for four tracks (Will and April’s Alone, and New Directions’ versions of Somebody To Love, Keep Holding On and Don’t Stop Believing) along with instructional vids on how to dress like Rachel, Kurt, Mercedes and Quinn and dance the choreography for Vocal Adrenalin’s version of Rehab.
Talking heads with the cast, creators, choreographers and musical director come in the form of two ten minute shorts focusing on the Madonna episode and Vocal Adrenaline’s Muppet-inspired performance of Bohemian Rhapsody.
Glee Season 1, Volume 2: Road to Regionalsis out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.