Sunday, 17 October 2010

GLEE: The Complete First Season (2009) [Blu-ray]

Sunday, 17 October 2010

I've already reviewed the first half of Glee's freshman year here, so I'm going to be brief with my recap of the entire first season. Suffice to say, the second half definitely suffered from a desperation to keep the ball rolling, amidst fresh pressure because by then it was clear Glee was a breakout hit. Character arcs looped (how many times did gay Kurt and his macho father essentially go over the same emotional beats?), the musical numbers started to increase because each episode's plot rarely filled the timeslot, the plots themselves became tenuous (see "Funk"), returning guest-stars flopped (Kristin Chenoweth), new characters didn't quite work (Rachel's birth mother, Rachel's new boyfriend), and the ongoing storylines started to crawl or were practically dropped altogether (Schue's marriage breakup, Quinn's baby).

Glee's sense of self-belief and talented cast rescued it, and there was still enough comedy and barnstorming performances to keep most episodes buzzing away merrily. It's rarely boring (although it comes close when the stories feel rehashed), and there's enough vim and spirit to pull you through the bad patches, heading towards the entertaining finale.

For a more detailed look at each episode, revisit my archive of reviews:

Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester
1.1 - "Pilot"
1.2 - "Showmance"
1.3 - "Acafellas"
1.4 - "Preggers"
1.5 - "The Rhodes Not Taken"
1.6 - "Vitamin D"
1.7 - "Throwdown"
1.8 - "Mash-Up"
1.9 - "Wheels"
1.10 - "Ballad"
1.11 - "Hairography"
1.12 - "Mattress"
1.13 - "Sectionals"
1.14 - "Hell-O"
1.15 - "The Power Of Madonna"
1.16 - "Home"
1.17 - "Bad Reputation"
1.18 - "Laryngitis"
1.19 - "Dream On"
1.20 - "Theatricality"
1.21 - "Funk"
1.22 - "Journey"

Blu-ray Review

Picture (1.78:1, 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC) Unexpectedly, the visual quality of this high-definition transfer isn't the glossy and colourful thing of beauty you'd quite rightly expect to see. Colours are often quite dull and the impact of the series colour palette is undermined. Hardly unwatchable, and still an improvement in detailing over the DVD's comparatively muddy release, but it's a disappointing transfer of a TV show that should have made been a demo-worthy TV release.

Sound (DTS 5.1 Master Audio) Likewise, the audio track may be a lossless DTS 5.1 MA mix, but the musical impact of this Blu-ray is a disappointment. It's clear and robust with strong dialogue, but there's not much going on with the rear speakers and the songs blast out mainly from the front rather than envelop you from all angles. Taken as a whole, the A/V presentation of Glee on Blu-ray is far below what you'd imaging this show to have achieved on the format. I sincerely hope future box-sets up their game.

Special Features

Many of the extra features contained on this four-disc Blu-ray have been taken from the DVD's Volume 1 release, so my written assessment of those extras has been copied from my previous DVD review. Blu-ray exclusive extras are all those presented in HD, with the old DVD extra's unfortunately stuck in standard-definition.

Behind The Pilot: A Visual Commentary with Cast & Crew: The Emmy-winning Director's Cut of Glee's pilot is shown, with the cast and crew giving their simultaneous commentary inside a letterboxed window next to the footage. This is surprisingly insightful, interesting and fun, with most of the principal cast and crew seated in a private screening and giving various anecdotes and behind-the-scenes trivia. Recommended.

Glee Sing Along Karaoke (HD, 10m) Do you want to sing-a-long to some of season 1's songs? Here your wish is granted, with karaoke versions of "Alone", "Somebody To Love", "Keep Holding On" and the ubiquitous "Don't Stop Believing" cued up and ready.

Glee Music Jukebox (HD) Handy feature across all four discs, where you can jump straight to each episode's musical segments. You can even randomize the playlist. If you're primarily a fan of Glee's singing and dancing, this is the ideal way to get an immediate hit.

Staying In Step With Glee (HD, 6m) The show's choreographer, Zach Woodlee, presents a tutorial on how to dance to Glee's version of "Rehab".

Bite Their Style: Dress Like Your Favourite Gleek (HD, 9m) The show's costume designer, Lou Eyrich, reveals the decisions behind each character's distinct look. Mildly interesting.

Unleashing The Power Of Madonna (HD, 11m) The music producer and cast reminisce about the mid-season Madonna tribute episode.

The Making Of A Showstopper (HD, 17m) A look at how the finale's rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was adapted for Glee.

Welcome To McKinley! (SD, 5m) The funniest extra is undoubtedly this faux video presentation by Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba), who gives a hilariously inept and self-conscious guide to the facilities of McKinley High for the benefit of freshmen. This is possibly the best thing Theba's done on the show, as worrying as that might be, so please give him more to do on the actual show!

Glee Music Video (SD, 3m) Queen's "Somebody To Love" gets glee'd to a so-called music video that plays like a slo-mo promo for Glee. This actually encapsulates the show's quirky appeal, although it's a pity it's presented in stereo and not surround sound.

Full Length Audition Pieces (SD, 4) Here you can watch the full performances of Rachel singing "On My Own" (3 mins.) and Mercedes performing "Respect" (1 min.), which were the respective actresses audition pieces for the show.

Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session (SD, 12m) The most substantial featurette on the disc is this look at how they cast the show by holding auditions at Fox. We learn, as if there was any doubt, that the creators were after performers who were "triple threats" (i.e can act, sing and dance), that Lea Michele was the first to be auditioned and walked in fresh from a car accident picking glass out of her hair, and that Corey Monteith's audition tape had him drumming on tupperware and wine glasses, amongst other things. A nice peek behind the curtain, but a shame it only focused on a few of the core actors.

Deconstructing Glee with Ryan Murphy (SD, 3m) The co-creator of Glee gives his brief thoughts on what the show's all about and its themes, for what it's worth.

Dance Boot Camp (SD, 3m) Choreographer Zach Woodlee gives us a quick insight into how the cast get into shape for the dance routines, and it's again mentioned that Corey Monteith is the weak link (but we knew that from the show.)

Jane Lynch - A To Glee (SD, 1m) Resolutely pointless soundbite from Jane Lynch while sat in makeup, with a few clips of her character Sue Sylvester to bookmark.

Meet Jane Lynch (SD, 1m) Considering Lynch plays the show's best character, the most disappointing thing about this Glee box-set's extras is how marginalized she is. Here's a so-brief-it's-unnecessary extra that could, and should, have been far more extensive.

Things You Don't Know About... (SD) A handful of Glee's cast answer trivial questions about themselves, each lasting approximately 1 minute. Very underwhelming.

Video Diaries (SD, 17m) The cast were given camera-phones to record their trip from L.A to New York, to attend the Fox Upfronts presentation of Glee last summer. Here you'll see each actor's video-diary of the day, truncated to a few minutes per person. Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Corey Monteith, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, Chris Colfer & Dianna Agron all participated. The result is rather unfocused and sometimes confused, but nevertheless a fun candid look into each actor's day. You can sense the group  camaraderie and excitement about being on the cusp of network success. Each actor's diary is playable separately, but I recommend you "Play All" and sit back.