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HTF DVD REVIEW: Glee: Season 1, Volume 1 - Road to Sectionals

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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 03 2010 - 02:08 PM

Glee: Season 1, Volume 1 – Road to Sectionals

Directed by Ryan Murphy et al

Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Year: 2009
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 610 minutes
Rating: G
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 39.98

Release Date: December 29, 2009
Review Date: January 3, 2010
The Series
With the runaway success of Disney’s High School Musical films (plus their offshoots Jump In!, Camp Rock, and One World) along with the assorted concerts, movies, and television shows featuring musical acts like Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers, it should have been obvious that there is a large, willing audience out there for singing and dancing teenagers. The ready acceptance of Fox’s Glee nationwide after the dismal failure of CBS’ musical Viva Laughlin just two seasons ago surprised many, but it shouldn’t have. There aren’t many more bracing, blissful sights than seeing a bunch of supremely talented young people singing and dancing their hearts out with the pure joy of performing. Added to this is a handful of sometimes offbeat but usually identifiable character backstories, and you’ve got one of the 2009-2010 television season’s most genuinely enjoyable shows. This new box set release puts together the show’s first thirteen episodes, collected here as a stopgap measure to assuage the show’s fans until the series returns to the airwaves in April 2010.
The series’ underlying dramatic structure is made up of two romantic quadrangles. For the adults, the selfish and manipulative Terri Schuester (Jessalyn Gilsig) feigns a pregnancy to keep her Spanish teacher/glee club sponsor husband Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) on a short leash while germophobic school guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) pines after her obvious but unavailable soul mate Will as jealous, infatuated athletic director Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher) simmers on the sidelines. Among the teens, school BMOC jock Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) and his girl friend head cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy due to Quinn’s one night stand with Finn’s best friend Noah Puckerman (Mark Salling) while supremely talented nerd Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) longingly wishes Finn would look her way for a change. All of the young people find themselves eventually a part of William McKinley High School’s deteriorated show choir, and Will’s ambition is to build the club up to recapture the heights it attained when he went to school there more than a decade earlier when they won the national championship, an objective made almost impossible now due to the underhanded schemes of the school’s tyrannical cheerleader sponsor Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch).
The show’s first thirteen episodes have included some unquestionable dramatic highlights, but it’s in its true element during the many thrilling, imaginative, and sometimes unexpectedly moving musical numbers. Shrewdly, the producers have not concentrated on any one type of music. Yes, there are the expected show tunes (“Maybe This Time,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Defying Gravity,” “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade”), but there are plenty of pop and rock classics, some smooth jazz, and some rap and hip-hop along the way. Every musical taste is touched in the show’s first thirteen episodes, and the glee club manages to make almost every one of them memorable. Among the real standouts are the pilot episode’s seminal showcase number “Don’t Stop Believin’” (which sold an amazing several million downloads at iTunes), Broadway veterans Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele making something special out of “Endless Love,” the roof-raising “Proud Mary” done in wheelchairs, the tender, heart-breaking handling of John Lennon’s “Imagine” with the show’s glee club alongside a choir of deaf teens, the simple, loving delivery of “True Colors,” and the club’s bid for its first Sectional championship with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” For sheer likeability and verve, it would be hard to top the group’s magnificently choreographed and performed “Jump” as the club moonlights by doing a local mattress commercial to earn some extra fame for the group.
Though the ensemble features true stage artists like Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison (both of whom make every song they’re featured in something special), the producers have wisely doled out some wonderful numbers for some of the other cast members putting the spotlight on their burgeoning talents. Amber Riley’s sassy Mercedes has easily held her own with Lea Michele’s soaring vocals, and among the boys, Cory Monteith’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” Mark Salling’s “Sweet Caroline,” Kevin McHale’s (as wheelchair-bound Artie) “Dancing with Myself,” and Chris Colfer’s (as emerging gay teen Kurt) “Defying Gravity” show much potential.
Dramatically, the show has had its ups and downs. The fake pregnancy storyline was a huge mistake making the already unlikable character of Terri truly detestable, and the Emma-Ken marriage preparations seemed dead-end dull for much of this part of the season. Wisely, both of these storylines were resolved by the end of these episodes making it possible for the show to start off the back part of its season without this excess downer baggage. On the other hand, the story of Kurt’s coming out to his father (Mike O’Malley) and finding instant support was among the show’s more notable dramatic success stories. The continuing machinations of the evil Sue Sylvester sometimes brought the series close to cartoon levels (though Jane Lynch’s magnificently malevolent Sue is one of the year’s best comic creations). Quinn’s pregnancy and the rejection of her family due to her condition was one of the few plotlines left dangling by the end of the series’ first half. Add in some terrific guest stars (Victor Garber, Debra Monk, Josh Groban, Kristin Chenoweth, Eve), and Glee’s front half of the season truly emerged as something special.
Here are the thirteen episodes contained on four discs in this set.
1 – Pilot (Director’s Cut)
2 – Showmance
3 – Acafellas
4 – Preggers
5 – The Rhodes Not Taken
6 – Vitamin-D
7 – Throwdown
8 – Mash-Up
9 – Wheels
10 – Ballad
11 – Hairography
12 – Mattress
13 - Sectionals
Video Quality
The program’s 1.78:1 television aspect ratio is presented at 720p on Fox, and the 480p downconverted transfers here look wonderfully colorful and impressively detailed for the most part. True, there are more soft shots than one might like, and some slight edge enhancement is noticeable in several episodes. Flesh tones are usually accurate but some early episodes tend to veer them toward pink. Still, it’s a well above average image on display here. Each episode has been divided into 12 chapters.
Audio Quality
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track spreads the terrific musical arrangements throughout the entire soundfield, sometimes with impressively directionalized singing voices and nice separation of instruments into various sound channels in the orchestrations. Though there are occasional ambient sounds during the school scenes (hallway and cafeteria noise, cheers at a football game), the sound design has not taken full advantage of every opportunity for impressive split surround effects.
Special Features
“Welcome to William McKinley!” is a 5-minute fictional introduction to the setting for the series, William McKinley High School, hosted by principal Figgins (actor Iqbal Theba in character). It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Glee Music Video”  is a 2 ¾-minute promotional spot for the show with clips from the pilot episode set to music. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
There are two full length audition sequences from the pilot (cut there for time constraints) . Rachel’s “On My Own” runs 3 ¼ minutes while Mercedes’ “Respect” runs for 1-minute. Both are in anamorphic widescreen.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session” is the most substantial bonus on the disc: 12 minutes with creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan discussing the genesis of the project and going into some detail with casting three major student roles: Rachel (Lea Michele), Finn (Cory Monteith), and Kurt (Chris Colfer) with clips of their actual auditions. It’s in nonanamorphic letterbox.
“Deconstructing Glee promises more than it delivers: only 2 ¾ minutes with Ryan Murphy describing the need for triple threat artists in the parts and the chance everyone took hoping that this kind of series would work. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
“Dance Boot Camp” finds choreographer Zach Woodlee showing the original steps to six major cast members for the pilot episode. This anamorphic widescreen feature runs 3 ¼ minutes.
“Jane Lynch A to Glee and “Meet Jane Lynch” are two throwaway vignettes with the show’s resident villain on display. The first is basically clips from the pilot while the second has the actress very briefly describing her character. Each featurette runs one minute in anamorphic widescreen.
“Things you Don’t Know About” is a series of brief featurettes with four of the show’s stars telling some semi-private things about themselves. We find out five pieces of information about Jayma Mays (¾ minute), seven things about Cory Monteith (1 minute), six things about Amber Riley (1 minute), and seven things about Chris Colfer (¾ minute). All are in anamorphic widescreen.
There are eight video diaries shot when the cast gathered for the network upfronts in New York City. They may be viewed individually or in one 17 ¼-minute grouping. The participants are Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Cory Monteith, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley, Chris Colfer, and Dianna Agron.
There are trailers for Fame, Flicka 2, Defying Gravity, and Night in the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
In Conclusion
4/5 (not an average)
One of the season’s most unusual and deeply entertaining and affecting shows, Glee is a must-see experience for lovers of music, nutty comedy, and with an often involving (but sometimes irritating) over-the-top dramatic tone. The first volume of season one episodes does the show proud and is highly recommended.
Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 10 ONLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted January 03 2010 - 03:11 PM


Has there been any noise about releasing this series on Blu-ray?

And...forgive my ignorance...but have episodes outside of the 13 presented here aired yet?

This is a series my wife and I could probably get behind...but I hesitate to make the purchase without knowing if an HD release might be coming down the pike. 

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#3 of 10 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted January 03 2010 - 05:11 PM

Mike- Nothing has been announced, but I would be surprised if when the first season is finished they don't release it on Blu-ray.  An early press release indicated both DVD and BD, but a correction was quickly issued. Fox has a pretty good track record for TV on BD (My Name is Earl, Bones, Dollhouse, The Unit and Simpsons, but no My Name is Ted) if that helps.

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   David Rain

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Posted January 03 2010 - 06:26 PM

I'm guessing when the entire season is released you'll see it on both standard DVD and glorious Blu-Ray. Jane Lynch in all her high-def glory. I'm about to board the Sue Sylvester Express.

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#5 of 10 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 04 2010 - 12:34 AM

Originally Posted by Mike Frezon 


Has there been any noise about releasing this series on Blu-ray?

And...forgive my ignorance...but have episodes outside of the 13 presented here aired yet?

This is a series my wife and I could probably get behind...but I hesitate to make the purchase without knowing if an HD release might be coming down the pike. 
As others have said, nothing official has been announced, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fox issued the entire first season on Blu-ray after the show's back nine episodes air this spring. I would certainly love to hear these musical numbers in lossless audio.

No, nothing else other than these thirteen episodes have yet aired. They were filmed and finished last summer before the series even began airing in the fall (after the sneak preview of the pilot aired as a special after American Idol in the spring of 2009). According to co-creator Ryan Murphy, they had no idea the series would catch on and were simply hoping Fox would air all thirteen episodes (which is why certain plots were brought to their conclusions in the first thirteen rather than having a lot of dangling stories with no resolutions.)

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   TravisR


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Posted January 04 2010 - 04:54 AM

Originally Posted by MattH. 

As others have said, nothing official has been announced, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fox issued the entire first season on Blu-ray after the show's back nine episodes air this spring.


The Digital Bits made the same guess this morning too.

#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H


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Posted January 04 2010 - 07:11 AM

My daughter is a hardcore "Gleek" and picked this up first day. She then proceeded to watch the entire run over Christmas holidays on my BDP-S350. This looks very good upscaled on my 720p display, though not true HD. Great review, Matt. You hit all the salient nails on their respective heads.
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#8 of 10 OFFLINE   Andrew Radke

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Posted January 04 2010 - 08:18 AM

Admittedly, I didn't like this show at first glance.  I saw the sneak preview of the pilot following 'Idol' last Spring, and I believe the exact words uttered were, "What the f**k is this??".  Anyway, after catching wind that the show had become a huge hit, I decided to give it another chance....this time keeping an open mind.  Needless to say, it grew on me and I've been watching it since.  The musical numbers are fantastic.  Some of which actually gave me goosebumps.  Watch their rendition of Queen's "Somebody to Love" and you'll know what I mean.  Anyway, I chose not to get this, as I'm holding out for the inevitable 'complete' first season release.

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#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 05 2010 - 04:29 PM

Nice review, Matt. I agree that the pregnancy angle was the weakest part of the storyline. Finn might not be the brightest kid around, but how does anyone get to be a senior in a suburban high school without hearing about paternity tests? And I never could conjure up a plausible way that Terri could have pulled off her plan without Will eventually catching on.

Still, I love the show. Glee club is nothing like it was when I was in high school!

Rich Gallagher

#10 of 10 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted January 11 2010 - 08:41 AM

Now that Fox has renewed Glee for a second season and they're planning this talent search for some new cast members for season two, I feel more than ever that Fox is very high on the show and that a Blu-ray set of the entire first season should be forthcoming in the late summer/early fall.

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