In its third season, Glee tenaciously held its ground as one of TV’s most ambitious shows, in terms of production value and the sheer size of the ensemble it sets out to serve. Clearly, this weekly broadcast-network jukebox-musical comedy is not a show for everyone, but for its flaws, it manages—at least once an episode and frequently more often—to bust out a scene or a musical number that genuinely amuses, moves, or just plain dares you not to love it in its high-octane song-and-dance theatrics.
Since a season of Glee roughly covers a school year at the fictional McKinley High School (in Lima, Ohio), the show’s chickens come home to roost in Season Three. Out of the fall gate, the writers at last committed to the ages of the regular characters, many of which face graduation by season’s end. Many of the original players face graduation by season's end: Lea Michele’s ambitious über-diva Rachel, her athletic boyfriend Finn (Cory Monteith), out-and-proud Kurt (Chris Colfer), brassy diva Mercedes (Amber Riley), troubled-girl-next-door Quinn (Dianna Agron), underachiever Puck (Mark Salling), conniving Santana (Naya Rivers), and dancer extraordinaire Mike (Harry Shum Jr.). Other Glee clubbers include Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Brittany (Heather Morris), and Sam (Chord Overstreet, who returns full steam after a seeming contract dispute).
Looming change gives Season Three increased urgency in its narrative focus: the season's competitive climax precedes a goodbye-themed resolution for old favorites, and newcomers sprinkled through the season show the growing wave of the future (though Murphy has promised some of the original regulars will return post-graduation). Three of the new players hail from reality-TV competition The Glee Project: Damien McGinty (Irish exchange student Rory), Lindsay Pearce (diva, jr. Harmony), and Samuel Larsen (committed Christian Joe); elsewhere, the Warblers get their own Santana in gay schemer Sebastian Smythe (Grant Gustin). Favored guest stars, including Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff, make return appearances, and new ones—among them Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell (as Rachel's two dads), Whoopi Goldberg, and Lindsay Lohan—drop in.
Through it all, creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan do their darndest to keep it fresh (though not always succeeding) as they continue unsubtly to sledgehammer away at one central theme: the one Mr. Rogers used to articulate as “You are special.” In a climate increasingly concerned with getting out an anti-bullying message to teens, the way the show weaves splashy production numbers and catty comedy around sincere “Afterschool Special”-style messages (choosing battles ranging from teen suicide to “don’t text and drive”) defines the show’s unique, unprecedented network-TV paradigm: High School Musical rewritten by, say, Paul Rudnick. [The actual writing staff includes actor Michael Hitchcock, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer scribe Marti Noxon.]
Certainly, Glee is nothing if not flagrantly gay-friendly, with three series regular characters identifying as gay (Kurt, Blaine, and Santana)—another as openly bisexual (Britney)—three featured gay recurring character (Gustin’s and parents), and a guest-star roster that includes openly gay performers Groff, Ricky Martin and Matthew Bomer. But the show makes (self-)conscious efforts at diversity, being all but all-inclusive. Junior Artie (Kevin McHale) rocks a wheelchair, varying ethnicities (black, white, Asian, Latina) and beliefs (athiest and Christian) and cliques (jocks, punks, cheerleaders, theater kids) beat the odds by hanging out together in glee club; Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter)—lieutenant to Cheerios coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch)—has Down Syndrome, and gets her own significant storylines about dating and prom (in one, Helen Mirren provides Becky's inner monologue).
Season Three loads up on high-school "drama," music, and comedy. In "The First Time," three virgins (including one gay couple) have their sexual intiation. One episode pays tribute to Michael Jackson, another to Whitney Houston, and a third to Saturday Night Fever (there's also a Glee-style recreation of Grease's "Summer Lovin'"); West Side Story serves as the annual musical, performed by the glee kids. In a welcome respite from the quick-cut norm, "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" includes the glee kids' public-television holiday special, shot in retro black-and-white and featuring an endearing Kurt-Blaine song-and-dance duet to "Let it Snow." Glee remains at its best when it throws a curve, especially with a choice of number or interpretation: try "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" as a ballad sung by a male jock, or "Single Ladies" danced by Kurt's straight dad (Mike O'Malley).
Fox sends home Glee: The Complete Third Season in a four-disc Blu-ray set with spectacular A/V specs. The image quality remains on par with previous seasons, handily replicating the series bright, vivid, sharp, colorful look. Deep black level and excellent contrast contribute to these transfers' impressive fidelity, best seen in the level of detail and texture they yield. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes roar to life for the production numbers but also provide some nice immersive ambience around McKinley High and out and about.
Bonus features include the Glee Music Jukebox (HD)—scene access to jump directly to favorite songs or enjoy them on "shuffle" play—and a number of featurettes. "Glee Under the Stars" (7:45, HD) shows off some of a promotional event with cast members (including some live Q&A). "Glee Give a Note" (7:46, HD) records the efforts and reward of a high-school musical theater department to win recognition and $10,000 as a worthy (and needy) program (spoiler alert: cast members Dot Marie-Jones and Jayma Mays arrive with a giant check).
You'll also find "'Ginger Supremacists' Extended Scene," "'Sue Flashback' Deleted Scene," and "'Santa Baby Deleted Scene"; "Glee Swap: Behind the Scenes of 'Props'"—about the good times had by all during the body-switching dream sequence; "Meet the Newbies," about, natch, the latest cast members; "Saying Goodbye," in which original regulars reflect on transitioning out of glee club; "Ask Sue: World Domination Blog," in which Sue answers viewer mail; and "Return of Sue's Quips."
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