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Glee: Encore(TV) (2009-2010)
A high-school Spanish teacher becomes the director of the school's Glee club, hoping to restore it to its former glory.
For more about Glee: Encore and the Glee: Encore Blu-ray release, see the Glee: Encore Blu-ray Review
Starring: Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, Matthew Morrison, John Schneider
» See full cast & crew
Glee: Encore Blu-ray Review
For Gleeks Only
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 19, 2011
Ready for a shocking statistic? Guess who outranks The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and even The King himself—Elvis Presley—for the most songs ever included in the Billboard Top 100. Yes, the cast of Glee. As of February, the Fox TV musical's fictitious New Directions show choir has placed 113 songs in the Top 100, beating out Presley's previous record of 108. It took the show—a kind of karaoke-on-crack pop culture love fest—less than two years to break this record, and Glee shows no sign of stopping. Granted, the show has an unfair advantage. Where traditional acts/bands might release a handful of singles per year, each episode of Glee yields around five chart climbers, cover tunes covering the span of the musical spectrum, from Kanye West to Liza Minnelli, KISS to Madonna. Glee is a veritable cash cow for Fox, and the studio's marketers plan to milk it dry, issuing iTunes singles, CD compilations, and other merchandise on a near-weekly basis. "Gleeks," as the show's fans have come to be known, eat this stuff up. Their latest fix is Glee Encore, which consists of thirty-six musical performances from the first season, back to back, without any pesky filler like plot or characterization.
This seems more than a little redundant to me if you already own the first season, as each disc in the Blu-ray season one set includes a "Music Jukebox" mode that allows you to play the songs independently of their associated episodes. However, I suppose the allure here is that you get all of the season one fan favorites in a concise 77-minute compilation, and you can cycle or shuffle through them without ever having to swap out discs. This makes it easy to put the Blu-ray on and let it run unattended if you're having a party or, I dunno, cleaning up the morning after a party. And that's what this disc seems good for—background music. Maybe it's just me, but no matter how much I enjoy the show—and I'll admit to liking it—I don't think I'd ever want to sit down and consciously watch thirty-six Glee songs in a row. (Without getting paid for it.) That would be overkill. Part of what makes the show so great is that the dramatic content is always mirrored in each episode's musical choices, investing the various pop songs and show tunes with additional meaning. Strip away the characters' conflicts, emotions, and resolutions and you're left with a group of twentysomethings pretending to be high schoolers, singing Top-20 hits we've all heard a thousand times before. There's nothing wrong with this— and I have no doubt many fans will get a kick out of revisiting season one's best musical moments—but the songs, divorced from context, lack some of that infectious Glee magic.
It should be obvious that Encore is not for Glee newbies. If you don't know Finn from Puck or understand the significance of a Slushie in the face, you'd be best off heading over to our season one review. Veteran Gleeks, however, are probably wondering about the tracklisting, trying to gauge whether Encore is worth adding to their collections. The show's twenty-two episode first season featured well over a hundred songs, so it's inevitable that certain favorites wouldn't make the thirty-song set. Parliament's "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" is sadly missing in action, and Kurt's gender-bending take on Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" is a no-show too. Still, the disc features a strong assortment of tracks, although I was hoping for a few more dancier numbers to counteract the prevalence of chest-swelling, tear-jerking power ballads. The one thing that stands out is how Rachel/Finn-centric season one is; they dominate here, which can get tiring. Season two may lack narrative direction so far, but at least the show has made much better use of the subsidiary characters in recent episodes. While Rachel and Finn get the most representation by far, all of the characters do get at least one or two times to shine. Kurt gets a classic Broadway number—and his name spelled out in enormous lights—with "Rose's Turn," from Gypsy: A Musical Fable. Quinn rocks The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On," and Mercedes gets to vibe it on Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." Even minor characters like April Rhodes and Jesse St. James show up to belt out a few tunes.
A full breakdown of the set is unnecessary, but I'll run through some of the highlights and low points. We get off to a rough start with "On My Own," from Les Mis, the first of many, many songs to feature the self-indulgent Rachel pounding her chest like Celine Dion singing the Titanic theme. I'm sorry Rachel fans—she grates on me, what can I say? Immediately following, though, comes Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," which has become Glee's defining anthem, and for good reason. It's powerful, perfectly sung, and features teen-yearning-for-freedom lyrics that transcend generations. Despite club coach Will Shuster's inability to convincingly rap—actor Matthew Morrison is perhaps the whitest white man of all time—I'm down with the cast's take on Kanye West's "Gold Digger," and "I Say A Little Prayer" is notable for being kind of hilarious out of context, as it appears that Will is leering inappropriately at cheerleaders Quinn, Brittany, and Santana. Although I could do without the overplayed "Lean on Me," I'll confess to tearing up a bit when New Directions joins the Haverbrook Deaf Choir for a spoken word/sung/sign language rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine." Is it emotionally manipulative? Sure, but it gets me every time. I also like the cast's rendition of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"—you gotta love Kurt dolled up like some 17th century barrister from outer space. With his powdered wig and pointy shoulder pads, he looks like a glam Captain Crunch or an even scrawnier Prince.
Should you buy Glee Encore? That's a tough call. It's certainly not a must-have for fans, who probably already own the season one set and —thus—already have all of these songs and more spread across four Blu-ray discs. Still, there's something to be said for the concept of a "greatest hits" style compilation, and I can envision some Gleeks putting Encore on while they're throwing a party or just puttering about the house. Here's the full tracklisting:
On My Own
Don't Stop Believin'
I Say A Little Prayer
Somebody to Love
It's My Life/Confessions Part II
You Keep Me Hanging On
I'll Stand By You
Don't Stand So Close to Me/Young Girl
Lean On Me
Don't Rain on My Parade
You Can't Always Get What You Want
Gives You Hell
Like A Virgin
Like A Prayer
One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not A Home
Run Joey Run
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Any Way You Want It / Lovin' , Touchin', Squeezin'
Glee: Encore Blu-ray, Video Quality
If you already own the first season of Glee on Blu-ray, you know exactly what to expect from Encore's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, which is practically identical. Shot on 35mm rather than digitally, the show naturally has a more filmic look than many TV programs, with a thin layer of grain that gives some life and warmth to the image. As I said in my review for season one, the presentation is as clean-cut and colorful as the show's teenaged characters. There's occasional softness, but high definition clarity is easily visible in resolved textures, like the detail in Rachel's angel wings in "Run Joey Run" or the surface of the leather jackets the guys wear during "It's My Life." In close-ups, pores and other facial features are visible, and you can even make out some pimples on Curt's chin during "Defying Gravity," which you probably wouldn't notice in standard definition. Color is dense and saturated but very realistic—the musical numbers may be stylized, but the image never is—and the picture looks especially fantastic during outdoor, daylight scenes. Skin tones, throughout, are perfectly balanced, black levels are deep, and contrast is nicely tuned. If you caught the show on Fox in high definition, you can expect a slightly more pristine look here, with fewer compression issues, but there are still a few small problems that keep the presentation from higher marks. Darker scenes are often peppered with bluish chroma noise, some fine color gradients look a little splotchy, and there are a few instance of mild banding. None of these are overt distractions, though.
Glee: Encore Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I ran a few comparisons, and the audio quality of Encore's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track also seems practically indistinguishable from the musical mixes on the season one set. As you'd hope, the various pop songs and show tunes sound fantastic, especially if you've got a capable 5.1 home theater set-up. The music has real presence, clarity, and dynamic punch, without ever sounded overly compressed or bottom heavy. During the bigger numbers, the instruments and voices are spread throughout all 5.1 channels, creating an enveloping soundfield that puts you right in the middle of the school auditorium. I was particularly impressed by the low-end amplitude of the bass in Madonna's "Vogue." Vocals tend to ride highest in the mix, and although you can occasionally discern the aftereffects of processing and autotuning, the singing is almost always bright, clean, and full-bodied. Do note that along with easy-to-read English SDH subtitles, the disc also includes lyrical subtitles in French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Glee: Encore Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are no bonus features at all on the disc, but that's not really a surprise. Instead, you'll find a few different ways to play the songs. You can choose the standard issue "Play All" to watch them all in chronological order, "Songs" to select individual tunes, or "Shuffle" to have the songs play randomly. A playlist feature would be nice—so you could, you know, filter out the more obnoxious Rachel ballads—but maybe we'll see that on the inevitable Encore 2 collection.
Glee: Encore Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Glee Encore seems a bit redundant if you already own season one and have bought the various singles and music compilations the show releases regularly on iTunes, CD, and elsewhere, but hardcore Gleeks who need a quick Rachel/Finn fix will appreciate being able to loop Glee's greatest hits in shuffle mode on Blu-ray. The press release bills the disc as a "perfect party companion," and I'd agree if it weren't for the inclusion of so many Rachel-centric power ballads. No one wants to listen to those at a party. Still, if you're a Glee fan in need of something to put on the TV while you're mingling and entertaining guests, this release is for you.
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