Blu-ray/DVD Review Glee: The Complete Fourth Season: The Turning Point

GleeS4BluraySince Cory Monteith’s tragic death last summer, Glee’s then-recently finished fourth season has assumed new status: as a turning point.

For fans, Glee through season 4 was the happiest show on Earth — even with the indignity of Slushie facials. Sure  it could be serious, but largely its first 88 episodes were warm, funny, inspiring, humanistic and hopeful.

Dream of Broadway stardom? You — or your favorite character — just might get it. Dream for happily-ever-after love? “Klaine” or “Finchel” could be endgame.

Now some dreams have ended and changed, and for its next two seasons Glee must adjust — which it will. But this turning point season will always stand out — at the least as Monteith’s last — which makes Glee: The Complete Fourth Season, new from Fox on Blu-ray and DVD Fox, so precious.

Up through this season, Glee — for all its snarky side — had an optimistic innocence. And it’s heartening to see that again here, so soon after Oct. 10’s The Quarterback episode paid somber tribute to Monteith and his character of Finn.

Yet even before the death of the actor and character, Season 4 summoned some serious sides, from its controversial gun-scare episode to the wrenching breakups of longtime couples. Season 4 also marked major changes, with new cast members arising in Lima and three key cast members leaving for New York — a tough juggling act that the show somehow has managed, albeit fitfully.

All that arises in the 22 episodes of Season 4’s four-disc set. But beyond those, I welcome this video for its generous array of splendid special features — an array more elaborate than for any Glee season on video to date. And since surely you know the show, let’s take a look:

Each of the Blu-ray’s four discs has the customary Video Jukebox, allowing you to access every individual song performance. But each also has more, starting with Disc 1’s Movin’ On Up: Glee in NYC. This 10-minute featurette traces the show’s evolution from an Ohio high school to collegiate and professional adventures in New York, the home of every small-town theater geek’s Broadway dreams.

Featured in onscreen interviews are director/co-creator Ian Brennan and actors Chris Colfer, Lea Michele and guest star Kate Hudson (but no Sarah Jessica Parker), with each explaining why the Gotham shift is so important. As Michele says, “New York has definitely become a third character.”

Besides on-set footage from exterior New York shoots, we see “chemistry tests” of Michele with Dean Geyer (Brody, who speaks off-camera with a charming South African accent) and audition footage of Oliver Kieran-Jones (Adam), in each case to introduce new New York characters. We’re also told how hard it was shooting exteriors around Manhattan without giving away too many spoilers to observant fans.

Most revealing is Michele’s “I wanna see” list of where she wants her character of Rachel to wind up. Even before Season 5’s recent second episode revealed Rachel got the lead in Funny Girl, Michele said in this Season 4 interview that she wants to see Rachel on Broadway, in rehearsals, on opening night and so forth — things we’re clearly going to witness as Season 5 continues. (If you saw this featurette before that episode, talk about spoilers.)

Next is a sustained (perhaps to a fault) 12-minute look at Jarley, or Jake and Marley, the new glee club couple played by newcomers Jacob Artist and Melissa Benoist. Along with interviews of each, we see still more audition footage and chemistry tests (Artist was cast first), including Artist exhibiting his dance skills on the choir room set and wowing producers.

By being “The New Rachel” of Season 4’s premiere, Benoist is compelled to address that title’s topic, and says she sees Marley as “very different.” (Duh.) Michele also argues that Jake and Marley are “not like Rachel and Finn at all.” (Double duh.)

No. Not close. But it’s nice to see their characters’ budding romance evolve — even though offscreen, Benoist has been romantically involved with Blake Jenner (Ryder).

Then comes Building NYC, an over six-minute look at creating interior New York sets on soundstages at Paramount’s LA lot. The focus is on Rachel and Kurt’s huge (too huge?) loft apartment in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood; NYADA’s dance studio in Manhattan; and Vogue.com’s overly large offices, also in Manhattan. (Only in the movies and TV are New York buildings so spacious.)

Production designer Mark Hutman provides a fascinating tour while sitting on the loft set, fashioned to look like a stark former warehouse that’s evolved into a cozy hideaway for Lima’s aspiring transplants. He points out little touches that we can savor now on the show, such as placing rat figures  around the digs as a nod to New York’s most disgusting denizens, and using an old Mercedes car seat as a chair in honor of Kurt’s dad, who owns a tire shop.

We also see how NYADA’s big-windowed dance studio was patterned after France’s famed Degas paintings of dancers from over a century ago, and how Hutman was fortunate to find two identical and one similar chandelier to hang above it. (Superb lighting for its dance scenes also often conveys sunlight — which isn’t there — in arty, available-light shots.)

I’ve always considered art directors the unsung heroes of screen projects (Dean Tavoularis, are you listening?), and this splendid featurette — the best of the set — shows why.

Then come two deleted scenes spanning over five minutes, first with Jane Lynch’s Sue and Matt Morrison’s Will meeting in the McKinley faculty’s break room for a choice Sue tirade about Will’s love life. That’s followed by a full musical number for Mister Monotony, a song unreleased by Glee up to this point (which seems strange, since previous seasons have issued audio of songs not performed onscreen, such as Don’t Make Me Over, I Was Here, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? and Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love).

But perhaps this song’s obscurity is poetic here, given the fact that Mister Monotony started out as a deleted scene itself, for the 1948 film Easter Parade with Judy Garland. (This song just can’t get a break.)

For Glee, Sue performs in a variation of Garland’s mannish outfit while berating Will for his predictability and urging him to leave Lima for a Washington arts-panel gig, and he briefly joins in. Since Lynch rarely gets to sing and dance, it’s a treat.

That brings us to Disc 2, whose special features include two more deleted scenes spanning five minutes altogether.

Both are so strong that it’s clear they’d have been included if Glee had an open-ended running time like a movie. Since it doesn’t, and since so many songs must be squeezed in, some scenes get squeezed out.

One of these shows Marley finding Rebecca Tobin’s Kitty crying in the ladies room, with a confrontational talk about Marley’s forgiveness and Kitty’s motivations. The other deleted scene is especially welcome in that it features new footage of Monteith’s Finn pumping iron in the boys’ locker room at McKinley, joined by Will.

Each takes bitter blame for the glee club’s loss at Sectionals. “We blew it,” Finn says. But in the end, Will consoles Finn with the observation that he’d make a great teacher, a destiny he’d just begun to fulfill when Monteith’s rehab stint kept Finn from the season’s last three episodes (an absence never explained onscreen).

Both of these scenes are potent dramatic stuff, showing why Glee never has belonged in Emmy’s comedy category. Rather, Glee is its own bold little animal in TV’s formulaic jungle: a comedy/drama TV musical. There are no others — never have been.

Disc 2 also features The Road to 500, a four-minute featurette with the cast assessing their favorite songs over the seasons. (Awkwardly never mentioned here is that alleged 500th song, Shout. I say alleged because a previous formal list of Glee’s first 300 songs had many omissions and discrepancies.)

Michele astutely points to Season 1’s rousing group performance of Somebody to Love as pivotal. “At that point, Glee became Glee,” she says.

Disc 2 also offers Glee On Film, a 12-minute look at the many movie songs recreated in the Girls (and Boys) on Film episode. Each gets its kudos, but most impressive to me is You’re All the World To Me, which Morrison’s Will and Jayma Mays’ Emma perform on a rotating set with a stationary camera, much as Fred Astaire did in the 1951 film Royal Wedding.

But though Astaire took weeks to do the seemingly anti-gravity scene, these two had just six hours to rehearse maddeningly complex choreography which had them seeming to dance on walls and ceilings. Too, they had the challenge of pulling it off seamlessly in single takes with no cuts.

Yet they did it, as we see in on-set footage with the crew applauding and the rotating device in full view. And though take one went well, the finished scene was the ninth take, as Brennan informs us.

Head choreographer Zach Woodlee also gets special credit here, as he should. Talk about unsung heroes.

Disc 4 provides a four-minute throw-away element, Glee Premiere Party, with the cast interviewed on a red carpet when arriving for a preview of the season’s first episode. But it also has one of the set’s best elements: Blaine’s Time Capsule, in which Darren Criss’ Blaine addresses the camera to make a video for viewing at his 50th high school reunion.

It’s a clever concept for a vivid eight-minute recap of eventful Season 4, buoyed by Criss’ amusing yet thoughtful narration. Yes, Lea Michele is deservedly the true star of this ensemble, but Criss is its most reliable showman and spokesman. (Be sure to catch his recent Beatles quiz online. It’s fun and fab.)

And there you have it: around an hour’s worth of new onscreen features to go with Season 4’s 22 episodes. While waiting for Season 5 to return from hiatus Nov. 7, it’s not a bad way to get your Glee fix.

Too, it will always be a potent reminder of this turning point in Glee’s history, both at Season 4’s start, with new high schoolers and a new New York setting, and beyond its finish, when the loss of a beloved cast member changed things even more.

But the show must go on. Or as Finn himself said, “The show must go . . . all over the place . . . or something.”

— Bruce Westbrook

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