With ratings for the third season’s opener good but down, and Hollywood insiders blaming the second season’s stories, I thought I’d take a look at the second season of Fox’s Glee on DVD. It’s uneven, though I do recommend the season and the DVD. Read my review of the first season of Fox’s Glee to know how much I liked it.

First, the negatives: songs lack an emotional, organic connection to characters and plots, key characters are lost in unfocused, agenda-driven episodes, and there’s absolutely no energy, enthusiasm or suspense for the vocal choir competition that powers the Lima, Ohio, William McKinley High School glee club’s sense of purpose. Staying with the episodes takes effort, unlike the first season when you couldn’t wait to see the next one. The positives are pretty positive: a few serious issues (atheism, bullying, sexual orientation) are explored with thought-provoking themes, humor and perfectly (if sporadically) suited tunes, and a few performances are outstanding. Among Glee‘s second season highlights: Kurt (Chris Colfer) singing the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as a non-romantic ballad about his father (Mike O’Malley) in the season’s best performance, a “mashup” of “C’mon Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and gay kid Kurt singing the duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with his romantic interest, preparatory schoolmate Blaine (Darren Criss). The New Directions choir sings Fleetwood Mac songs in an episode that works, a Rocky Horror tribute which makes no sense, and guest stars, especially Gwyneth Paltrow, detract from the core cast.

Directing and writing is off-key, with characters such as cheerleader Quinn (Dianna Agron) behaving as if their story arcs never happened, and Glee is at its best when the song advances the story, the story is moved by characters we care about, and characters are consistent. Cast additions are fine, though they don’t add much. Mannish Sue (Jane Lynch) is positively psychotic, veering from warm and friendly at Christmas to sociopath in back to back episodes, and glee club teacher Will (Matthew Morrison) is dumbed down and lost in the din of convoluted plots. Neurotic Emma (Jayma Mays) is dumbed down and she’s hardly in the show this season. There’s too much Brittany (Heather Morris), not enough Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) and Kurt and his dad are the most involving subplot, while others are variously too cruel, precocious, and callous. But when Glee is on, it’s right on, with music, glamor, and the spirit of youth in song.