Throughout the second series of Glee, dullards droned on about how it wasn’t as good as season one. Occasionally, these awful stiffs lucked out and were right, briefly: the Christmas episode was about as exciting as a Songs of Praise Advent Special, and the finale was all flat and flavourless, like a slice of processed cheese.
Overall, though, series two – the last one you’ll ever see if you’ve only got Freeview – has been a blast: bigger, funnier, sadder, sillier. Here are five reasons why.
By making Kurt’s battle with homophobia the season’s major story arc, Glee took a risk and subverted its mainstream hit status. It showed Kurt viciously bullied by mountainous footballer Dave Karofsky, beyond slushies in the face and into serious threats that forced Kurt to switch schools.
Karofsky himself turned out to be gay and deep in denial, which must have had some impact among bullies and victims. Karofsky’s predicament was handled with care – he was just the flip side of the same message about the potential agony of coming out.
Finally, Kurt found love with Blaine and his ever-expanding luxury barnet. When they got together, the scene was so natural and unshowy, you forgot you were watching a gay kiss on primetime US telly.
Surely nobody was expecting much when they heard Gwyneth Paltrow had been given a guest role in Glee. Generally in films she plays wan, high-maintenance criers who would blow away if someone opened a window.
But as hot supply teacher Holly Holliday, Paltrow zhushed up every scene she was in. Her A-lister aura was noticeable immediately as she delivered snappy covers of Cee-Lo Green and, memorably, Gary Glitter. Her singing voice was strong and she was all over the comic dialogue, too.
3. Themed episodes
Episodes with a set theme were borne of necessity, given that Glee had already told the story of a rookie show choir that comes together to succeed against all odds. It needed to find ways to extend the format in series two, apart from using up every possible romantic combination within the glee club.
Themed episodes were some of the season’s best. Songs from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours exactly described the relationship dramas going on at the time, while the Rocky Horror Show episode reanimated the series early on after a couple of drab instalments.
For ages she was just comic relief: the thicko who misunderstands everything has been a reliably funny fallback since the dawn of comedy time. (“Mr Schue taught me the second half of the alphabet. I stopped after M and N. I felt they were too similar and got frustrated.”) But in series two Brittany was on screen much more, starting an initially implausible but ultimately rather touching relationship with Artie that brought out the vulnerability of both.
Even better was Brittany’s friendship with uber-bitch Santana, whose character also developed this year. Their confusion about whether they were in love with each other or just best friends was a nice counterpoint to Kurt’s troubles, and gave us two of the series’ best musical moments: Santana doing Songbird by Fleetwood Mac, and the pair duetting on Landslide.
When Glee is on form it deals with teens’ emotional insecurities very tenderly. Brittany was an unlikely source of that this year. Plus her home-made YouTube chat show, Fondue for Two, deserves its own spin-off series.
5. Dalton Academy
When Kurt left McKinley High to go to the local private school, it seemed at first that he’d made a dreadful error. Pristine, identikit boys in dorky blazers would meet in an oak-panelled room to discuss their glee club, under the strict stewardship of a chairman with a gavel. Their songs were full of horrible barbershop harmonies and Kurt wasn’t allowed to do any big show tunes without getting a motion passed and seconded.
Dalton was peaceful, friendly, problem-free and totally boring, like Sweden. But the programme-makers kept going back there and, just as Kurt fell for the Dalton Academy Warblers lead singer, Blaine, we fell in love with Dalton. The blazers started looking cool. The songs started rocking – remember them ripping it up in a Gap store?
Blaine got all the attention but I liked his trusty Dalton friends, who hardly ever said anything but were always on hand to provide backup vocals and look calm and kind, like a sort of posh, human Ood. It was almost a shame when Kurt came back.