Being with you is so dysfunctional
I really shouldn’t miss you
But I can’t let you go
The series finale of Glee airs tonight, and it has me thinking about my experiences with the show and what its legacy might be. In many ways, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, the lines above from one of the many songs performed onGlee over six seasons could sum up my feelings on the show. It’s certainly been a roller coaster ride for the fans who have stuck with it, with some of the highest highs I’ve ever experienced from television, as well as some of the lowest lows. And here at the end I find myself with two equally strong opinions that are battling for supremacy in my mind: I’m glad that the show is finally ending, and I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.
From the very beginning my relationship with Glee was unlike any show I’d ever experienced. As a lifelong fan of musicals, I was excited for the prospect of a weekly musical series, but when the pilot episode premiered months in advance of the first season airing I missed it. And when the reviews came out I was glad I did, because people loved it for many of the reasons that I felt I would hate it. It was often compared favorably in the early days to High School Musical, a series of films I dearly love, and many reviews took the opportunity to trash the Disney Channel Original Movie by pointing out how snarky, cynical, and “adult” Glee was by comparison. So when the show finally premiered I made a point of not watching it. The first half of the first season wore on, and I caught snippets of songs and video clips and kept track of reviews, and enthusiasm for the show seemed to be running high, so before the spring premiere of season 1 I decided I’d watch the pilot online.
It was funny, offbeat, and silly, but while I was impressed by the talent of its cast I wasn’t really invested in the show until its final minutes, when New Directions, then only consisting of six members (Rachel, Finn, Kurt, Mercedes, Tina, and Artie) performed “Don’t Stop Believing.” The enthusiasm with which they performed, the joy on their faces, and the underdog spirit got to me and I was immediately hooked. I rushed out to buy the DVDs up to that point, and my wife and I started catching up before the spring premiere. On our third or fourth night of going through the DVDs we stayed up until midnight watching, only to go to bed and find ourselves unable to sleep until we finally got out of bed at 1:30 in the morning just so we could watch one more episode. That’s how jazzed we were by the show, that it kept us awake at night until we watched one more; we were addicted.
But the episode that really cemented my love for Glee was the final one of that first volume, “Sectionals,” sitting at the halfway point of season 1. As everything seemed to be falling apart (Schuester’s marriage, his disqualification from glee club, Sue leaking the set list, Finn quitting after finding out that Puck was the father of Quinn’s baby), Finn arrived to save the day, after some advice from Mr. Schuester, and Rachel burst through the curtains in the theater to belt out “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” It was absolutely electric, the sort of performance (even if not a live performance) that grabs your attention and refuses to let go, and by the end of it you realize that you’ve been holding your breath. And then the New Directions segue into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the emotional equivalent of the previous number’s electricity, and watching the pride on Emma’s face as she holds up the phone for Scheuster to listen, and seeing the team finally all on the same page if even for a brief moment was almost overwhelming. But my favorite moment of the show, and the reason I’m still watching after years of ups and downs, was the final scene. The glee club performs “My Life Would Suck Without You” for Mr. Schue as a way to say thank you, and it’s filled with dance callbacks to previous numbers from the season, and everyone is all smiles, and it’s all intercut with Will chasing after Emma as she leaves the school to finally kiss her, and the episode closes on their breathless surprise as the music ends.
The rest of season one continued a great trend, as things grew more expansive now that the show was popular. Joss Whedon showed up to guest direct an episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris, while the show tackled some big songs and even bigger moments. The next two seasons kept things at a high level, adding some great new cast members, but cracks were already starting to show as the main group of students prepared to graduate. Glee was always capable of fantastic storylines, stellar musical numbers, and loads of laughs or tears, but it had its issues right from the start as well and as popularity started to wane it became more and more “in” to bash Glee. Some fans jumped ship for the short livedSmash, while others who had never watched the show felt like the time was right to join the anti-Glee bandwagon, and in some of Glee’s lows it was hard to blame anyone for turning on it.
Still, Glee soldiered on and shook up the format of the show in a way that many thought could never work. It started to split its time between New York and Lima, Ohio, giving us a look at Rachel, Kurt, and others’ lives in the Big Apple but balancing that story with the more mundane life of those left behind. This division seriously divided the show’s fans, some of whom wanted the show to permanently move to New York while others wanted it to remain in high school with a fresh batch of characters, and the writers’ attempts to try to mesh the two plots often felt forced. But then, of course, everything changed.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that Cory Monteith’s death had on the show. In addition to being one of the two main (in my opinion) characters on the show, he and his character Finn were the heart of the show. Not the best singer or dancer, Cory brought enthusiasm and the sense that more than the rest of the cast he was the one who felt the show really meant something. Add in the nature of his death from drug overdose as well as the fact that he and Lea Michelle were in a serious relationship, and the show has been and will be forever marked by his passing, giving every episode since and in particular tonight’s finale a sense of sadness.
After Cory/Finn’s death, the show took a steep dive, and what had seemed a bold new direction for the show now was more often frustrating or annoying. The Lima segments seemed to drag and felt pointless without Finn in them, and the New York developments became more fanciful and unrealistic without Finn to ground the plot. The show eventually moved full time to New York, abandoning the Lima kids left behind as the glee club was shuttered, and Glee turned into the Rachel Berry show, almost literally. This final season has seen a return to something of the old days, with the show returning to its roots and letting its veterans coach a glee club made up of new kids, but it’s been unable to capture its magic.
Glee always had more than its fair share of problems. Its tone was wildly inconsistent, which could make it a jarring experience, but it did allow Glee to cover a wide range of plotlines. Worse than that, however, was the inconsistent writing. Important events or revelations would happen only to never be mentioned again (remember the episode where Kitty and Ryder told everyone that they’d each been raped in their youth, only for everyone to forget about it?). Characters popped up only to disappear for weeks and then return again without comment, though Glee does have a sprawling cast that could rival Game of Thrones. Details and major facts were changed without warning, from the racial makeup of Rachel’s dads to exactly what year of school each student belonged. These issues existed from the outset, but some only began to show themselves as the seasons progressed.
Many of the main characters became insufferable, in particular Rachel Berry and the way she became completely self-obsessed. The way she left a starring role on Broadway to star in a sitcom was inexcusable. But all of the characters became difficult to tolerate, from Sue Sylvester all the way down to Becky Jackson (whoever wrote some of the horrible lines for her needs to be punched in the face). The moment that killed any investment I had in the show occurred in the episode immediately following the memorial episode for Cory/Finn, when Mr. Schuester suspended Marley for refusing to conform to a style that was different than hers, flying in the face of Glee’s message of being true to yourself, immediately following Marley being guilted and shamed for refusing to sleep with Jake. I didn’t quit the show, obviously, although I really wanted to and stopped watching for a few weeks before catching back up, but I stopped caring so much about it and that change was painful, because there have been few shows that I connected to as quickly and strongly asGlee.
Yet I kept watching, because even here at the end Glee still has the ability to wow me, whether with its storylines or its music. Since the very beginning, Glee has been about fantastic music. And while every musical number isn’t always a winner, there was always the potential that the next one could knock my socks off. I bought every song that was released the first three seasons, and while I stopped that obsessive level of fandom in season four there are still many memorable songs burned into my mind. My favorite number from the entire show might be Artie singing and dancing to “Safety Dance” from season one (in the episode directed by Joss Whedon), which hit all of the points that make for a great Glee performance. But there are a hundred others, and whenever they pop up on my device I always smile. Gleecovered so many of my favorites, often putting a new spin or twist on a familiar classic, but it also introduced me to a host of music I’d either never heard of or would not normally have bothered with. It was my first introduction to Lady Gaga just as it covered fun. back before most people knew them at all.
What I loved the most about the music of Glee was the way it grew and evolved over the first three seasons. The early songs were autotune heavy and took a lot of the character out of the individual voices, while the background choir was a featureless group of singers. But as the team learned the strengths of their performers they began to cater numbers to each actor and each character began to find their own musical voice. In addition, in the group numbers the voices of those singing in the background began to emerge, and the songs went from feeling like a random choir singing to feeling like these specific characters singing as a group. I loved how the show mixed music from the most popular stars of the moment (Beyonce, Adelle, Gaga, Taylor Swift) to viral hits (“Friday”, “Gangnam Style”, “Call Me Maybe”, “What does the fox say?”) to radio classics to Broadway standards, and treated each of them with the same amount of respect.
Of course, it helped that the producers put together an immensely talented cast. While they weren’t all singers before the show started, almost all of them turned out to be skilled performers. I even enjoyed the later additions to the cast, particularly Melissa Benoist and Jacob Artist in season four and Noah Guthrie and Jane Hayward in season six. The cast is also incredibly likable for the most part, even as they became famous, and I wish them all well going forward. Some of them, like Jane Lynch or Lea Michele don’t have their futures riding on how their time on Glee is viewed, but for othersGlee will have been their big chance, and I hope they’re able to cash in as much as possible. Of course, Glee had a list of killer guest stars, both in singing roles like Gwyneth Paltrow, Idina Menzel, or Neil Patrick Harris, or simply as a cameo like Lindsay Lohan or Josh Groban (“Josh Groban loves a blousy alcoholic.”)
The plotlines on Glee were always crazy, even from the beginning. Sue Sylvester was a pillar of insanity for the show, but beyond her things were always a little nuts. From the start we were saddled with the horrible plot of Terri Schuester and her fake pregnancy, but other ridiculous developments included Rachel dating a gigolo, Quinn trying to frame Rachel’s mother (who adopted Quinn’s baby) in order to win her baby back, Kurt and Rachel’s enormous New York apartment, and Brittany becoming a math genius. I don’t think Glee was ever intended to take place in any semblance of reality, but it stretched even its fantasy universe to the breaking point pretty often.
But for every ludicrous twist there was a moment of genuine feeling between two characters that made it all worth it. Sometimes it was the little moments like when Rachel would say “I’m going to hug you now” before going in for a hug, or the cute romantic moments between any given couple (and there were sooooo many pairings it was hard to keep track). Other times it was the huge displays, like Finn coming out in a full Gaga outfit to support Kurt, or the football team dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” (several years before she performed the same song at the Super Bowl halftime show), or a perfectly timed song to express a character’s feelings. There were plenty of moments to make you smile, laugh, or cry with a character, and those moments made those characters feel real in the midst of the insanity.
Glee also tackled some heavy subjects, often in an insightful way or a way that was different than what we’re used to on primetime television. LGBTQ issues were at the forefront from the very beginning, and Kurt’s emotional coming out to his father (Burt will always be one of my favorite TV fathers) was only the start of a journey for that pair that never felt like a cliché. LGBTQ representation was one of the biggest strengths of Glee, with multiple gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters. But Glee also hit a host of other issues, from eating disorders and body image issues, to drug use and alcohol, to suicide and bullying (one of the most common topics). Sometimes the episodes were ripped right from the headlines, like a haunting one in season four about school shootings that was too much for those of us who have a connection to events like those to deal with. And while Glee was certainly not the first show set in a high school to cover these topics, nor did it always handle those topics well, for a time it was the most watched and the most famous of them all and it occupied a prime time slot on a major network, giving it more exposure than those that came before it.
To me, perhaps the most dramatic scene in the series, and the one that sticks with me the most, occurred in the second half of season two. After Finn’s mom and Kurt’s dad fell in love, the two moved in together, forcing Finn and Kurt to room together. At the time, Kurt had a crush on Finn, and the entire situation frustrated Finn to the point where he lashed out at Kurt using the gay slur “fag”. Kurt’s dad walked in and immediately called Finn out for it, and the look of shock on Finn’s face and his panicky attempts to explain himself were overwhelmed by Kurt’s father’s reprimand. Burt admitted to his own history of using slurs, but challenged Finn to be better than he was as a kid, and kicked Finn out of their house. When Kurt tried to defend Finn, Burt wouldn’t have any of it. It was a moment that felt so real, yet also so inspiring, and it made the moment later in the show where Finn showed up in a Lady Gaga outfit to support Kurt all the more emotional. It was the sort of issue that is specific and real, and the sort of thing that gets dealt with every day. It was messy, it was painful, and it felt true to the characters. The knowledge that Finn was a good guy who made a mistake out of frustration rather than simply a bigot made the scene that much more important.
So now, after six years and countless songs, Glee is finally coming to an end, and I find myself with mixed feelings. Glee is one of those shows I could talk about forever, as it’s been one of the most emotional I’ve ever watched. Perhaps it’s because I love musicals, so I was always bound to love Glee. Or maybe it’s because I saw so much of myself in the show, particularly in the early days. My high school life had a lot in common with Glee, and I knew how it felt to be bullied, ignored, hated, overlooked, and isolated. And the show gave me hope that while I might have had a group like New Directions to accept me, perhaps others do. And maybe Glee helped some kids out there find a place where they belong, but at least once a week for an hour they had a place to which they could escape and feel that feeling. I wish Glee had been on when I was a teenager, but I don’t know if it would have meant as much to me then as it does to me now, and I’m sure it would have given my bullies just one more bit of ammunition to use against me. But if the world, the country, or just some individuals have become more tolerant, more open, or kinder to those who are different because of the show, then Glee comes out a winner in my book. There were times that the show frustrated the hell out of me, offended me, or bored me, and yet there were times that I loved it as much as I’ve loved any story I’ve ever experienced. So perhaps the best way to sum up my feelings after the finale tonight is to use another line from the song I quoted at the top of this article, and the pair of quotes will have to suffice in place of any better words I could come up with.
You’ve got a piece of me
My life would suck without you