There will be spoilers.
The series named Glee may have as many as 29 more episodes to go – seven more this season and possibly as many as 22 next year. But it felt like it had the series finale this past Tuesday.
They had nostalgia, and good-byes, and they tied up many loose ends and even let a somewhat badly used group of young actors have a few final moments before they disappear forever. They even did what the highly romantic teenagers that make up its dwindling viewership believe to be true – say that first love is true love, and always will be. Even if you never actually did love each other. It’s all sweet and lovely.
And a far, far cry from how the series began.
Glee began as a dark comedy, a parody of uplifting high school series and afterschool specials. You know the ones – where a racially and sexually diverse group of school misfits find friendship and family and love and acceptance through a social activity, while also redeeming the adult who brings them together.
Sue knew that was a crock from the beginning.
It had everything – the outcast girl who just needed to find herself and her true talent, the jock who discovered his artistic side, the boy in the wheelchair, the girl with speech defect, the pregnant cheerleader, the boy who had a secret.
Except that Rachel always knew she had talent, and Finn knew he could sing. Artie was independent from the beginning. Tina was faking her stutter. Quinn didn’t get pregnant out of a moment of deep passion for her boyfriend – she was the head of the celibacy club who slept with her boyfriend’s best friend. (No, she didn’t deserve to be pregnant, but she wasn’t a victim of her own desires, either. Just of her own hypocrisy and upbringing.) And Kurt’s secret was about as secret as Rachel’s singing voice.
And the teacher this was supposed to save – he just wanted to relive his glory days in high school when he led the Glee club to National championship and won the head cheerleader.
Yeah, notice that. The central adult couple in the first year of Glee were high school sweethearts in a marriage so dysfunctional that she spent months lying to him that she wasn’t pregnant after all (in parallel to the young girl who hid her real pregnancy) while he was steadily falling in love with another woman. Which was one of the reasons she lied.
And yet Glee ended (for all intents and purposes) glorifying that very thing.
And all of that teenage angst, etc, was played for laughs by showing for the cliche that it really is. Instead of utterly straight as it was the last couple of years.
Oh, there were moments of real uplift. Burt Hummel is the king of single fathers, and Carole Hudson was an amazing single mother. And when the kids triumphed, it felt like a triumph – earned because they’d failed before.
When did things change? So many things. One was that Jane Lynch was so capable and funny that they let her hold ALL the edge and most of the darkness. And while the show was always cartoony and unrealistic, they began to do that for itself, not to carry the humor.
But the worst crime was that it became the thing that it ridiculed. It became the pamphlets Emma handed it. It became earnest and uplifting on purpose. Glee club- the place of acceptance even for a young man with a truly accepting father. It stopped being FUNNY.
And THEN it became repetitive. It was supposed to be about Will Schuester and his obsession with his past, but the actors playing the students were GOOD (if a bit over the top and cartoony) and captured the attention of the young audience. Problem is, high school is only four years and Glee needed to have sectionals/regionals/nationals every years, so they couldn’t stretch one year into two. Although if they’d done that from the start, it would have solved some problems.
If they could have let the kids go as they graduated, that would have helped. What would have helped more is if they hadn’t made the new kids lesser copies of the ones that left. They didn’t need to replace the characters who’d moved to NY or gone to college with similar characters. There are other types of characters they could have explored.
So we had a series with the original characters reminding us that the replacements were, well, replacements. And having the replacements do similar stories made it even more obvious. We’d seen that. And people didn’t want to see it again. The only really original stuff was happening in the brief moments in NYC.
They even had Will training his OWN replacement. It’s funny. Will actually wanted to BE Finn – the popular boy, the quarterback, but Finn was becoming Will. The teacher and the head of Glee club who never really left high school.
And then this season happened. And this season was…death. It wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to be Finn growing up, and Rachel finding herself in NY and then finding each other again. It was supposed to have two pop stars join the cast and make NY come more alive (and maybe distract from HS romances.) It was supposed to be the light thing Glee had become.
Instead, it was death. Because Cory Monteith died. Which is a devastating tragedy, and more so for his friends and family and coworkers. It made what was left of Glee’s dark humor impossible. And it injected reality into this cartoony little universe.
On a practical note, it left the writers and showrunners scrambling to make the show work at all. Including the strange choice to extend the last couple months of the school year. Although I don’t know when they made that choice.
It meant that we had an episode with PUPPETS. And one about twerking, and one about a feud between two singers that hadn’t happened yet in the show universe.
The only truly bright spot were the two pop stars. But Demi Lovato quickly faded into the background, leaving Adam Lambert to surprise with his acting ability. But in the first half the year, the NY storylines were usually the C plots as the McKinley scenes got weirder, so we didn’t get much of either.
And when they returned after an extended winter hiatus, it was even odder. Because the balance of the show changed. More importantly, the new kids were shunted aside, their plots and voices totally disappearing. All McKinley plots and songs belonged to the “seniors”, but NY got the A plot. Which, as an Adam fan, I loved because it meant more of him.
They didn’t get to win Nationals, they got one throwaway scene on Tuesday and Jake, Ryder, Unique, Kitty and Marley were gone. Bree doesn’t even get that much. And the sad thing is, I don’t actually care because they never got their own personalities and therefore I never cared about them.
Next week, it’s months later. Everyone’s settled in NYC, more or less. And it’s no longer a show about the coach of a high school show choir and his misfits in a dark comic tour de force.
It’s the story of a bunch of college-age kids trying to succeed in the music business in NYC. It’s a little unrealistic, but it’s romantic and uplifting and happy despite a dark cloud of mourning, and it’s going to be tackling issues like gay bashing and std testing…