For six years, like the characters on Glee, I’ve had slushies in my face — only in my case they weren’t cups of icy red syrup. They were the venom spewed by haters — the dogged nay-sayers who couldn’t stand Glee and rained on its parade while staying oddly preoccupied with it, given such contempt.
To me, they were Sue Sylvester wannabes — and no more effective. They ceaselessly railed against a show which kept on going, while making absolutely no difference.
But Glee made one, because Glee was different. Despite an offbeat (for TV) musical format and no real stars, it lasted for an impressive six seasons, 121 episodes and over 700 songs. Who won in the end? Glee did.
Yes, it’s over now. But Glee did it. Glee existed. Glee survived.
And Glee thrived.
Glee not only was culturally impactful for its inclusiveness while brandishing LGBT and other non-mainstream characters, but it also slipped timely, topical, issues-driven stories into its tales of singers with grand dreams. Both comedy and drama, it also was the first long-running TV series ever made in a movie-musical style, with characters bursting into song anywhere and anytime and somehow with well-rehearsed perfection.
Fantasy, yes. So are hundreds of stage and movie musicals from The Sound of Music to Rent. All are a special, valid form of storytelling through music.
And oh, Glee’s music.
To paraphrase an old campaign adage, it’s the music, stupid. For me, that’s what set Glee apart and, literally and figuratively, made it sing. I’d often challenge other series to top that — to “show me your three minutes” stacked against Glee’s fantastic songs. But they couldn’t. Up until recently, that was only Glee.
Today’s artists may take years to make a single album of a dozen songs. Glee did that much every two to three episodes, amassing hundreds of potent performances in a wide, rich range, often galvanized by sensational singing and choreography, and often topping even the originals for its predominant covers.
Such prodigiousness continued on Glee’s final night, starting with expanded or first-revealed audition numbers for Tina (I Kissed a Girl) and Artie (Pony). Kurt and Rachel’s bouncy duet for Wicked’s Popular set the stage for their rivalry and ultimate friendship to come, while Mercedes got to wail with a large church choir for I’m His Child, and again for the Supremes’ Someday We’ll Be Together in the second hour.
That also brought Will and Sue’s melancholy yet weirdly confrontational duet of ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All and Darren Criss’ lovely, lyrically astute but overproduced original song for Rachel/Lea Michele, This Time. It was also clear that tears on set were real when Matt Morrison’s Will sang and played ukulele for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Teach Your Children, the final scene Glee shot.
The final scene Glee showed was a fitting large-cast anthem, OneRepublic’s stirring I Lived, capped by a last look at the portraits of Mrs. Adler, Will’s glee club coach, and the late Finn Hudson, for whom the auditorium was named and whose plaque-inscribed quote gave Glee its farewell message, a Kennedyesque “See the world not as it is, but as it should be.”
Glee wasn’t perfect, but it did show how things could be — should be — and as a result, things did change. As creator Ryan Murphy recently pointed out at the Family Equality banquet, Glee and Modern Family were born at the same time in a different world, and now that world has greatly changed, in part due to them.
So Glee fans, don’t despair, but take heart. Glee’s messages remain, and its body of work can continue to be savored.
Such savoring became even more welcome thanks to a strong final season and a two-part finale which not only gave many fans what they wanted, but also the characters, cast and creators.
Yes, wish-fulfilling fantasy ruled. But as I’ve long said, Glee is best approached as a musical fantasy. Forget realism and enjoy that fantasy. Or did you think singing and dancing through a staid hotel for How to Be a Heartbreaker just happens in the real world?
The finale’s fantasized but apt triumphs included McKinley becoming a model high school for performing arts, with Will as principal and Sam as glee club coach. We also learned Rachel will win Broadway’s Tony award and bear the first child of Kurt and Blaine as surrogate mother, a plot element straight out of Rachel’s own birth, as well as Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s short-lived The New Normal, whose Andrew Rannells gave Rachel her trophy.
Too, Mercedes became Beyonce’s opening act, while Artie and Tina wound up making movies in New York, where Kurt and Blaine also became stars and were adored by small children at a Utopian school while they warbled the Monkees’ irresistibly upbeat Daydream Believer.
And Sue, after rightly reconciling with henchman Becky, became Vice President of the United States in a Jeb Bush administration. (Gulp — I’m not sure that’s many fans’ wish-fulfillment.) But though still Palinesque, she also reconciled with Will and his glee club, crediting them for changing education in a positive way.
Yes, you couldn’t ask for much more affirmation in Glee’s finale — unless you were a “Samchel” fan.
After nurturing a sweet romance between Sam and Rachel in the sixth season, Glee clumsily fumbled that away at the end and left her with the craven Jesse, a wildly unsatisfactory husband, even if he did direct her Tony-winning performance.
I’m not saying only Sam should have been Rachel’s endgame. Cory Monteith’s Finn had that honor. But it sure as hell shouldn’t have been egg-throwing egotist Jesse, just because portrayer Jonathan Groff is Lea Michele’s BFF. I’ll have to overlook that one, just as I did the absurdity of the enormous Dalton Academy somehow burning completely to the ground.
I’ll also have to overlook some awkward time-jumping in the finale’s second episode.
Its first hour, 2009, worked surprisingly well, playing out like a series of extra scenes from Glee’s cherished pilot back in that year. In fact, it would be fun to see those two episodes edited together.
After revisiting the formation of New Directions, the episode rightly ended with recycled footage of their thrilling first performance of Don’t Stop Believin.’ That allowed showing Finn on screen after earlier just referencing him. In such ways, this flashback hour adroitly worked around the awkward absence of the late Monteith.
As with other Season 6 shows, I also loved the many little touches and nods to fans, from a Blaine sighting at the Lima Bean in earshot of future husband Kurt to the latter meeting Rachel for the first time and getting railroaded into glee club by the obnoxiously ambitious girl.
The second hour’s Dreams Come True then zapped ahead to sixth-season storylines set sort of in current day, though it, too, jumped in time, with the new New Directions abruptly winning Nationals after just winning Sectionals and Will being promoted by a suddenly bearded superintendent.
Then things got really confusing, flitting back and forth in time to 2020, back to 2015 and back to 2020, but in different parts of that year, and with only 2020 dates noted on screen. I counted eight time jumps from the end of Episode 12 to the end of Episode 13.
While this served to show where the characters will go (like the end-credit cameos in American Graffiti), the mix was a mess. One moment Rachel was winning a Tony while just days from giving birth. The next, she looked slender while joining a come-one, come-all sing-along of I Lived as Glee’s final song — in the same year.
Perhaps when I re-watch the episode its chronology will become clearer. As it aired, it wasn’t.
But I quibble. And though I haven’t hesitated to chastise my favorite show for its lapses of logic and truth over the years, I certainly don’t come here to bury Glee, but to praise it.
In fact, I can’t thank this show enough.
We should celebrate now — celebrate Glee’s existence, rather than ruefully mourn the end of an era, because Glee made its mark. Glee changed things. It boldly set the stage for music-driven shows like Nashville and Empire that followed. It nudged inclusiveness toward the new norm in popular culture. And it inspired so many who needed it with the power of song.
Such things make Glee my favorite TV series ever — and that’s coming from a child of the ’50s who’s lived through most of TV’s very existence. As such, I’m not an old fogie who waxes nostalgic for the good old days. Instead I cherish this meaningful new direction in entertainment — often snarky and weirdly funny, yes, but also, with its music, moving and highly emotional.
Glee was all these things – and still is. Its immense body of work will not disappear but can continue to be cherished, just as a movie musical which gave a major Glee character his name is being celebrated now on its 50th anniversary.
Will Glee still be remembered half a century from now? I don’t know. That’s a long time away to make such a claim. But I know this: As its final song says, Glee lived. And that’s what matters.
My wife is the love of my life, but this little TV show that meant so much is the love of my TV-viewing life, and it always will be.
So thanks, Glee, and all who made it. You’ve raised our spirits as your characters raised their voices in song. You’ve touched millions of people around the world. And you’ve earned a lasting place in our hearts.
— Bruce Westbrook