Looking back at: Glee

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Glee poster

For the kids at McKinley High the curtains have been closed and the fat lady has sung, or in this case the kids themselves. After 6 seasons, 121 episodes, 700+ songs Glee has come to an end. A show that began in 2009 and became an overnight sensation, only to slowly decline in quality and thus viewership. A show that once had 15 million viewers, only had 3 million left during their final season. Glee was, sort of, the Lost of the 2010’s: a show that had a great first season, became a phenomenon giving the writers the task to develop more seasons, a task at which they became worse at with every new season. Though I always liked Lost, I can see how most people stuck around only because they wanted to know the secret of the island, not because a new intriguing episode was released every week. With Glee that is hardly the case.

So let’s take a look back at Glee.

Glee had a brilliant first season. It seemingly came out of nowhere and created a buzz. It felt fresh and each episode was fun to watch. The musical structure made sense seeing that it dealt with a Glee club, the high school caricatures were spot on and every word coming from Sue Sylvester’s mouth was razor sharp and funny as hell. Me and a lot of other people looked forward to the second season and was glad they kept up the quality of the previous season, at least the second half of this season does.

Brittany S. Pierce doing an impression of Britney Spears

Everyone who has watched Glee agrees on one thing: somewhere along the line this show jumped the shark. When it exactly did is the true discussion here. I can remember clearly when I started to realize that they weren’t going to keep up the same level of quality: A Very Glee Christmas. This was the tenth episode of Season 2 and was the first time I saw the cracks in Glee’s veneer. In this episode the character of Brittany apparently still believes in Santa Clause despite being in high school and Sue Sylvester actually dresses up like the Grinch. To me this was taking it too far, even in Glee terms, and together with some other occurrences during this season like repeating story lines it made Glee not a must-watch show anymore, but a show you would tune in every so now and then to see if they have some fun songs featured.

This is just my idea of where Glee went downhill, but there are other instances over its six-season run where Glee made some bad or just weird choices. These are some of the things that could be considered as moments that Glee “Jumped the shark” or just evidence that the writers didn’t what to do next anymore.’

Sue Sylvester’s character

Sue SylvesterSue was the arch nemesis of the Glee club since she was competing with them for funding from the school for her Cheerios. The first season saw her as a somewhat cartoonish villain, but one who would always get the laughs. Her character became troublesome for the writers because you can have only so much schemes you can have her fail at before it becomes tiresome. With the aforementioned A Very Glee Christmas episode she went “full retard”,  actually acknowledging she’s a live action Wile E. Coyote by having her dress up as the Grinch. May I remind you that this was only two episodes after she married herself. The writers had no idea of what to do with Sue, they gave her some depth by creating a back story about her sister who has down-syndrome, but apart from that she constantly went on from being the arch enemy of the Glee club to someone with a heart just trying to do the right thing in her own downright twisted ways. New characters supposed to take the place of Sue like Swim coach Ross and Nyada’s Cassandra July never really got fleshed out right since the writers never could put the Sue character to rest. Sue’s shadow was always hanging over their heads and they just kept her around and she kept taking center stage even appearing in places/story-lines she wasn’t a part of like New York or the relationship between Kurt and Blaine.

Rehashing story lines

Glee was probably created as a one season show. The story is very much about a group of unpopular kids coming together in a Glee club where they can be their selves and who at the end of the season win Nationals: the title for the show choir competition.

End of story.

But Glee became successful and so more seasons were ordered and so a show that had a storyline that could have been neatly wrapped in one season was stretched out into two seasons. The first season ends with winning Regionals making the second season about winning Nationals, but is there for the audience that much difference? Not really.
Since there would also be a third seasons the writers decided to go Rocky on the Glee kids by having them lose Nationals in the season 2 finale. So in season 3 again the whole overlapping storyline would be going through the motions of winning Sectionals, Regionals and finally Nationals. Competing in competitions is a recurring thing every year at every school, but in terms of story it becomes repetitive pretty quickly. The competitions remained a recurring element until the final episode even.

Goofy story lines

I could write a whole essay on about all the far-fetched schemes Sue Sylvester did over the course of six seasons, but I won’t. Glee was over-the-top from the beginning but some of the stuff they put on screen really took it too far in terms of goofiness. After A Very Glee Christmas Brittany lost her mojo. Her cute quirkiness was exchanged for someone who was actually a retard even believing that a foreign-exchange student from Ireland is an actual Leprechaun. In a weird twist of event the writers decide that she is so dumb she’s brilliant. They make her a brilliant mathematician and have her go off to some prestige university.

glee-brittanyAnother character who was constantly the victim of what the writers needed this week was Quinn Fabray, the head cheerleader. Introduced as an underling of Sue and put in the Glee club to spy for her, Quinn becomes pregnant during the first season. She’s saying it’s Finn’s while it’s Puck’s, puts the baby up for adoption after a hefty labor, turns on Sue, becomes a reckless goth, becomes paralyzed due to a car crash only to walk again a few episodes later, decides to get her daughter back from her foster mom and becomes the leader of the celibacy(!) club, not in that particular order by the way. And that’s in just the first three seasons as Quinn is actually one of the few characters who actually got written out of the show, aside from an occasional appearance in every subsequent season.

There was also this whole rivalry between show choirs which was really far fetched as it consisted mostly of Vocal Adrenaline throwing eggs at members of the New Directions. This was even a part of season 6!

To be honest they also went a bit too far with Terri Schuester’s story line in season 1, where she pretends to be pregnant, but I could live with it because there was some much fun on display here.

Original songs

One of the key elements of Glee’s success was the music. The use of old and new pop songs struck a chord with the audience and turned Glee into a weekly sing-a-long show. It was a large part of what made Glee fun. The lesser episode in my book were the ones where they would be focusing on true musical number. I’m not a fan of stage musicals, nor am I familiar with all those songs, so whenever they used those typical show tunes like Wicked’s Popular they reminded me why I don’t like musicals in general. I’ve always found those kinds of compositions to be tedious and annoying.

But Glee’s success also led to something else: after each episode the songs performed by the kids of Glee would hit the charts. And while there is some money to be made of these songs and compilations, most of it goes into the pockets of the original writers of the songs. No wonder the producers of Britney Spears were happy to allow the makers to feature her songs in 2 complete episodes.

The solution: original songs

The makers started using songs specifically written for the show, but they all had one thing in common: none of them were catchy. Only every once in a while a song immediately catches on, most of the time however they need repetition. A good example is “Let it go” from Frozen which is the once every decade’s track that transcends a musical and becomes a hit. It’s one of those songs that sticks upon hearing. If the producers of the original songs performed in Glee created a “Let it go” they would have struck gold and this paragraph would be non-existent, but sadly they did not and now we have a show featuring songs nobody even knows when they’re sung and nobody remembers afterwards. The power of Glee was all those oldies and current hit-records being performed in a colorful setting. Glee was a sing-a-long show right from the start, not counting the occasional musical number, but that changed when they started inserting songs you’ve never heard before just so that a couple of people could make some extra money.

New Kids

After three seasons of teenagers playing by people being in their mid-twenties, the writers faced a tough choice: Should we follow the graduating kids like Rachel, Kurt and Finn as they start a new chapter in their life, a new step to becoming closer to their dreams, or should we stick around at McKinley with Mr. Schue, Sue and the remaining kids?

They chose both.

Glee Season 4 New Cast

In season 4 and 5 we followed Rachel and Kurt to New York as they both went to NYADA, frequently being visited by old fellow graduates from McKinley. At one point Santana, Sam, Artie and Finn are all in New York. Back in Lima, Ohio the remaining kids of the previous three seasons are joined by a whole new gang of youngsters each filling in for the characters that have graduated. Marley was the new Rachel albeit with a totally different character. Rider was the new Finn and Noah was Puck’s half-brother. Transgender/Transvestite/Black kid Wade/Unique got both the Kurt and Mercedes part. Kitty and (later on) Bree took over the evil Cheerios roles from Quinn, Britanny and Santana. By making this choice the new kids did not only have to fill in the shoes of the people we followed the previous three years, but since they’re still around they never have a chance of making us forget about Kurt, Finn and Rachel. Especially since have of the show’s time was devoted to the original Glee members in New York. The story lines there didn’t intertwine with the story lines set in Lima, so you basically had the idea that you were watching two shows mashed together.

The producers should have made the tough choice of ditching one of the settings. Should this be set in New York with members of the old cast, or should it be set in Lima with new kids. They could have anticipated the aging of the characters by starting to cycle through them starting with season 2. They did introduce new characters through season 2 and 3 but almost none of them made a lasting impression. Rory, Sugar, Teen Jesus are some of the characters who never really caught on with the audience or were given very little screen time.

The new kids never made a really positive and their characters always stood in the shadows of the original characters leading me to my next point:

Ditching the new kids in favor of yet another bunch of new kids

The majority of the new kids was ditched starting with season 6. Giving them two seasons, or even one if you count the fact that half of the time was dedicated to New York and the new kids don’t appear in the last 7 episodes of season 5. The only character of the new kids returning full-time was Kitty, who became yet another evil-turned-good Cheerio. Also back was Wade/Unique in a handful of scenes/episodes. It felt kind of weird to have all of these new characters vanish into thin air, basically never to be spoken of other than in passing. When you look at the synopses of season 5 episodes you’ll see that there’s hardly any mention of the new kids.

Glee Season 6 Cast

Season 6 brought everything and everyone back to Lima as Rachel’s TV-show failed big time, Kurt wants to do his third year NYADA project there and Blaine flunked out of NYADA. Instead of bringing back the kids from the previous two seasons they have opted for some new blood. It feels a bit strange to bring so many new faces into the fold this late in the show’s progress as it was clear from the start this would be a final season with a mere 13 episodes. These new characters aren’t simple replacements of the other kids they all have their own characteristics making them “unique”. There’s yet another gay student, there’s an overweight guy, a slim black girl and a set of twins consisting of a brother and sister who are inseparable and both members of the Cheerios. Despite being a male cheerleader the boy twin isn’t gay as he falls for the black girl. They were only included as filler material and their story lines are also second-rate to those of the central returning cast of Rachel, Kurt, Blaine, Will and Sue bringing up my final remark about the cast:

Not being able to say goodbye to old characters

Glee The Old CastGlee was always about Rachel: it was her character that was partially responsible for creating the Glee club, she was the most talented performer and it was her rise to fame we followed: from humble beginnings to starring in a Broadway show and receiving a Tony award. So it’s no surprise that when she graduated after season 3 and moved to New York the writers had to make that difficult choice and decided to try to use both worlds. This was the best moment to start over and give Glee a new fresh approach. But somehow the writers had difficulty saying goodbye to the other characters, so a couple of the old cast also went to New York. They also kept the McKinley story alive so that we wouldn’t have to say goodbye to the characters that didn’t yet graduate and the teachers. Somehow I think Sue Sylvester’s character is much too blame for this choice. This was the standout character from day one, and while her character did run her course by the time the third season ended the writers probably felt that Jane Lynch was too valuable to remove from the show so they kept the Lima setting alive, thus keeping Sue Sylvester alive. But there are other characters whose story lines had ended yet they came back in every season as special guest stars. Puck and Quinn most notably had lousy reasons to return to Lima, yet they popped up every now and then. Truth to be told, due to the lack of chemistry the new kids had onscreen, the episodes where the old cast is reunited are among the strongest of the latter seasons. But when doen right, Glee season 4 could have been set in New York entirely and with a fleshed out NYADA student ensemble could have been the start of Glee 2.0. Now we just have Glee 1.5 beta.

Too many politically correct L.G.T.B. messages

Kurt and BlaineGlee was about the underdog and the outcast from day one. It featured a variety of characters who all fitted in the general stereotypes. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the handicapped kid, the Asian kid, the black kid and of course the gay kid. The gay character in Glee was Kurt Hummel. He quickly stole our hearts despite or just because of his flamboyancy. While he sometimes bordered on parody, he always kept a foot in realism making his character one of the most endearing of them all. Kurt was a more human written character than say Puck or the ever underdeveloped Mike. Over the 6 seasons we saw Kurt come out of the closet, find a place at school, learning to stand up for himself and find true love. But Glee, who probably had a generally higher gay audience than the average show, started to introduce more and more characters with sexuality issues. Suddenly out of nowhere the somewhat slutty cheerleaders Britanny and Santana turned out to be lesbian lovers. Rachel had two gay dads, There was Kurt’s true love Blaine and Kurt’s bully Karofsky who turned out to be a bully because he was a homosexual as well. There’s Wade/Unique who was a young male gay student who felt more at home in woman’s clothing. He was the first step of Glee introducing a potential transgender character. In season 4/5 there were a couple of potential lover interests for Kurt in New York and a recurring role for gay singer Adam Lambert. In season 6 they introduced another gay kid, who doesn’t identify himself constantly as gay and coach Sharon Beaste suddenly reveals herself to be a man trapped in a woman’s body. The final few episodes saw her donning a three day beard as she went through life now as Sheldon. Heck, even Britanny’s cats have been revealed as being gay.

Glee has always been about sending out a positive message and they did so for a lot of the minorities they portrayed. Artie scored some of the hottest chicks despite being in a wheel chair, Kurt found his acceptance and true love, Rachel was able to follow her dream. The Glee club was a sanctuary for these outsiders and it taught us that we should accept everybody and everyone for who they are, and that no matter what, they should be able to be proud of themselves.

It’s a good message and one everyone should take note of.

But I do think they really went out of their way to fit in all of these gay characters, considering many of them have ongoing story lines. Did season 6 really need to have yet another gay student when we already have Kurt, Karofsky, Blaine and Walter? Why was it necessary to make Coach Beaste a transgender all of a sudden? The shunning of L.G.T.B. characters also felt kind of repetitive after a while. We already saw Kurt being bullied, what new brought it to the series that people didn’t accept Beaste after her sex-change?

Glee is at first an entertainment show. It’s good that it tries to spread a positive message about accepting people but those P.S.A. messages should be done more subtle. Just the Kurt/Blaine and Britanny/Santana stories could have served as the positive gay message. There was never any need to put in gay people just because they’re gay, which it did feel like they were doing. As if they have a list of L.G.T.B. subgroups and had to have each one featured in the show:

Guys, I think we have everything with Wade. He’s the Transgender character…

No, you’re wrong Brad. We’ve made it clear that he poses as a woman but has not undergone any surgery. Strictly speaking: he’s a transvestite.

But, the show’s almost over. We’ve failed the L.B.T.G. community. We need a transgender!

How about coach Beaste? She could make a convincing man with some make up.

Sounds good, but we established her for 4 seasons as a heterosexual woman.

Who gives a crap? We had one character fake a pregnancy an entire season.

You’re right, let’s do it.

Sledon, formerly known as Shannon, Beiste

You might wonder why I kept watching after the show jumped the shark. That’s because Glee was still a fun 40 minutes to spend my time. It didn’t have the must-watch quality of the first season anymore, but it still was fun to watch when I had some time left. I also like the thematic episodes like the ones that revolved around a recording artist or a movie/musical. The only skippable episodes to me were the ones focusing on Broadway music. The power of Glee lies within the familiarity of the music, so somebody who loves Broadway show will probably love the episodes I disliked. Then there was that sudden touch of brilliance that somehow manifested itself in the occasional episode, like the one where the Glee cast is played by Muppets or the one where Becky’s inner-voice is performed by none other than Helen Mirren. Now matter how campy it became, there was always a sense of joy in Glee, with the exception of the episode where they commemorate Finn Hudson/Cory Monteith. There were numerous guest appearances by famous actors up until the final seasons that gave Glee episodes just that bit of extra it needed: Whoopi Goldberg, Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ken Yeong, Jennifer Coolidge are just a few actors that appeared in Glee.

Glee muppetsGlee is a prime example of why the people developing a show should draw an outline where the show will be in 5 years and/or how it will end. Then work back from that to a seasonal layout, an episodic layout and then the pilot. Glee did it the other way around. First they created a pilot which put all the pawns in place like Terry’s pregnancy. When the show got green-lit they created the whole fake-pregnancy thing so Will could stay with the Glee club. Then the show was so successful the studio ordered another 9 episodes after the already created 13, which disrupted the balance of the first season somewhat since the original season-finale, wasn’t the finale no more. Glee can also be used to demonstrate how sometimes less is more. With seasons consisting of 13 episodes instead 22 this could have been a more focused, tightly written show without the need for much filler episodes.

Even though is has been a 5 season long bumpy road, it still was a fun trip. I hope that someday someone will take note of all the missteps Glee made and create a similar TV show with a more serious and structured approach while still being a lot of fun. Maybe they could turn Pitch Perfect into a series in a couple of years.

Glee Screenshot


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