Glee: A Retrospective

Latest posts by Barry Quinn (see all)

It’s no secret that Glee had a shaky run.

Its first season started slowly, with the second half capitalising on the surprise success of its initial run. The second season followed suit, but the ridiculous storylines meant that viewers began to jump ship.

Season three mimicked this trend, and many think it should have ended then. But three more seasons followed, each to varying degrees of success, so much that the finale felt long overdue.

But let’s take it back to the beginning. The core characters were instantly likeable (with a few exceptions – I’m looking at you, Tina and Artie). We have loveable, downtrodden Will Schuester, and his arch-nemesis Sue Sylvester, the true standout character in the early seasons of Glee.

Rachel Berry, with her ego and her speedy talk, was instantly annoying, but her will-they-won’t-they relationship with Finn Hudson captivated the hearts of the shows fans. Quinn was a bitch with a heart, Kurt was plagued with insecurities, and Puck was a badass.

What struck me initially about Glee was its unapologetic nature of forcing two opposites together and making it work. Finn and Rachel, as a couple, shouldn’t have worked.

Puck, being the dick that he is, shouldn’t have fit in so well with the Glee Club. The relationship that Will shared with some of his pupils was downright creepy.

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But all of this worked within the narrative of Glee: this was a show that knew the absurdity of many of its stories, and took the piss out of itself along with the viewers.

Glee’s legacy will be in its depiction of controversial storylines. Of them, its realistic portrayal of sexuality must be commended.

Kurt’s struggle in season one to come out and be accepted by his family and peers hit a chord with many viewers, as did his harrowing bullying in season two leading to him transferring schools.

His bully, Dave Karofsky, was secretly in the closet himself, and attempted suicide in season three. Thankfully it didn’t work, and Karofsky was able to accept himself and find happiness, even if it was short-lived.

Santana’s coming out didn’t work quite as well as Kurt’s, but Naya Rivera managed to convey the hurt of her character successfully, and her relationship with the kooky Brittany was one which many fans prayed for.

Glee also dealt with such issues as gender, by introducing the character of Wade ‘Unique’ Adams. Unique was portrayed brilliantly by Alex Newell, but the show never truly explored the issue of gender dysphoria with Unique. This was a wasted opportunity.

In season six the show saw long-established Coach Bieste come out as a trans man, and transition midseason. This was the first example of such a transition in a primetime American television show, and as such Glee needs to be applauded.

I do personally feel like this storyline should have come a season earlier, just so that we could have seen it play out further and show both sides of the spectrum in terms of Sheldon being accepted and ridiculed by his peers.

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Highlighting transphobia is something that Glee should have done more on, and it should have done it seriously, as it did with the homophobia in earlier seasons.

Eating disorders (Marley), race (Mercedes) and relationships (um, pretty much everybody with pretty much everybody?) were just some of the other issues Glee dealt with, but it wasn’t until the fifth season that the show depicted its most harrowing storyline: the death of Finn Hudson.

Cory Monteith’s real-life death has already been discussed countless times, but I feel as though it was a smart move for the show not to highlight how Finn died. That wasn’t important. What was was the fact that he died at all, and his tribute episode ‘The Quarterback’ was truly stunning.

Each actor in that episode didn’t act – everything was real, which makes it all the harder to stomach. But once more Glee needs to be applauded for producing this hour of television.

The show very easily could have been cancelled, and nobody would have blamed them. But, the show must go on, as they say…

Glee was often hit-and-miss. Whenever we got a stunning episode like season six’s ‘Transition’, we had a terrible episode to compensate.

Anybody remember the puppet episode in season five? Yeah, me neither. And that was why Glee began to go downhill. That, and the influx of new characters.

Personally, I liked the newbies introduced in season four. Kitty was sassy, Marley was insecure, Jake was a dick, Ryder was loveable, and Unique was just fabulous. But some fans didn’t gel with them, and as such they were all dropped midway through season five as the show focussed just upon Rachel and her friends in New York.

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Again, this didn’t work. Rachel became a deuce, and the constant splitting up of Kurt and Blaine grew annoying. They were destined to be together, but Ryan Murphy had no idea what to do with them once they were together.

As such, the sixth season was reduced in length, though Murphy once more introduced several new characters. Apparently he failed to see the negativity of the first lot of newbies.

Thirteen episodes just wasn’t enough to care about these characters, and so my (and many others) only hope for the final season was a happy ending for the core characters.

We don’t know what happened to many of them, though I guess we can hazard a prediction. Quinn and Puck will hopefully be happy, doing something, together.

Unique will probably have transitioned, and Santana and Brittany will still be amazing together. That’s probably it, in terms of what I personally care about.

But we did learn what befell some characters, and the ending was entirely fitting for Glee.

Everybody made it big. Rachel won a Tony and married Jesse, Kurt and Blaine were big on Broadway and were awaiting the birth of their baby, Tina and Artie were together and making movies (so?) and Mercedes had an album out.

All of these, of course, are extremely unbelievable – I mean, how the hell would ONE class produce so many talented, famous people? – but the cheesiness of the finale warmed many hearts.

Ultimately Glee was uneven in its portrayal of just about everything, but I think fans need to remember it for its portrayal of social issues, and not for the puppet episode.

Think of the positives. And don’t stop believing.