Time to Remember
When Glee premiered in 2009 I was obsessed- a scripted musical TV show that featured singing and dancing showcasing the underdogs of high school hierarchy. I found the first episode majorly flawed but when the cast took the stage and sang the classic cheesy Journey song "Don't Stop Believing" I was hooked. This rag-tag bunch of outsiders plucked my heart strings and the weakness of the storytelling didn't matter. I am a self admitted musical theatre nerd and have an embarrassing tendency to tear up when songs are sung in a scripted situation. Sappy hooks with emotional drive are my downfall.Surprisingly, I am untouched by the likes of American Idol/The Voice/America's Got Talent/et. al. most likely to the lack of story driving these shows.
The young cast of kids was mostly inexperienced save for Lea Michele who was weaned on Broadway and their lack of acting chops was leavened by the sheer heart of their singing and energy as they performed. I had many friends in the theater community who criticized the over-produced sound (one choral teacher hated the expectations it produced in her students and their parents that all high school choirs should be this polished!) but I loved what it represented and what it achieved- an acceptance and understanding of those of us who don't conform to the "societal norms" , that celebrated arts instead of or as well as sports, that brought awareness to issues of bullying among others, and the sheer joy that can come from singing your heart out.
Unfortunately for me, the writing was so spotty and characters never followed any motivations- there was a seeming lack of a show bible that keeps track of what they would or wouldn't do or even what they had done before, so the arcs were non-sensical. I finally gave up on the show when the original cast "graduated" and they brought in all new "New Directions". From it's inception, the storylines played like bad after school specials or the serious issue episodes of Facts of Life and the newer cast lacked the charm of their forbears.
So it was fitting that the finale episodes of Glee focused on the original six members of the "New Directions". The episodes represented the best and the worst of what the series was. In "2009" we went back to the inception of the group, finding out their inspirations to do so. I did like this, but once again , it mostly had nothing with the characters we met in the original episode (except for Rachael who was the most fully developed of the characters from the get go. Probably having to do with Lea Michele's experience as an actress). Kurt (Chris Colfer) played out a scenario that rang more true than his haughty origins seen in the premiere. I credit that to the growth of the actor who, as the series progressed, brought a lot more humanity to the role which I initially disliked. Initially Kurt was arch and bitchy with little redeeming value besides his vocal prowess and sartorial fashion sense. His backstory established his strong relationship with his Father which became a positive model for GLBT parents.Tina (Jenna Ushkerwitz) reminded me of the why-the-f-did-they-do-that stutter and short lived edgy goth phase. Her origin story was crammed together with the wheelchair bound Artie (Kevin McHale) - positing that the only reason they auditioned for the Glee club was because of a dare. Their characters were always some of the least realized and underwritten on the show, but their singing was always reliably strong. The vocal powerhouse Mercedes (Amber Riley) was the star vocalist in her church choir yet felt like an invisible minority in her school. Amber has always had sing for the rafters skills and an agreeable presence, but once again was largely undefined as a character, taking a resentful back seat to Rachael even though her big Gospel voice was as good if not better than her rivals. And of course, the tragically gone too soon Finn (Corey Monteith) whose story is talked about due to the stars untimely death. Nothing new is offered in this episode- his origin in the group was straightforward in the pilot. We also find out that Shue (Mathew Morrison) and Sue (Jane Lynch) used to be friends until he took the job as the new Glee club director. The new revelations about the beginnings had varying degrees of success, illustrating one of my greatest annoyances about the show- sheer randomness of storytelling! But as soon as they gathered onstage for the first time, the first time the camera shows the smiling and alive Finn with his rag-tag group of comrades singing "Don't Stop Believing", my heart melted. The tears flowed. It's all that possibility, that talent, that potential, that heart that gets me every time.
At it's best, it was a joyous celebration of life through song, a celebration of indiscriminate diversity, a celebration of promise. The storytelling was sometimes inane, the characters ricocheted haphazardly through the series, but what it really did was bring about more widespread acceptance to marginalized groups and helped us embrace our inner Gleek.
The actual final episode "Dreams Come True" was pure wish fulfillment for the characters- hopping into the future to find them all wildly successful. More bad storytelling, yet emotionally satisfying. (One highlight is Lynch and Morrison singing "The Winner Takes it All" by Abba. The pair have always had great chemistry and it is a truly bittersweet moment for them.) Dreams did come true.And in the end, they all were onstage one last time with members past and present, faculty and all, singing "I lived". Truly lovely.
Glee was many things- polarizing, exhilarating, maddening, glorious, original, banal. provocative, and dull. I had a love/hate relationship with it for the first few years until I had to distance myself from it like a bad relationship that kept kicking me in the groin. I am glad I tuned in for the last 2 episodes. I finally have a satisfying closure .
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