Why ‘Glee’ Needs to Graduate

Author: Michael

It’s not often that I admit my guilty pleasures, especially on a public forum. I’d like to think I have more refined taste than what some of my television and movie viewing would lead you to believe. Though, the whole point of this website is to not only study good media, but to justify our love for the media that might not be setting the world on fire. Sometimes, I just enjoy sitting back, relaxing, and seeing familiar television characters interact on a weekly basis, even if the stories might not be that compelling.

Glee, for me, is one of those shows.

I was on board with Glee from day zero. I tuned-in to the pilot they sneaked in after an episode of American Idol back in May 2009 and couldn’t wait for September when the full series was set to air. From the get go, I was hooked. Glee started off with eagerness and sincerity, telling the story of a band of misfits that happened to break out into song on occasion. It was a show that wasn’t afraid to be quirky; in fact, it embraced the weirdness, unironically. The show’s glee club was a mash-up of varying personalities – some there of their own accord, others serving all-too complex forms of detention that would never fly in real schools – and watching these characters learn to not only tolerate but love each other was a joy to witness. Bullies turned into friends, divas were humbled, and they all learned some lessons along the way. It was honest. It was cute. It was sincere. Then, everything changed.

I recall noticing the tonal shift after the winter recess Glee took in its first season after the club’s first sectionals win. When they returned, more “Top 40” started to show up as musical numbers and the show’s increased budget became all too apparent. Dreamscape performances turned from modest, single-spotlight performances to $10,000 pyrotechnic extravaganzas. (The “Kiss” performance comes to mind, with the club’s male members rocking Kiss’ signature costume and makeup) Glee was changing. iTunes sales continued to dominate and less attention was paid to the “classics” that were being introduced to an entirely new generation. Clever homages became lazy imitation, and the charm was gone.

When talks of season 4 changes began, I was excited for a potential return to form. The ending shot of the season 3 finale of Rachel arriving in New York City had me absolutely giddy. (They even cut the cord on that stupid marriage plot line between Rachel and Finn) Glee Season 4 would take the show in a whole new direction (boom) – a young actress in New York City trying to make it on Broadway. And it had a shot to really shake it up, too.

The only problem is, they copped out, introducing a slew of new characters at McKinley to fill the void of those who had grown up and left their backward hometown behind. It was the same old, silly high school drama with a new coat of bright yellow paint. Sure, you could still see some old color paint chips hanging off the wall, ready to head NYC too (Artie, Blaine, Brittany, Sam), but that’s all it was. The old meshed with the new, hoping we’d desperately accept the “new” Rachel, Finn, Puck, and Quinn. It would be just like old times, only different!

As a quick aside – I would have had no problem with the writers moving every single character to NYC with zero explanation. I would have accepted it wholeheartedly. Glee in NYC? Yes, please. That’s all we ever wanted.

Make no mistake, the New York City kids haven’t been immune to their fair share of ridiculous plot lines (this is Glee, after all, so you knew a pregnancy scare wasn’t too far behind), but at least it was different. Even the absolutely insane story of Rachel’s secret gigolo boyfriend was fresh. It was something new, even something slightly more mature. No more getting frozen drinks thrown in your face for being different, figuring out what this week’s Glee Club lesson would be, or watching Will Schuester slow clap after a performance exclaiming “That’s exactly what I was talking about!” Even the “Lights Out” episode involving Santana reconnecting with her childhood passion had shades of old Glee peppered throughout. Episodes like this are now the exception, not the norm. Glee used to be a show that loved the playground it was playing in. It embraced the theater and the passion young people have to follow their dreams, determined to separate themselves from those who accept defeat and hang their aspirations up to dry for something more normal. It’s devolved into a show based on self-referential humor, with a backbone of early 90s high school PSAs. (That school shooting episode was absolutely cringe worthy)

It’s still a mystery to me why they didn’t go ahead with the NYADA spin-off that everyone was hoping for and expecting. Surely those iTunes sales can cover the costs of shooting in NYC every week? I wouldn’t be watching Glee prime, that’s for sure, and maybe that’s the reason why they opted against it. Could the writers just be buying time until the remaining “important” characters graduate and drop the high school location altogether? For the show to achieve what it set out to from the get-go, that’s the only real answer. The show needs to grow up with its audience if it wants to remain relevant. But I’m not entirely sure they even care at this point.

When all is said and done, though, I still enjoy watching the characters. I really like the New York City segments and its potential for new plot. I’m a legitimate fan of Lea Michele, Chris Colfer and Darren Criss and will probably follow them wherever they go next in their careers. These are the reasons why I continue to watch. I know Glee won’t win anymore awards and I know it’s not grade-A television. It’s comfort food for me, and that’s enough.

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