Revisiting is a new series where TV writers watch, or re-watch, popular TV shows they missed when airing in their prime. Writers will retrospectively review these shows and determine if they still live up to their hype years after their peak success.
Contrary to popular belief, all things do not, in fact, get better with time. And “Glee” is most definitely one of those things. I’d even go so far as to contend that it should have been first on the list of relics to be left and buried in, say, 2012 — at the end of season three.
Don’t get me wrong, though. “Glee” was an absolute hit almost a decade ago. A gem of its time. It gave way to a national tour, a 3D concert movie, mountains of tween merchandise, multiple albums (full of covers that are still bops to this day, might I add) and a die-hard, swooning fanbase of ‘gleeks’ armed with pom-poms and slushies. It’s just that now, in revisiting “Glee” after all these years, it was mostly just a pretty weird — and oftentimes cringe-worthy — experience.
Let’s begin by going back to the era of “Glee” where the series was endearing and truly a spectacle. That is, seasons one through three. It’s a tale as old as time: A highschool harshly divided between jocks and nerds finds a motley crew of glee club members desperate to enter the popularity sphere. The characters are all so young and doe-eyed, struggling to develop a sense of their own identities as well as discovering where they fit in among others at McKinley High.
There is Rachel, a singer with huge aspirations of stardom and an extreme infatuation with a quarterback, Finn. Then there’s Kurt, an extravagant powerhouse who wrestles with his own self-expression and coming-out to his ultra-conservative father. And there’s also Quinn, the lead cheerleader, main mean girl and president of the abstinence club — who just so happens to have gotten pregnant by a boy who is not her boyfriend. Somehow, no matter how different these and the other characters may seem, they all end up in the glee club fighting to win a national title and trying to prove that show choir can be cool. That sense of unity and family is extremely lovable and is what kept so many coming back for more delightful drama.
But there are also many, many places where “Glee” misstepped along the way, and looking back now it’s hard to believe that more people didn’t notice. First off, the musical numbers are all horribly autotuned. While I’m sure that was the style a few years ago, now it only comes off as very cheesy and ruins some of the magic of the show. Also, logistics are pretty much thrown out the window, as a majority of the plot meanders and drags on, and many of the scenarios are in no way practical. Why do we rarely see the glee club practicing the songs they are actually going to sing at competitions? How do they put those numbers together so quickly? So many questions, so few answers.
And most problematic of them all, for being a show branded on heavy and diversified representation, it feels like a lot of the diversity within the characters is done simply to check boxes and label the leads. We see the gay boy, the Jewish kids, the lesbians, the soulful and sassy Black girl and the shy Asians — but their character traits are so intensified and exaggerated that the so-called “representation” turns into done-for-comedic-effect stereotyping.
“Glee” had its hot and cold moments, but I have never seen a show fall faster downhill than it did after the conclusion of season three. At this point, many of our favorites had graduated from McKinley and had moved on to either travel far away from Lima, Ohio, enroll in college or join the military — leaving the school glee club with a mere sampling of B-list younger members and a fresh crop of eager participants.
Let me say that there are few things more frustrating than when a series brings in new faces to casually try and replace characters that have either graduated, died or for some reason left the show. But that is exactly what “Glee” tried to do beginning in season four — and it failed miserably. While the show was split-screened between following the storyline at McKinley High and following Rachel and Kurt in their adventures in star-studded New York, now “Glee” had lost a lot of its allure and simply felt like a flawed spin-off.
Ultimately, there is no way to accurately encapsulate all of the moments where, against all odds, “Glee” worked. But in choosing three episodes chock full of drama, full-out musical numbers and all the feels, I will attempt to memorialize “Glee” for its good times, rather than its bad.
1. “Never Been Kissed”: season 2, episode 6
One of the beloved mash-up contest episodes, “Never Been Kissed” is a standout because it actually takes some of the spotlight off of New Directions and introduces us to their competition — The Warblers of Dalton Academy. It is here that we meet Blaine — played immaculately by the University’s own Darren Criss — and begin to fall in love. It is through his passionate rendition of “Teenage Dream” and instant draw to a suddenly introverted Kurt that we realize just how influential Blaine will be to Kurt’s currently dwindling self-esteem and acceptance of his genuine self. This episode is charming not only because of this budding romance, but also because it carries the overarching heartfelt message that if it takes some time and a little help from others to embrace who you are, that’s perfectly OK.
2. “Nationals”: season 3, episode 21
It is through “Nationals” that we are fulfilled as “Glee” watchers, as New Directions finally win a national title and make all of those hours of binging worth it. It’s a true rallying cry as all forces come together, even including Sue Sylvester to pull out a win and overcome the odds. This episode also features some of the strongest musical moments of the entire series, as the New Directions’ nationals setlist may be one of the greatest, most emotional musical montages ever filmed. With no lack of instances documenting sheer unity and togetherness, if there is one episode to be thought of when immortalizing “Glee” forever, this should definitely be it.
3. “The Break Up”: season 4, episode 4
Leading up to a five-week hiatus after its real-time premiere, “The Break Up” left viewers feeling empty and on the edge of their seats as everyone’s favorite couples disbanded in a tear-jerking mosaic. I mean, how could you not cry when couples that we’ve seen grow up together — Finn and Rachel, Kurt and Blaine, and Santana and Brittany — are forced to say goodbye and let go of their first loves. This episode is memorable not only because of the strong emotional reaction it provokes, but also because most of the heavy moments and deep conversations are executed in true “Glee” fashion: through song. Each character is released from the bonds that hold them back to McKinley, and set free to rightfully chase their own goals and dreams. As the spotlight dims on Finn at the end of the sentimental group performance of “The Scientist,” we gain closure in the fact that the original, pure and captivating chapter of “Glee” that we grew such a fond connection to had now closed.