March 21, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Glee”


GLEE went out with dignity–and given that this was Glee, that was far from a sure thing.  Over its 6 years (at least 2 more than wisdom would have allowed), Glee made so many disastrous turns into overblown silliness, meanness (sometimes outright cruelty), inconsistency, repetition and camp that more than anything else, tonight’s series finale provoked feelings of relief that the one-time zeitgeist smash had survived its final hours without further damage.

Those hours (both written by series creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, with Hour 1 directed by Paris Barclay, and the ending by Bradley Buecker) were bookends, a Before and After for the series.  The first took place in and around the territory of the series pilot, and concentrated on a quintet of characters at the show’s original core:  Rachel (Lea Michele), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Artie (Kevin McHale) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz).  The episode was filled with fan-favoring moments, like the first meeting between Rachel and Kurt, the stirrings of the Rachel/Mercedes competition, and the beginning of the war between what turned out to be initial basketball buddies Will (Matthew Morrison) and Sue (Jane Lynch).  For anyone who missed the days of Terri Schuester’s false pregnancy, Jessalyn Gilsig returned to the role.

The tricky aspect of this hour, of course, was that one crucial member of the original group couldn’t participate, and although Finn was talked about, there was an awkwardness to the contrivances needed so that Cory Monteith wouldn’t have to be shown.  The episode culminated in the actual “Don’t Stop Believin” number from the pilot (including Monteith), and it provoked emotion for all the reasons the show’s writers intended, but also because watching the real performers from 6 years ago, it was instantly obvious that although the actors had done a capable job of recapturing their 2009 selves, there was a freshness and enthusiasm to their original work that was now gone for good.

Glee‘s final hour, after a quick resolution to this season’s half-hearted rebuild of New Directions (they won Nationals, yay!) was mostly a flash-forward set in 2020.  It was all wish-fulfillment, all the time, as McKinley High became a magnet school for the arts (with Will as principal), Mercedes was revealed as a giant pop star, Kurt and Blaine were celebrated performers and activists, Artie got his movie into Slamdance (OK, maybe not complete wish-fulfillment), Sue became Jeb Bush’s Vice President of the United States, with every intention of running for the top job, and Rachel not only won a Tony Award (for “Jane Austen Sings,” which sounds like it could have been the show at the center of Season 3 of Smash if that series had lasted long enough), not only married her Tony-award winning director Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff), but was also surrogate for Blaine and Kurt’s child.  It all ended with Sue presiding over the renaming of McKinley’s auditorium after Finn–and, of course, one last song, with almost all the cast members since the start returning for the number.

It was a warm-hearted celebration, and also a reminder that on some level, Glee had always been more mercenary than it wanted to appear–it wasn’t enough for the McKinley glee club to have enriched its participants’ lives; their happy endings required them to be fabulously successful celebrities.  Glee was an underdog story that became an industry and then a self-indulgence, and for all its touching stories of coming out and being accepted (Mike O’Malley, who as Kurt’s father may have been Glee‘s MVP, was among those who returned for one last hurrah tonight), it often treated its characters with manipulation that verged on spite.  The slushies that spilled on Glee were largely of its own making.  Nevertheless, at its best, Glee was exhilarating, a kind of TV hit that had never existed anymore, and a cornucopia of fresh young talent.

Glee‘s musical TV moment has passed to Empire, a similarly melodramatic but less meta, more even-keeled drama that boasts a milieu of hip-hop rather than Broadway, with original songs to boot.  (Let’s all try to forget the infrequent times Glee tried to introduce original numbers.)   If Glee‘s aftertaste is less sweet than it might once have been, tonight’s final curtain was a reminder that amidst the wincing, there was also plenty of pleasure.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."