A Retrospective essay

Justin Gordon



It may be hard to imagine now, but back at the start of the 2010’s, there was no bigger pop culture force than Glee. It was everywhere, almost like how Twilight mania swept the nation in the early stages if the 2010’s, but I’d argue it was even bigger. I mean, did Twilight have a sell-out concert tour and remain prominent on the Billboard charts? However, like Twilight mania, it feels as its significance is a distant memory. Almost as if people forgot just how big and important it was. Not only for the social issues it tackled (we’ll get there) but that it helped make hit music for the longest time. It was not unlike old school MTV in that kind of power. If Glee covered a song, it was huge for that song and artist. There isn’t anything like that today now that Glee has ended. So, I wanted to give Glee and it’s incredible cast its just due and talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of the show. I also dedicate to this retrospective to the late Naya Rivera. May she rest in power always. 


Humble Beginnings:

It may shock anybody who knows me, but I was not always a Gleek. For the longest time I resented this shows very existence. I was a moody teen when it first came out and there was a definite stigma against the show. In High School you either enjoyed the show and were mocked for it, or you didn’t and mocked others for doing so. Ironic, given the shows content. Anyway, my first experience with Glee came when they did 'The Rocky Horror Glee Show'. I am a massive fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show so I was curious to see how a FOX primetime Network TV show would handled it. In short, they didn’t handle it well. I hated the episode and vowed to never watch it again. Then a couple years later I saw a clip from the show of Darren Criss and Matt Boomer singing Goyote’s Somebody That I Used to Know and thought it was a real good version of the song. A friend of mine convinced me to give the show a real chance and so I did. Glee is the reason my family has Netflix to this day, cause I used the Netflix free trial in order to watch Glee. I was hooked after the first episode and I have been a fan ever since. Through the ups and the very many downs of the show.


The Good:

I have always said, “When Glee is good, it is untouchable.” What do I mean by that? Well, I think any good hearted Gleek can admit there was a ton of terrible storylines and moments in Glee, especially near the end of its life cycle. However, whenever there was brilliant moment, song, or story playing out, there was nothing better on TV. It is captivating TV and makes the truly awful moments worth wading through. What were some of those great moments you ask? Well anytime Sue Sylvester (Played by the incredible Jane Lynch) opens her mouth, gold usually flows out of it. Almost any Sue Sylvester line is a monument to comedic brilliance. Sue Sylvester is also one of the best characters in TV history and Jane Lynch deserved all the Emmy’s playing her. If I had to give an MVP to the shows success, it would be her. For the most part the entire cast are incredible. I can’t even begin to fathom how strenuous it was to film a show like this week to week with all the singing and choreography that went into it. It is a marvel we ever got a show like this. For, save for the final season, all 5 season leading up to it were 24 episodes a piece. With each episode having at least one elaborate musical number it it. That is insane. The show would also handle hard topics very well (Some of them were very taboo to be on TV at the time). Like, it’s depiction of how hard it is to be a homosexual or a minority is done well. I am a straight white male, so I can’t speak for the homosexual community or minorities on how they felt represented within the show. However, I can speak to the fact it helped me understand their hardship a bit more and helped lessen my ignorance. I would also be remised if didn’t bring up the importance of Kurt Hummel (played by Chris Cofler) and Santana Lopez (Played by Naya Rivera). Kurt was one of the first positive portrayal of a homosexual on TV. His homosexuality wasn’t his only defining feature, he wasn’t just the gay best friend, he was any extremely dimensional character. The second season is elevated almost entirely by him. In the episode Grilled Cheesus, He deserved an Emmy. It is one of the best performances in TV history. As for Naya Rivera’s Santana, I have read a lot of Reddit and Twitter threads, to know that actor and character touched a lot of people and meant so much to them. Whenever there is a Glee character poll, Santana always wins it or comes very close to winning it. It is not exactly hard to understand why. Santana, like Kurt, was very dimensional. She starts out villainous, but as the show progresses the audience gets to know her, gets to empathize with her as she struggles with her own sexuality. It is seriously some of the best character writing and performance one could see on TV. I would even tell people to actively seek out the show just for that character. For, that characters arc resonates with so many people. To wrap up the positive section, I have to applaud the show for tackling issues not many shows did at the time. Here is a small list of some issues tackled; Teen suicide, unexpected outing of sexuality, school shooting, catfishing, bulimia, and loss. There is so much they covered, that is a small sample size to wet ones appetite. I give high marks to any show brave enough to cover these topics. I’ll end with a small list of my favorite episodes for one to check out if they wanna give Glee a chance. I’ll follow it up with a small list of my favorite covers they’ve done, if you just wanna hear music. 


Top Seven Episodes to Watch:

  1. Pilot (Season 1)

  2. Never Been Kissed (Season 2)

  3. Grilled Cheesus (Season 2)

  4. Asian F (Season 3)

  5. I Kissed a Girl (Season 3)

  6. On My Way (Season 3)

  7. The Break-Up (Season 4) 


Top Ten Glee Covers: 

  1. Don’t Stop Believin' (Pilot)

  2. Defying Gravity (Wheels)

  3. Bohemian Rhapsody (Journey to Regionals)

  4. Teenage Dream (Never Been Kissed)

  5. I Want to Hold Your Hand (Grilled Cheesus) 

  6. Landslide (Sexy)

  7. Blackbird (Loser Like Me)

  8. Cough Syrup (On My Way)

  9. Chasing Pavements (The New Rachel)

  10. The Scientist (The Break-Up)


The Bad:

No show worth its salt is within its faults. Well, Glee is a salt mine of faults. The biggest issue springs from its roots. The idea of Glee at the start was to be a satire on High School dramas on TV and movies. However, when doing that the characters created begin as stereotypes. Ryan Murphy loves his stereotypes. That is why I am not as fond of the first season as many are. It’s still great fun TV with its heart in the right place. The issue is it takes time for the intended stereotypes to develop into great characters and become more. There is also a lot of really dumb shit in Season One. The notorious fake pregnancy storyline that is the shows first real big arc is horrifically dumb that hurts every character involved in it.  As many hits as there are, there are so many head-scratching misses in the plot department. Glee is also a show that outlived its shelf life. There is a natural 3 season arc that happens with the Glee club. So, Seasons 4 onward feel tacked on. Season 5 is a damn near unwatchable train wreck near the middle of it. Season 6 is better, but you could tell everybody was running on fumes at that point. For the perfect Glee experience I would stop at the end of Season 3. If you wanna see where it all shakes out, continue on, but results may vary. Another huge negative is that while their heart may have been in the right place, a lot of the time they fumble their hard topics. In Season 4 they tackle male sexual assault, but in previous seasons they have had one-off gags about the subject. So, when they present it as a serious issue it rings a tad false. There are numerous examples of that. They would also clearly get bored of characters and stories and drop them completely. That would get annoying if one were to get invested in those characters and stories. 


The Ugly:

Here is where things become a bit tricky. I’ll start with the biggest negative of the show; The Rachel Berry character. In season one, the show’s main protagonist is clearly Mr. Shue (Who they also butchered as the show progressed). However, as the show continued on and on it became evident that Rachel Berry became the lead. I can’t stress this point enough, this was a tragically misguided move. For, I am convinced that there is not a more unlikable lead character in a successful TV show in history. Rachel Berry is a vile and trash character and it was overwhelmingly frustrating to see the writers mirror the characters and coddle her. I think the statement Mary Sue is overused and misused a great deal. Rachel doesn’t quite fit the criteria, for she has flaws the show calls her out on. However, it is clear she is Ryan Murphy’s Mary Sue. That dude and the rest of the crew gave her the moon. It’s part of the reason why season 4 and 5 are near unwatchable. Whatever, Rachel wants, she gets. It’s horrible, horrible writing. So, the biggest negative of the show is its lead. Plus, it has come to light that Rachel’s actor Lea Michele is a trash person and was terrible to her co-workers, so double negative marks. The other negatives are hard to talk about, because it involves the real world. It is impossible to discuss Glee without bringing up Finn Hudson played by the late Cory Monteith. This isn’t a negative in a traditional sense. However, due to the actors untimely death the show feels incomplete. Upon re-watch it’s hard to get invested in much because the show because he has such a large role in it, and in the back of your mind you know you are just racing to a sad red light. The last negative I’ll bring up is about Mark Sailing and his controversy. Mark Sailing, who played Puck on the show, was arrested for possession of child porn and committed suicide shortly after. I only bring it up because upon re-watch with this knowledge comes a level of cringe. This is due to the fact that Puck has several plots that are an extra slice of creepy. Such as a story where he dates an underage girl and one where he plans to make child porn with a girlfriend. It’s just a big yikes that is unavoidable when watching the show now. 



Despite the several negatives and tragedies that come with the show that has given it a bit of a black eye over the years, Glee is undoubtedly one of the most important shows of a generation. It opened several doors of discussion not many shows were willing to have at the time. It was a show that touched many people and gave them something to enjoy week to week. There have been several testimonials about how the show has even saved some peoples lives by giving them a voice. Glee has done a ton of good for this world and it would be a crime if its importance was brushed over by the sands of time. So, if you haven’t given the show a chance or a look in a long time, I’d urge you to do so. If you are a gleek, like me, well I urge you to grab a slushy, hug your overlarge cat, start streaming it on Netflix and Don’t Stop Believin’.


In Memory Of

Naya Rivera 

January 27th, 1987 - July 8th, 2020

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Glee Retrospective

  JULY. 19. 2020.

                   AND IT'S IMPORTANCE