Glee has always been an underdog. Premiering in fall 2009 (spring, if you include the solo pilot episode before summer break), this musical dark comedy aired on network TV in an era where most anything worth watching was (and arguably, still is) only on cable. Ever an oddball series, starting out as what could be described as Election meets High School Musical, there was pretty much nothing else like it on TV. There still isn’t.
In my social circles at least, the pilot episode was a slow cooker, with only a handful seeing its premiere night (I did!) and others trickling in through the following months. By the time season 1 officially aired that fall though, nearly everyone I knew was hooked. I have fond memories of my college friends and myself rabidly hunting down common area TV sets and claiming them for the must-watch hour of television that week.
Glee was an absolute event, movement, phenomenon. There’s no word big enough you could use to describe it, because none of them would be an exaggeration. Each episode, the cast would pump out hit after hit, each digital single flying into the top rankings of the charts. It became such an important channel of culture that given any “real” hit pop song, the inevitable follow-up was when/where/how it would end up in a Glee episode.
And it was somehow in the midst of this highest cultural necessity that Glee started to stumble. Inclusion of the hottest hit songs became less of an inspiration and more of an obligation. The quality and integrity of the show suffered, turning many viewers (including myself) off – I all but abandoned the show during its often-unwatchable fourth and fifth seasons.
Thank the television gods though, as Glee did come around for its sixth and final season. While some questionable creative choices were made, it did feel like a solid return to the twisted humor and authentic characters which made the first season so magical in the first place. The finale is the warm, enjoyable sendoff that the characters, and we, deserve.
What’s amazing too is how much the world has changed since that fateful night when Glee premiered in spring 2009. In the first episode, Rachel explains that she is the result of a surrogate mother with one of her father’s sperm – told in rapid-fire speed, almost as a joke. Flash forward to nearly six years later, she is the surrogate mother to Kurt & Blaine’s child – and it is a perfectly accepted, legitimate, and loving family situation. (And rightfully so!)
Sure, sometimes Glee tried a bit too hard to be relevant – including but not limited to the overbearing emphasis on bullying, referencing viral videos (many of which, admittedly, went over my head) and an atrocious school shooting episode. Love it or hate it though, Glee was an undeniable voice and representative of our cultural moment.
Not to mention, at times, plain ol’ great television. In spite of the sloppiness it sometimes dumped on us, we have been blessed with so many iconic moments, both musical and not. Even the most cynical Glee viewer would have a hard time denying that television is a better place because of this show.