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Monday, July 26, 2021

Everything we missed on “Glee”

Looking back, Emmy-winning “Glee” was more problematic than progressive

When the comedy-drama musical television series “Glee” first aired in 2009, it was praised for its humor, cast and diversity. It is a coming-of-age story about outcasts in high school following their dreams and finding their places in the world. The series was unique and, while certainly over-the-top at times, had character and sentimental value. The first season received a score of an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Glee is not just entertaining but elating, dramatizing ‘Breakfast Club’-quality teen angst with the aid of tight production numbers covering new and classic popular songs,” Troy Patterson wrote in 2009 for Slate

As the seasons carried on, however, the storylines became so melodramatic as to border on bizarre. Although the show was always quirky, the characters became cartoonish, and the humor based itself on very ridiculous situations. Central cast members were constantly being added and dropped with little explanation in the script. The storylines felt forced, at best, and there were constant plot holes and continuity errors.

In a 2019 YouTube interview, cast members Jenna Ushkowitz and Kevin McHale were quizzed on some of the most outlandish storylines that occured on the show, such as a cafeteria riot over tater tots or when two characters using wheelchairs sang “I’m Still Standing” in an insensitive display of irony.

“Did that really air?” Ushkowitz asked after one of the questions. 

Both Ushkowitz and McHale agreed that “Glee” would not survive today’s social and political climate, and it’s hard to argue with them. Looking back, there are several aspects of “Glee” that range from nonsensical to ignorant and even offensive. “Glee” never shied away from a storyline, but here’s a list of some of the ones they most definitely should have. 

The Entire Character of Mr. Schuester

Played by Broadway performer Matthew Morrison, Mr. Schue could have been a likable character who mentored the kids in Glee Club and provided a moral compass on the show. From the beginning of the series, however, both Morrsison and the writers imbued a sense of both cringworthiness and creepiness into the character. 

In the pilot episode alone, Mr. Schue confronts a student, Finn Hudson, about joining the Glee Club while Finn is showering in the locker room. Then, he proceeds to plant drugs in Finn’s locker in order to blackmail him into joining. In retrospect, this may not have been the best way to introduce a character that was supposed to have a paternal influence over the young students. 

There were several other horribly inappropriate moments where Mr. Schue crossed the line, and the character is highly regarded as one of the worst by viewers today. From planting drugs on a minor to performing sexually provocative songs and dance numbers with students to suspending a female student for not wearing a revealing costume, it is hard to believe this character was presented as a charming teacher who just cared about the success of his students. 

Actress Rachel Zegler tweeted that she  “wanted nothing more than to be a glee club member at mckinley until i rewatched glee and realized will schuester should be in jail.”

That Puppet Scene from “The Hurt Locket: Part 2”

Premiering in 2009, “Glee” was recognized for creating three-dimensional gay characters who were not reduced to token characters. Same-sex couples were revered by fans as much as heterosexual ones, which was powerful for the time. 

“Glee,” however, ruined it by making meta-jokes in reference to one couple’s popularity. Cheerleading coach and eventual principal Sue Sylvester became obsessed with the relationship between characters Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson. She even refers to them as their couple name “Klaine.” Although the two were originally an iconic progressive gay couple, the series took it several steps too far when they made Sue a voice for online fangirls.

In a particularly terrifying installment of the sixth and final season, the writers attempted to force Kurt and Blaine back together by having Sue lock them in a makeshift elevator and communicate with them through an animatronic puppet. Obsessed with getting them back together, Sue fashions all of this in the middle of a high school with zero superstition, telling them that they must kiss in order to be let out. Not only did this actually happen, but the robotic puppet also rode into the elevator on a tricycle through an automated trap door. You can’t make this up. 

When Sue Married Herself 

Trapping a couple in a make-shift elevator is just one of dozens of outlandish storylines given to Sue’s character. While Sue was an easy fan-favorite — and actress Jane Lynch won multiple awards for her portrayal of the intense cheerleading coach — there is no denying that Sue was one of the most outrageous characters ever written for a television show. One example in particular was when, in a full-blown Adidas tracksuit gown, she supposedly had a legally binding marriage to herself after realizing that no man could compete with her. She also somehow becomes Vice President of the U.S. at one point in the series. 

The Mishandling of Many Controversial Issues 

In an effort to be inclusive, “Glee” attempted to address several controversial or hot-button issues such as teenage pregnancy or dealing with disabilities. This often led to either stereotypical misrepresentations or reductive versions of the issues in order to appease Fox representatives at the time. 

In an article in The Atlantic, Richard Lawson analyzes what may be the best example of this. In an episode ridiculously titled “Shooting Star,” Glee attempted to tackle the issue of gun violence in America. Most of the episode, however, was spent focusing on useless drama between the characters and hardly on the real effects of gun violence itself. 

“This is Glee‘s frequent M.O., to run up alongside a serious issue but never actually make contact with it, to peel off at the very last minute back into the safe and cozy and toothless world that Ryan Murphy has created,” Lawson writes.

Sexual Assault for Laughs 

One of the biggest issues in ”Glee” is the constant downplaying of sexual harassment and asssualt. Much of the show’s humor results from the characters being despicable human beings, but several moments occur that seriously cross the line. 

In a Season One episode titled “Hell-O,” Sue attempts to regain control of the cheerleading squad by slipping a roofie into her bosses’ drink and taking compromising photos with him in order to frame him. In a later season, an adult character is perfectly fine flirting with a minor because she explains she has a fake I.D. In yet another episode a female character straddles and rubs VapoRub on her crush’s chest while he is nearly unconscious. This is appalingly described as “Vapo-Rape” in the episode and is yet again played for laughs. 

“Glee” never took itself too seriously, but the mockery it makes of sexual violence should not have been tolerated in 2009 and certainly isn’t admissable in 2020. 

And that’s what you missed on “Glee.”

Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — arts@theaggie.org

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