Farewell to Glee
I can’t quite remember when I gave up on Glee. For the first two seasons, I watched the show regularly, both because I enjoyed it and because it was the kind of creative, ambitious mess that can be more interesting to think about than a conventionally tidy series. Glee often fell flat on its face, but it did so in unexpected ways that made me reflect on the nature of storytelling, the challenges of episodic television, and the power of ensembles. After a while, though, it just became too exhausting. The show was still good for a handful of transcendent moments, but I found it increasingly hard to sit through the rest, especially as it became clear that the writers had no idea what to do with their most important characters. Finally, I just stopped. Until this week, I hadn’t watched an episode all year, not since “Asian F,” which aired all the way back in October.
And yet I occasionally found myself missing it. Sometimes I’d watch a clip online, or think back to the promise of Glee‘s first season, or just remember the characters, some of whom I still cared about, at least in their earlier incarnations. (I also had a surprisingly good time watching the concert movie on a plane.) Still, I wasn’t really tempted to check in again. As I recently put it to a friend of mine, there’s so much good television available these days, both on the air and on DVD, that I have no excuse for watching a show that doesn’t stand at the very top of its game. Mad Men, for instance, is basically awesome all the time, and Community isn’t far behind. And when I still haven’t seen most of the Sorkin years of The West Wing or all but a few episodes of The Sopranos, it’s hard to justify investing time in a show that pays off only intermittently.
Of course, if I’d followed this rule my entire life, I never would have watched The X-Files, my favorite show of all time, which seemed perversely intent on punishing viewers who expected anything like consistency. And sometimes it can be thrilling to see a show you love suddenly return to form. Todd VanDerWerff of the A.V. Club has always been one of Glee’s most interesting critics—he’s the one responsible for the theory of the three Glees—and he has an interesting take on this. To his mind, Glee could have been an observant, sad, but ultimately triumphant series about growing up in a small town while dealing with the failure of your own dreams, which is what it felt like in the pilot. Instead, it was taken over by ridiculous high concepts, big production numbers, and theme episodes, but would occasionally still send dispatches from an alternate universe where that other show still existed.
All of which is to say that I watched the show again this week, if only to see the kids win Nationals at last, and I enjoyed it. Still, it’s startling to realize how little I regret missing the past fifteen episodes: there were plot points or characters I didn’t recognize, but for the most part, this is the same show I remembered—and perhaps more fondly than if I’d been around for some of the low points in between. And as much as I liked this episode, I can also safely say that after this season, I’m done with Glee. Every television show ultimately boils down to a handful of moments in the viewer’s memory, an idealized version constructed out of its best pieces, and the Glee of my imagination—the one that was wistful, funny, and occasionally spectacular—is now complete. It was good to tune in one last time, but now that I’ve shared in that moment, it’s finally time to graduate.