The remarkable thing is that GLEE was ever a giant mainstream hit in the first place. When the books are closed on Kevin Reilly’s reign at FOX, great credit will be due to him for daring to go all in on such a strange, lovable, inconsistent mutant of a show, simultaneously a serious, sentimental drama, a broad (often crude) comedy, a committed piece of social commentary, and–oh yes–a musical. The short attention span of its creators was matched only by that of its target audience, and in its 3d season, gravity caught up with Glee, as the show started the fall down 20% from the prior year, and had declined 35% by season’s end.
In recent weeks, like a horror movie creature who restores to its natural human features just as its life is about to end, Glee rediscovered its roots with a series of very strong episodes that reminded viewers how good it could be when it paid attention to its characters instead of its marketing schemes. The show deftly pulled off the intricate “body switch” episode by keeping the gimmick under control, and last week, it was impossible not to feel a thrill as the show’s eternal underdogs finally won Nationals. Tonight’s season finale, written and directed by series co-creator Brad Falchuk, was as straightforward as Glee gets, and for the most part it worked very well. (Since the episode decided the fate of several major characters, note that SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
The episode concerned the graduation of McKinley High’s senior class, and as anyone who follows the show knows, that meant it was also bringing the series itself to a point of transition, because several of the major characters are leaving not just McKinley, but Lima, Ohio itself. Although some key points were already known, the show threw its share of curveballs. Yes, Rachel (Lea Michele) was accepted into NYADA, and for the episode’s climax, FOX sprang for some New York location shooting, as Rachel emerged from Grand Central Station (singing, of course), for a stroll uptown. (Come on, FOX and NBC–couldn’t there have been just one shot where Rachel walked past Karen Cartwright?) But for now, at least, Kurt (Chris Colfer) won’t be with her, as he was turned down by the school–although no one will be surprised to see him join up with Rachel early next season, one way or another. On the other hand, Santana (Naya Rivera) is off to the Big City, not to attend NYADA, but to try her hand at breaking into the biz directly. And it looks like Quinn (Dianna Agron) is indeed getting to Yale, since she and Rachel–weirdly, sudden BFFs–have matching metro passes for the NY/New Haven shuttle.
The Finn (Cory Monteith) story was an example of how Glee can be its best and tone deaf worst within a single scene. The series finally came to its senses and called off the ill-conceived Finn/Rachel wedding, in a sensitive, well-acted scene for Monteith and Michele. But then it developed that Finn’s plan, now that he’s supposedly not going to NY, was a return to the idiotic plotline about joining the Army (in Georgia) so he can restore his late father’s name. Although it might be fun to see Finn thrust into musical Full Metal Jacket mode, one hopes this storyline will change yet again.
Meanwhile, Mercedes (Amber Riley) is moving to LA to start out as a back-up singer, Mike (Harry Shum, Jr) to Chicago as a dancer, and Brittany (Heather Morris), was held back at McKinley because she has, not all that surprisingly, a 0.0 grade-point average. Puck (Mark Salling) graduated, but the show never got around to telling us what he’s doing.
The show has so many regular characters–the glee club seemed to be half McKinley’s graduating class in the commencement sequence–that it was a lot of territory for a single hour to cover. The adults mostly had little to do, except for Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), whose graduation present to Kurt was a rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” because Burt Hummel can do anything. Sue (Jane Lynch) only had a couple of dialogue scenes, one of them a teary farewell with Quinn, Emma (Jayma Mays) just handed out diplomas, and even Mr. Schue (Michael Morrison) got a single spotlight moment as he sang “Forever Young” to the graduates.
Glee will always be a roller-coaster of both tone and quality, because over-the-top is showrunner Ryan Murphy’s preferred height. Just as the songs in this episode ran from Guys & Dolls to Bruce Springsteen to Madonna to New Radicals, the show will eclectically leap from somber to crazed (just wait till Sue gives birth), and now it’ll also have to juggle locations, since it’s known that the series will continue to follow the characters who’ve relocated to New York. Sometimes Glee is a glorious mess, and not infrequently it’s just a mess. It’s often tempting to give up on the show, and many evidently have (the series moves to Thursdays next fall, in the hope that an X Factor/American Idol lead-in will reinvigorate it). But after 3 seasons, there’s still nothing else on television quite like it.