The Five: A Theatre Nerd Looks Back on GLEE

Anthony R. Miller Checks in with his farewell to a show that should have ended a long ass time ago, but didn’t so here we are.

Last Friday marked the series finale of GLEE, a show about singing and dancing teenagers. Some would argue that it’s final 12 episode season was a mercy killing. With a revolving door of cast members, hack writing, plot inconsistencies you could drive a truck though and the nagging feeling of “Wait, am I the only one who’s notice Will Scheuster is a TERRIBLE teacher”? So why is this relevant to Bay Area theatre? Well, I feel in love with this show while living in SF, hanging out with other theatre friends, watching, totally blown away that a musical comedy had become mainstream culture. The show may have been awful, but deep inside we all rooted for it. As a former high school theatre nerd who was anything but popular, I couldn’t help but be excited to see a show where annoying, over enthusiastic, socially awkward kids who were passionate about expressing themselves were the main character. But it went to hell eventually and as we stand in the smoking crater that was the bad writing fiasco known as GLEE, I have a few thoughts, as usual, there are Five

A Show About High School Theatre Nerds

Seriously you guys, this was as close to a mainstream television about teenage theatre nerds as we get since FAME. It was a TV show about kids who wanted to express their friggin feelings and had the ability to do so through the performing arts. And sure, it was show Choir, not actual Musical Theatre. We had a pretty decent theatre department in my High School and a good band department, but I can’t recall a show choir, did we have that? I gotta be honest, even Sondheim listenin’, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat singin’ , theatre dork Anthony would think Show Choir sounded lame. Every now and then they would throw us a bone and do a show tune that wasn’t from wicked. (One assumes too many show tunes hurt album sales and who doesn’t need a copy of Idina Menzel and Lea Michelle singing “Poker Face”.) Let’s not forget though, all of these wildly talented kids didn’t want to be professional show choir singers, they wanted to be on Broadway. So if nothing else, it was a show about dorks in High School who had the same dream we had when we were High School Theatre Dorks. Most importantly, this was a show about the safe place that the arts can create. These kids found their true selves because of a High School Arts Program, even though it turns out some of their true selves were assholes, that’s beside the point.

My Kid Loves This Show

My nine year old daughter has become obsessed with this show. Which is a big step (I guess) up from whatever is on the Disney Channel. The best part though? Every time two guys kiss, or two girls kiss, or one person expresses their their romantic love to someone of the same sex, my kid doesn’t flinch. There has been no “Why is that boy kissing that boy?” conversations. You know, the conversation that all the parents who trash the show are mortified of having? She doesn’t know what a huge deal it is, to her it’s just…GLEE. Although at some point I assume she’ll ask me what “scissoring” is.

Then the Writing Got Really Shitty

It’s as if I have dated GLEE for 6 years, and it’s all because of one really fantastic first date and a really good second and third. GLEE’s Pilot still stands as one of the best pilots ever. It was funny, weird and really touching. It went south in a hurry. For those not familiar with Ryan Murphy, (Creator of GLEE, nip/Tuck and American Horror Story) he has a tendency to start strong and go unimaginably off the rails as the show progresses into later seasons. And GLEE got painfully bad, a show that once had ten million viewers a week, had plummeted to 2 Million. Musical numbers because incredibly forced, characters would disappear and re-appear with no explanation, even when a character would, self referentially point out how bat-shit crazy a plot had become, nothing actually changes, they just wanted to let you know that they know. It is my belief that the biggest alcoholics in Hollywood are staff writers for GLEE . They’d have to be, here’s a dramatic version of how a normal day might go;

(RYAN MURPHY and IAN BRENNAN enters the writers room.)

RYAN: Ok guys so, this week is our “Twerking” Episode.

WRITER 1: Seriously? An episode about Twerking?

RYAN: Twerking is huge , and we need to do a twerking episode so kids can see it on TV and believe they can twerk someday too.

IAN: Oh and we want Will Scheuster to Sing “Blurred Lines” while the Cheerios (The High School Cheerleaders, who are in fact supposed to be 16.) Twerk next to him. Have fun!

(They leave.)

WRITER 1: Sweet jesus I cant do this anymore

WRITER 2: We have to; it’s our job I’ve got a mortgage and two kids

WRITER 3: I went to Yale dammit!

WRITER 2: I hate myself for writing this as much as you do but it doesn’t matter! (Takes out large jug of Whiskey and pours it into his coffee cup till it slightly overflows, he gulps down half of it.) Ok I’m ready.

WRITER 1: (Pulls out his own bottle and drinks from it like it’s the water of life, he hiccups, almost vomits and swallows it down.) OK Scene 1, Blaine is dusting a piano while Twerking.

Kurt’s Dad Tho

Inarguably, the constant glimmer of hope in even the worst episode was Mr. Burt Hummel (Huh, Burt and Kurt, I just caught that.) The Middle America, blue collar average dude, who just happens to be the most loving, understanding and progressive Dad on TV, like ever. Was he a guy who was coming to grips with accepting his gay son? Sure, but he loved his gay son, defended him, stood up for him, he let Kurt be Kurt. Burt gave impassioned speeches promoting tolerance and understanding; there has never been a bad scene with this guy in it. I don’t know how many times I would exclaim while watching or post on Facebook “Kurt’s Dad”! With a show full of openly gay kids, their accepting teachers and friends, Burt was the face of America still getting used to all the changes in the world, but he did it because deep inside he was a good dude, he is representative of all our liberal hopes and dreams that even the most beer drinking, John Cougar Mellencamp listenin’, Blue collar guy can be an ally.

Taking What We Can Get

Real talk, by Season 3 GLEE had become a train wreck, but try as I might, I never stopped watching. I’d turn the volume down when Lea Michelle would do her umpteenth Barbara Streisand tribute, sometimes I’d shout “There is no reason for you to sing that song!”, and it is a well known rule that once a popular song is sung on GLEE, it isn’t cool anymore. (This is probably why, Dave Grohl never let Nirvana or Foo Fighters songs be used.) But as I said before, this was all the representation Theatre Dorks got in Mainstream Culture. Sure, in the midst of GLEE-mania came SMASH (which I loved, but was in small company.) But not since FAME was their a show about the kids I went to High School with, the kid I was I was. GLEE may have been awful far longer than it was goods, but sometimes we need to take what we can get from Mainstream Culture. In the end we had a show that pushed the importance of Arts Education, never giving up, finding strength and community amongst your fellow underdog, and Social Progressivism. Oh and Jane Lynch, she was the funniest fucking thing ever.

So Goodbye Glee, and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director and Producer. Keep up with his project at www.awesometheatre.org

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