Friday, October 11, 2013

Tears of "Glee"

This morning, my teenage daughter informed me that her cold is back because she cried so much last night. A quick Google search assured me that no, crying cannot actually cause a cold. Sorry. 

But, my daughter is convinced.

I myself do not have a cold, but I did indulge in my share of tears last night as well. 

My daughter and I watched "The Quarterback," a tribute to Cory Monteith, also known as Finn Hudson, on Glee.

The series' critics have long denounced the show for its sentimentality, and — too often, too preachy — overall schmaltziness. In its four years, we've dealt with teen pregnancy, teen suicide, gay bashing, disabilities, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, religion ... the list goes on and on. Big topics, big musical numbers. Interestingly, the show never really tackled drug addiction. When I heard that Glee would dedicate its third episode to the memory of Cory Monteith, who died of an accidental heroin overdose this summer, I assumed that they would finally do so.

But, surprisingly, Glee's creators decided not to address it. At all. In fact, in a quiet voiceover at the very start of the tribute episode, Chris Colfer, as Finn's stepbrother Kurt, explained that it had been a month since his death and that people kept asking how he'd died. But, Kurt asserted that it didn't matter. The focus, instead, would be on how he'd lived.

On the one hand, this seemed a little too open-ended. A major character, arguably one of the most major characters, of the show was being killed off (not by choice, I know, but still ...) and the audience would understandably have questions. On the other hand (and when it comes to Glee, I often defer to that other more forgiving hand), it was a no-win situation for the writers. If Finn died of anything other than a result of his heroin addiction (leukemia, say, or a car accident), it would have felt false. But, Finn would never (never, never, in a million years, never) have experimented with heroin. That's one of the things we loved about him. He made it hip to be square.

So, within the first thirty seconds, Kurt warned us that our questions would go unanswered. From there, we moved into the first group number, "Seasons of Love" from the Broadway hit Rent.

525,600 minutes, 
525,000 moments so dear. 
525,600 minutes — how do you measure, 
measure a year? 

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. 
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. 
In 525,600 minutes — how do you measure 
a year in the life?

How about love? 
How about love? 
How about love? 
Measure in love. Seasons of love.

Love. Right. Love Glee or hate Glee (and I have friends in both camps, as well as friends who loved it then and hate it now), you have to hand it to them. For the past four years, the Glee team has rarely hit a false note when it comes to choosing songs. The stakes were higher last night, but the soundtrack was perfect.

Another smart move was to focus on the show's veterans. Sure, the freshmen members of New Directions (a veritable slew of youth and talent introduced last year) are largely likable, but Finn's death, Finn's story, isn't their story. Instead, we heard Mercedes sing "I'll Stand By You" (Chrissie Hynde's anthem, originally featured in year one when Finn sang to his assumed baby daughter's sonogram). Sam and Artie sang James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." Santana tried to get through "If I Die Young," and Puck defiantly asserted Springsteen's "No Surrender."

There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Especially not in ours.

Then, at last, there was Lea Michele. There was no question that the entire cast (and crew, no doubt) were going through a strange and terribly painful collision of personal and public grief. But, Michele's situation had to have been the most extreme. Monteith's real-life girlfriend, Michele stood and sang "Make You Feel My Love," openly weeping. It was a scene worthy of an Emmy Award, although rewarding her incredible acting might somehow negate the incredible reality that she wasn't actually acting at all. What a brave girl she is. And what better way could she honor her loss than by exposing herself and her unfathomable pain like she did? I hope she can heal. I hope she can be happy. She deserves it.

It's tempting to criticize an inflated sense of self-importance built into Glee's tribute episode. "We know how important Glee is to you," the creators are saying. "We know you're mourning the loss of our star. We'll guide you through that. We'll show you how it's done."

But, it's hard to criticize something that came out of so much genuine love and was executed with so much respect and thought and skill and talent. The sheer talent Glee puts on the TV screen each week remains for me a thing of wonder and awe.

As my daughter's renewed cold attests, "The Quarterback" was pitch perfect.

If you enjoyed this post, order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at

No comments:

Post a Comment