I watched Glee‘s season 5 finale today. Three weeks after it aired. What happened was my beagle got really sick back in May (you remember; you saved her life), and Dana Piccoli graciously agreed to finish recapping the season for me. I was still watching weekly, but then “Old Dog New Tricks” aired and I didn’t make it through the first performance. The juxtaposition of the thing I love most in the world (dogs) and the people I trust least in the world (Glee‘s writers) was just too much to handle. But anyway, I watched those last few episodes today, and sheeeesh.
I have been writing about TV for almost ten years now, and I have never seen another show come close to achieving the same level of what-the-fuckery as Glee. The way the producers antagonize and belittle the most dedicated fans. The perpetual squandering of talent. The waving around GLAAD Awards while dropping sexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic “jokes” on the regular. But mostly, the inconceivably awful storytelling. Glee‘s biggest WTF is the fact that the show has lasted five seasons, and outside of the first 13 episodes, it has been apparent to almost everyone from casual fans to professional critics that the creative team has no idea what on earth they are doing. In every possible way: no idea.
Broadly, what that looks like is an off-season where three different producers give seventy-eleven conflicting answers about what’s in store for the show and the characters. And that lack of planning (forethought? discretion? give-a-shit-ness?) translates into something like season five, which basically ends in the middle of the season, reboots in a different city weeks (or months?) later with a parsed down character list, and reintroduces/axes members of the cast with nary a line of throwaway dialogue. Specifically, what that looks like is characters whose decisions never make any sense, plotlines being introduced without precursor and abandoned without explanation, fictional months that last years, fictional months that last nanoseconds, lifelong dreams being realized and then discarded three episodes later, “lifelong dreams” coming from nowhere and dominating a character’s behavior (for one and a half episodes), and on and on.
Seasons are structureless. Individual episodes are structureless. I have said it a dozen times before, and I’ll repeat it once more: The people who make Glee don’t have one-third of a clue about what makes the show work. Every episode is like an exercise in spur-of-the-moment splatter painting. Just throwing every available color at the wall and seeing what happens.
Glee is the show the most people requested me to tackle when I introduced Fandom Fixes, and here’s the truth: It can’t be fixed. The people who make the show have proven repeatedly that they either do not care about quality storytelling, or they are completely inept at creating consistently good television. At this point, I honestly can’t tell if it’s one or the other, or if it’s both.
The infuriating thing about Glee is that when it gets LGBTQ stuff right, it gets it right-er than anyone else, and so we have invested half a decade of our lives — noodle on that for a second — for a those rare, shining moments when we see ourselves reflected fully and truly on our TVs. But for every one of those moments, there are a dozen moments where the writers seem deliberately obtuse about the community that has kept the show on the air for so long. Glee will always be a associated with the spark that fanned the flame of the It Gets Better generation, but it’s not the only game in town anymore; not by a long shot. And it’s time for it to take a bow and say goodbye.
So, here’s my Fandom Fixes suggestion: There’s one season of Glee left. The very best thing the producers and Fox could do is truncate it down to a half-season and give every original New Directioner a send-off episode. That way, time doesn’t matter. And what came before doesn’t matter. And nothing will come after, so we don’t have to hold our collective breath and wonder how they’re going to tank things this time. We can meet Quinn two years out of college; we can visit Rachel on the pilot episode of her television show; we can attend Kurt and Blaine’s wedding; we can see what happens when Brittany and Santana are allowed to spend more than two minutes talking to each other; we can cheer Mercedes on as she receives her first Grammy Award; we can screen Artie’s first film; we can vote for Tina in her first Congressional election.
Somewhere along the way, Glee forced us to stop believin'; now it’s time for us to go our separate ways (worlds apart). Glee won the fandom lottery and the talent lottery. The best thing the show can do now is honor both of those groups of people by giving them the curtain calls they deserve.