That show was still on? The rise and fall of ‘Glee’

| Film Editor

Last week, “Glee” aired its series finale. Confused because you didn’t know it was still on? I know that I was. It’s true: the show that defined our late middle school/early high school experience has been continually producing episodes for the past six years, long after the epic performances we will remember, such as the recreation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and of course, the iconic “Don’t Stop Believing.” When “Glee” first began, it was everywhere from commercial merchandise to being discussed on the news. The show inspired Glee-like clubs to sprout up across the county and performance videos would circulate on Facebook for weeks after airing. Now, many of us in “Glee”’s target demographic wouldn’t even be able to name a recently covered song, let alone plotline. How did something once so groundbreaking soon become so stale? Here are my three main theories of what led to “Glee”’s failure to remain culturally relevant.

1. Pressure to always be outdoing the last episode

In both the performances put on and the social issues the show tackled, “Glee” always involved an element of trying to be better and more shocking with every episode. In the Golden Age of “Glee,” this wasn’t difficult to do: there were always big songs that they could cover and celebrities wanting to guest star. However, once both of these audience-grabbing tactics started seeming overdone, “Glee” resorted to creating intricate romantic plots for its characters, something that seemed strange due to their young ages. For these reasons, high school graduation coincided with marriages and proposals, something that I’m pretty sure isn’t common even in suburban Indiana. At the same time, “Glee” skimmed over many of the real issues that teenagers face, such as college acceptance nervousness and fighting with one’s parents. After a while, the silliness of “Glee” faded and its underlying seriousness proved it inaccessible to its former fans.

2. Lack of a compelling plot after the main characters graduated

From the start, the most compelling part of “Glee” was the ragtag team of high school “misfits” trying to make their dream of winning a show choir championship come true. This “underdog” sense compelled viewers to watch and there was always a sense of urgency propelling the plot along. However, once characters started graduating, the show’s writers seemed at a loss to figure out what to do with them. Often, characters would jump from place to place, switching their post-graduate plans and even moving across the country to seemingly be where it was most convenient for the show’s plot. This elimination of realism caused a disconnect between the show and its fans, many of whom were in the same stage of their lives as the characters. In order to keep characters in high school, producers even had to backtrack and claim that characters were younger than they had seemed, making their desperation evident even to loyal fans. Due to a failure to create compelling younger characters, the show bounced around without any kind of common thread.

3. Overuse of the musical format

“Glee” was the leader of the pack of music-focused shows that exploded around the turn of the decade. It was popular because it was different, and vice versa. However, as other shows tried to copy this format and subsequently failed, it became clear that nothing really stays fresh for long. After “Smash,” the “grown-up Glee,” was cancelled, it was clear that TV-plus singing doesn’t always equal success. However, NBC has now aired two live-broadcasted musicals and musicals reimagined as movies have drawn people to the box office and achieved critical acclaim. The newest trend is here, and we will soon see whether its current flooding of the market will grab or alienate viewers. As for now, we can go back to pretending that “Glee” ended after its first two seasons, and we will all be happier for it.

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