May 19th, 2009. It was a few months into the first term of President Barack Obama, and just after I had completed my first year of college that I got hooked on a certain musical TV show. Being home from college, I’d divided my attention that evening between the American Idol finale and surfing the web. I don’t remember a single thing about American Idol from that night. All I remember is leaving the TV on and getting sucked into the world of Glee.
Yes, I’m Glee trash. I’ve never been ashamed of that. I’ve been ashamed of fandom behavior and of the writers, but never of myself for loving that show. I’ve been a fangirl all my life, but Glee was a big thing for me. I made online friends because of it, ones I’m still in contact with! It inspired me to flex my ability as a writer when I fell in love with the character Tina Cohen-Chang. It’s the fandom that got me on Tumblr and desensitized me to ship wars. It helped me recognize the importance of representation in the media.
I did walk away from Glee for a while. Mostly it was timing due to my last year in undergrad and writing an honors thesis. Through tumblr I kept abreast of some of the happenings, and honestly, a lot of what I heard made me glad I wasn’t actively watching. But I came back to it, and I’m determined to see it through to the end. When Glee was great, it was GREAT.
And when it was bad, it was… *shudder*
So, in honor of the series finale that airs this Friday March 20th, I’d like to shine the spotlight on 6 good times of Glee.
6) Feminist Tina Cohen-Chang
I really loved early Tina. She was shy and soft-spoken but she had an inner fierceness waiting to be unleashed. When she did speak, her words were substantial. She didn’t care that she looked different; what mattered to her was feeling comfortable with herself. She wasn’t afraid to make the first move on a boy she liked, but she also refused to compromise her style just to get that boy to continue liking her. When the girls joined the football team just so they’d have enough members to participate in a game, Tina was the only one who got “tired of lying down” and wanted to really play.
5) “The Quarterback” (5×03)
He wasn’t always written well, but the character of Finn Hudson was well-acted by Cory Monteith. After a relapse into addiction, Monteith died in 2013. It was a palpable loss to the cast, and the third episode of the fifth season was dedicated him as the characters struggled with the aftermath of losing Finn. It was a powerful episode focused upon the life of Finn and the different ways we manifest grief. I remember the scenes more than I remember any of the music: Carol crying over how she has to keep being a parent even though her child is gone, Rachel describing Finn as “her person” who felt like home, or Puck finally breaking down with Coach Beiste that he’s lost without his best friend as his moral compass.
4) Noah Puckerman’s Character Development
Puck was once a sexist, homophobic bully hitting on girls and flunking class. Over the course of the show, and through his Glee comrades, he learned not only consideration for others, but also something about self-respect. He still makes some bad decisions, but now they usually come from good intentions rather than selfish ones. After relying so long on Finn, the death of his best friend forced him to learn how to discipline himself. He enlisted in the Air Force and eventually rekindled a (healthier) relationship with Quinn. He credits Mr. Schue with teaching him to be a “nice person…a relatively large part of the time.”
3) Coach Beiste: “Jagged Little Tapestry” and “Transitioning” (6×03 and 6×07)
I was thrown when I heard about this plotline. I’d always appreciated Dot-Marie Jones playing a powerful but still emotionally tender woman who taught football. She was a different kind of woman, but a woman nonetheless. But I binge-watched nine episodes of season six to catch up for the finale, and they handled Beiste’s transition better than I expected. Beiste’s explanation to Sam addressed not only the existence of Gender Dysphoria but it made a point not to belittle or erase the life led as Shannon.
2) Becky Jackson: A different kind of representation
Lauren Potter’s Becky has been a recurring character since Season One. By season six she’s an ambitious, sexually confident young woman attending college and in a relationship. She also has Down Syndrome. While this fact has never been ignored, it’s never been the defining trait of her character. Becky’s the acerbic right-hand woman of Sue Sylvester, who’s taught her to demand respect from her peers. The few times her disability is addressed, it’s to deconstruct the world’s perception of her. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it’s really rare to find that on television.
1) “To Sir, With Love” (“Journey to Regionals”, 1×22)
I couldn’t finish this list without talking about the music. But I’m going against the grain and by choosing this number from the Season one finale: after losing Regionals, the club has to disband. But the kids perform once more for Mr. Schuester as a thank you. I think it’s one of the most powerful but underrated numbers Glee has ever done. Watch it and try not to tear up.