They say that the only constant is change. Change said goodbye to Ugly Betty and welcomed Jane the Virgin. Change said goodbye to Friends and welcomed How I Met Your Mother. Change said goodbye to Glee and turned our eyes towards Empire. But where to begin? How do you turn off the klieg lights on something that has become so vital to your identity? A show that pretty much sums up everything you espouse — the lifeblood and muscle to your creative proclivity. A show that cast a wider net in terms of representation and diversity, that celebrated the “Other,” spoke the truth, and made no apologies for it. A love letter, perhaps? How do I love Glee? Let me count the ways.
I love Glee because of Lea Michele who I first encountered on Broadway in Spring Awakening. In her person, she inhabited the role of Rachel Berry so beautifully — too beautifully in fact, so that it became too meta for her own good. In the world of Ryan Murphy, she was that girl you love to hate — eager, theatrical, a modern-day Julie Andrews whose bravado might have turned off the cool kids of her time. Her vision board, stacked with photos of Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, motivational quotes (“You are amazing!”), a signature gold star, and the caviar dream of winning a Tony. Her idea of “cool,” the opposite of what “cool” might have been — as dictated by the majority who were more eager to embrace the brand of “cool” espoused by Girls’ Hannah Horvath. In McKinley’s eyes (not least, Coach Sue), she was the anti-“cool.” The self-actualized underdog. The girl who wore too much plaid, whose bangs were annoying, whose way of singing belied an eagerness that was opposite of how alt-chicks coolly slid their way into our LSS and iTunes playlists. The eager beaver. Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick in Election.
As someone who followed her journey closely from diva wannabe to Broadway star across six seasons, I became witness to Rachel’s brand of anti-“cool.” She was a loser, yes. Heck, I too have associated myself with the “L” word many times in my life. But to see her spread her wings on talent alone proved to me a validation or permission that I too could make it if I kept my eyes on the prize. That if there’s hope for her — a slushied theater kid — to achieve her dreams and win her Tony, there was hope for me too. That my industry, through Glee’s example, could achieve some form of cultural ubiquity.
I love Glee because of Finn Hudson. R.I.P., Cory Monteith, who, in the social hierarchy, is way cooler because he is a jock yet he embraced his passions. He subjected himself to the world of anti-“cool” associated with Rachel and the New Directions and hung out with the likes of Kurt Hummel, Tina Cohen Chang, wheelchair-bound Artie Abrams, and larger-than-life Mercedes. Finn had that je ne sais quoi, that invisible quality that could turn on the room at any given moment. He was atop McKinley High’s food chain, Cheerio Quinn Fabray by his side, but chose to love Rachel instead (and got slushied in the process). In a world where anti-“cool” was chastised, where humanity and industry became either/or instead of a package deal, Finn took the road less traveled. Finn was someone who could have had it easy in life but chose otherwise — simply because he wanted to stay true to his own constitution.
I love Glee because of the many dualities. The concept of the “Other,” the concept of the grotesque manifest in various shapes and forms. Eventually a guy named Blaine joins The New Directions — with his greasy hair, fastidious smile, and preppy Warbler blazer, and falls in love with Kurt who dances awkwardly, dresses gregariously, and is marginalized for being gay. Once upon a time, people like Puck threw Kurt into the dumpster. But Kurt kept it together, and never once reneged on his identity. And Blaine loved him for that even more — despite trials they’d face later on when Kurt moves to New York to try his hand at fashion, and eventually NYADA.
There was also Brittany S. Pierce — the dumb cheerleader who was background fodder until her big break in the Britney Spears tribute. She would be revealed later on as a genius of the Stephen Hawking kind and would find true love in Santana, who would then find her break in the Lady Gaga tribute. Santana in turn would have to defend their love to her conservative abuela who didn’t believe in same-sex marriages. Her abuela would come around.
I love Glee because it had the balls to tackle the un-tackle-able despite what it may have done to ratings. When it felt passionate, it became passionate and found a way. Eventually came the likes of Unique Adams, a transgender, Marley Rose who had her pop star dreams and eating disorder, Ryder Lynn who suffered from dyslexia, and a host of other kids who, along with their junk and neurosis, would end up finding clarity and some kind of community in the New Directions.
I love Glee because everyone had their flaws but kept on. Because they were all also just “Others” trying to maneuver themselves through the crowd.
Every episode of Glee, to me, became some sort of call to action for a society that had its own predispositions — one that was easily led astray after “Toxic,” one that stood by silently when a Carrie-inspired shame-iliation was inflicted on Tina during prom, one that watched anti-“cool” kids get slushied in the corridor, one that allowed themselves to get pushed against the lockers by bullies like Coach Sue and Becky, one that became accomplice to the homophobia that was very much prevalent in the earlier seasons, and watched the arts get pulverized by Sue from the public school curriculum — only to find redemption in the end. It was through the sacrifice of the New Directions, their wanton willingness to be subversive and be at the receiving end of public chastisement that renewal would occur. Glee, through Ryan Murphy, became the sacrificial lamb. And we were its salvation.
I love Glee because it gave me comfort during times when I personally felt disheveled because of passion and identity. The show’s subversiveness in narrative and willingness to go to places that often seemed taboo made me feel a little less alone and a little more secure in a world I always felt couldn’t understand me — always that feeling of being an underdog on the inside and a believer in the power of something that isn’t popular or “cool.” In Glee, I found a community, a family, even more accepting than my own — which is why it’s difficult saying goodbye. It’s like hugging your best friend one last time, like saying goodbye to your reflection that kept you company all those years. But then you take pride in the fact that with the seeds sown by Rachel or even Mr. Schue, the reflection evolves into something better — a refraction — a circle mirror transformation you hold up to yourself and the world.
To Glee, I will always cherish the mash-ups, the covers, the humor, the heartbreak, heck even the glitter bombs, the purple piano, and the slushies. You don’t know how much you’ve changed my life by you simply doing you. And I do me, too. So I end: where do I turn when Polaris’ light has faded? Where is the North Star to my own journey that is far from seeing its end? On Rachel’s vision board? On her signature golden star? There is hope for us yet. Don’t stop believin’.