Forever Yours, Faithfully: Ruminations on Glee’s Debut Season
From the very first episode of Glee that I watched, I knew there was no turning back. They had me at Rachel Berry’s line of dialogue that forever hooked me on this show: “You’re really talented. I know, because I’m really talented too.” She could have been me 15 years ago. Not that I actually ever said that to anybody, but it sounded like something I could have said, because I was that type of person. Obviously, not as comically over the top as Rachel, but yeah. Probably still am.
I wasn’t in show choir, but rather drama club. Unfortunately for me, the faculty advisors’ policy at the time was no musicals. Thankfully, that has since changed at my alma matter. But even though my experience was not exactly like that of a glee club, there are enough similarities in the stories told through the characters on the show to take me back to that time of my life and the people I shared it with and make me feel nostalgic. Nostalgic for the infighting and hurt feelings over roles won and lost, the camaraderie of the rehearsal process, the excitement and adrenaline of show night, and the gratification of the applause. Nostalgic for the crushes and the love triangles and the experimentation with the various stages of making out. Of course, we did it in an unknown suburban high school in Western Canada, not on a worldwide stage with an audience of tens of millions of viewers.
Although the storylines on Glee are often contrived and absurd (I mean Mr. Schu pretending to seduce Sue Sylvester? Sue magically becoming a judge at Regionals? 8 kids sewing elaborate Lady Gaga tribute costumes overnight?), the show’s theme and message is anything but. During last night’s finale, as Will Schuester attempted to inspire his ragtag band of discouraged but unbelievably talented students who believed the party was over and they could never win at Regionals and the club would be dead, he talked about how life has only one beginning and one end, and all the rest is a big middle. He said eventually they would forget each other’s names, forget the songs they sung, the solos they got or didn’t get, and so should live for the experience of now. But Mr. Schuester was wrong. Being a part of something like glee club or drama club or any number of activities during high school that foster community, spirit, excellence, creativity and teamwork are experiences that shape those students for the rest of their lives. They won’t forget. I know I didn’t. And neither will the many lifelong friends I’ve kept close who I met during that time.
So what of the finale? Well, let’s see. There was a Finn -> Rachel love confession. CHECK! There was a Will -> Emma love confession. CHECK CHECK! And there was a Puck -> Quinn love confession. CHECK CHECK CHECK! Actually, in all seriousness, the ” ‘Break a leg.’ ‘I love you.’ ” moment leading into Finn and Rachel’s “Faithfully” duet had a tear welling in my eye and a lump gathering in my throat.
Speaking of which, last night’s finale executed the show’s trademark marriage of over-the-top witty comedy (Aural Intensity? A briar patch?) with genuine, heartfelt emotion better than any other episode this season. There were many beautiful and poignant moments that demonstrated a maturity on the part of the writing staff, the showmakers and the cast that I don’t think they had quite yet achieved up to that point. I’m thinking of Mr. Schu driving home after his confrontation with Emma over her new boyfriend, hearing “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the radio, and pulling over on the side of the road to weep. I’m thinking of the quintessential Tina “I love you guys” moment at Mr. Schu’s apartment. I’m thinking of the moving juxtaposition as Quinn delivered her baby to the strains of Vocal Adrenaline’s somewhat austere rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I’m thinking of Finn’s speech to Mr. Schu about having a role model to look up to. I’m thinking of Emma’s involuntary escaped sigh after Will declared his love and planted one on her. I’m thinking of the glassy-eyed Sue Sylvester who misted up at “To Sir, With Love” and voted for New Directions to win first place. Yes, there were many beautifully played and beautifully scripted moments in last night’s finale that provided just enough closure to the ongoing storylines to get us through the summer, and demonstrated just how far our characters have come.
But it wouldn’t be a Glee Season 1 retrospective without talking about the music. This debut season has provided us with spirited and original re-inventions of everything from classic rock to top 40 to jazz and funk to the 80s, the 90s and beyond. So without further adieu, I present my top ten personal favourite numbers of Season 1.
#10 – “Take A Bow”, performed by Rachel Berry covering Rihanna
From Episode 1.02 (“Showmance”) – Finn kisses Rachel at a private rehearsal, then runs off after swearing her to secrecy, only to hook back up with girlfriend Quinn while Rachel croons forlornly from her bedroom and the hallways at school.
#9 – “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, performed by Quinn Fabray covering James Brown
From Episode 1.21 (“Funk”) – When asked to perform a funk or soul number, Mercedes implies that she can do a better job than Quinn because Quinn isn’t “chocolate love.” Quinn responds with this goosebump-inducing version of Mr. Brown’s wailing classic, complete with a team of pregnant teenage backup dancers.
#8 – “Vogue”, performed by Sue Sylvester covering Madonna
From Episode 1.15 (“The Power of Madonna”) – Who can argue with Sue Sylvester in a cone-shaped bustier?
#7 – “Proud Mary”, performed by New Directions covering Ike & Tina Turner
From Episode 1.09 (“Wheels”) – Seeing the entire cast perform this choreographed number in wheelchairs was not only a great moment in the sun for Artie, but was damn impressive, and not just for Mercedes’ red hot vocals during the Tina parts.
#6 – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, performed by New Directions covering The Rolling Stones
From Episode 1.13 (“Sectionals”) – After Sue Sylvester leaks their set list for Sectionals to the rival teams, who steal all their numbers, Finn arrives like the proverbial knight in shining armour with the sheet music for this Stones classic, which wins New Directions the title. The fact that I have a soft spot in my heart for one of the first 45s my dad ever gave me does make me a tiny bit biased, though.
#5 – “Push It”, performed by Rachel Berry, Finn Hudson, Artie Abrams, Tina Cohen-Chang, Kurt Hummel and Mercedes Jones covering Salt ‘N’ Pepa
From Episode 1.02 (“Showmance”) – In order to drum up interest in the glee club, Mr. Schuester arranges for them to perform at an assembly. But instead of performing the lame disco number their teacher picks out for them, the club decides they need to give the student body what they crave the most — sex. It had me at Artie Abrams and “this dance ain’t for everybody, only the sexy people”, as well as Kurt slapping Finn’s ass in front of the entire school.
#4 – “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, performed by Mercedes Jones from the musical Dreamgirls
From Episode 1.13 (“Sectionals”) – The glee club must perform a ballad at Sectionals, and Mercedes outmuscles Rachel with this blistering version of the Broadway hit. Unfortunately, she never gets to perform it after the bad girls from the reformatory school (otherwise known as their competition) beat her to the punch.
#3 – “Rose’s Turn”, performed by Kurt Hummel from the musical Gypsy
From Episode 1.18 (“Laryngitis”) – After a shuddering foray into John Cougar Mellencamp and making out with Brittany to impress his very straight dad, Kurt’s true colours come busting to the surface in this campy, yet heartfelt, number complete with high kicks and his name in lights. Everything’s comin’ up Kurt! Everything’s comin’ up Hummel!
#2 – “Bad Romance”, performed by The New Directions Ladies (ft. Kurt Hummel) covering Lady Gaga
From Episode 1.20 (“Theatricality”) – There is nothing not to love about this number (except maybe Rachel’s creepy stuffed animal dress, but I don’t think we were supposed to love that in an unironic way). The costumes were amazing, especially Santana, Quinn, Tina and Kurt. Kurt’s backing vocals to give it that slightly deeper androgynous edge really put a new twist on the song, and I loved the way the girls traded lead vocals. The whole thing sounded incredible. No wonder Gaga herself gave it two thumbs up.
#1 – “Safety Dance”, performed by Artie Abrams covering Men Without Hats
From Episode 1.19 (“Dream On”) – When Tina leaves to get him a pretzel from the food court, Artie fantasizes about what he would do if he could ever dance again – which would be leading a Flash Mob in the mall to a very tricked out version of this Canadian 80s pop classic. The choreography in this number was absolutely phenomenal. I could not stop watching it. I must have watched it 50 times. And it made me feel joyful in my heart.
So that’s it for Glee‘s debut season. I laughed (a lot, to hilarious material that cut so close to inappropriate it would have been embarrassing if not so witty). I cried (remember, Journey was involved in the finale). I wrote at the midway point right after the hiatus break that Glee has brought innocent joy and wonder back to prime time again, and I can only echo that sentiment now. I can’t wait to find out what our talented little misfits got up to over the summer and what they’re going to sing for me next year. Kudos to Ryan Murphy and his team for capturing imaginations of all ages, inspiring some of us with our pasts, others with our presents and our futures, and putting out the best comedy series of the year!