I quite liked Glee, Season 1.
I understand there’s a certain cultural cringe that comes from it. There’s a lot to dislike, certainly in its place in a greater whole. After all, most everything you’d complain about for any given mass-media capitalist entity still exists here, with slightly more representation and effort put into a few characters but we can also dismiss those as not good enough or sincere enough or whatever.
Still, when you sweep aside the purity tests and also dismiss the cruft of what Glee became, complete with a sad tombstone for one honestly, fairly unremarkable actor who struggled with everything that those former structural problems exacerbated, and just look at Glee season 1 as a complete story, I like it. Specifically, I like how it ended.
There’s a lot going on in Glee, and the framing device is pretty simple: It’s a universe where ridiculous people take unimportant things way too seriously. It’s a high school story that paints high school in terms of melodrama, not in terms of gritty, grungy reality like many other high school stories aim for. This is something I really like, because any high school experience you can imagine was definitely different to mine, so these huge buildings full of hundreds of people, some of whom may never meet, where structural violence is a matter of difficulty of enforcement rather than actively encouraged social punishments, they might as well be Viking Longboats for all they feel real to me.
This creates this scenario full of characters with very minor but very real-seeming problems whose solutions to them are in some way over the top and lacking in communication – you get a sort of Greek Tragedy in the way very simple, structural plot points are put under pressure by people taking silly things way too far. The infidelity and distrust angles in the one ‘adult’ relationship that exists are – well, they’re silly, extremely so, and that silliness propogates outwards in how it gets solved.
The world of Glee is a world in which the character of the adults is melodramatic, nonsensical, and extremely childish, which is sort of how adults look when you’re a high schooler? It makes more sense to imagine them as fussy crybabies or outlandish caricatures than deal with them being people pulled by lots of conflicting, small forces that make everyday emotional labour harder.
And then there’s the ending – spoilers for a seven year old TV show episode follow, so sure, have a fold – where the protagonists don’t win. They don’t even place. They simply lose. They lose because they’re not as good as the others, and they come together and there’s a moment of respect and seriousness and it’s recognised, in this time of high melodrama, that there are some points of reality. That practice and hard work can’t always be dismissed, that you don’t get to just win because you’re the focus.
It’s undercut a little by the existence of season 2 – but I still feel like the first season of Glee, with its introductory approach and its sincerity of focus, works really well as one single, silly little story about high school and pop music.