To watch an episode Glee any time after 2012 is to take a leaf out of John Mulaney’s book and say, “This might as well happen.” It’s an exercise in futility – revisiting a show in the hopes that it’s somehow gotten better with time when you know it most definitely has not. For those of us who watched it, Glee was a weird experience. It was…good (wasn’t it? Was it?), but a solid percentage of it incited rage and secondhand embarrassment the likes of which we haven’t known outside of awkward family dinners with racist grandparents.
Like most people who like to think they have good taste, I quit Glee at the end of its third season. When I say ‘quit’, I choose that word with intent. Glee was not a show you simply forgot to keep watching, or with which you fell behind. You have to swear off Glee, disavow it forever. You must only refer to it as if it is a close friend with whom you’ve become estranged. Glee? We don’t speak that name anymore. You speak as if you never loved it, or, if you do remember it fondly, you must list at least three grievances for every bit of praise. “Some of the songs in season one were good, but there was the fake baby plot, the other fake baby plot, and a mashup between ‘Hair’ and ‘Crazy In Love’.”
Yet, somehow, I spent the liminal space spanning late December of 2017 and early January of 2018 re-watching Glee. I’ve even watched beyond my previous stopping point; I’m nearly finished with the series. I’m still trying to answer the “Was Glee good?” question, and I run hot and cold like a faulty tap. Because, sometimes, Glee was very good. And, sometimes, Glee was very bad. Sometimes, it was neither, and it simply continued to happen against all odds.
If parts of Glee were questionable in 2009, when the show started, they have certainly not aged well. Noah Puckerman makes several references to Woody Allen, which are particularly cringe-worthy in the wake of Mark Salling’s child pornography and sexual assault charges. Time has touched those early seasons of the show in other ways, too. It’s difficult to watch Finn, remembering Cory Monteith, and much of the dialogue spoken by Sue Sylvester seems like a retroactive Trumpian satire we never could have predicted.
Brittany and Santana marry in the season six episode “A Wedding”
But there’s more, looking back. Glee pushed its equal-opportunity-insults game too far too often, but there’s no denying that, in 2009, Glee was one of the most representational shows on network television. It featured an openly gay teenager coming out to his blue-collar dad, who actually fully accepts his identity – Glee doesn’t get enough credit for not going the angry-working-class-ignorant-homophobic-dad route. The show centered an interracial lesbian couple, and highlighted the coming out of a Latina teenage lesbian. The main character was openly and proudly Jewish, and one of the bro-jock types was a Jewish person of color. The list goes on. Most of the time, that’s all it was – a list. Those representations were there, but so often trapped in such inane or offensive plots and subplots it hardly mattered. But, in 2009, they were there.
Watching Glee in 2018, I expected to satisfy the ever-present drive to indulge my nostalgia. It’s been nine years since I first tuned into the show, when I was 18 in my college dorm room, painfully straight and a huge Broadway fan. I remember combing LiveJournal communities for uploads of the songs before the episodes aired; I took an annoying amount of joy in knowing what artists and musicals the songs were from originally. I confronted my own sexuality while reading Faberry (Quinn Fabray/Rachel Berry) fanfiction, and I quite literally cried when Blaine kissed Kurt on screen. Now I’m watching it in the living room of my adult apartment, with my girlfriend/soon-to-be-wife, who’s watching it for the first time. Now, Glee seems like a weird Obama-era relic, frozen in time as a show that was poorly written, badly executed but loved deeply by those who watched and those who were in it. Now, we’re in a club, we who once loved Glee as much as we hated it.
Glee does Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”
For better or for worse, we’ll never see another Glee. In 10 years, when the media vultures who feed on the carcass of fond memory try to bring it back as a revival or reboot, I probably won’t watch it. It will go down on the list alongside Will and Grace as shows that were delightfully gay but also terrible and therefore shouldn’t be remade in favor of their newer, gayer, better replacements. But I’m glad I’m re-watching Glee now, it feels good, like an exorcism. There are scenes and songs and plots that I’m genuinely enjoying, like the glimpses into Kurt, Rachel and Santana’s New York lives, and parts that I don’t care for, like nearly everything else. The songs are autotuned and predictable, and I needed a second Britney Spears episode like I needed Will Schuester singing “Blurred Lines” with a chorus of twerking white children: not at all, even a little bit. When my Netflix queue swallows the final episode of the sixth season of this accursed show, I’ll feel fine, I’ll feel free.
Alice Lesperance is a 26 year old Southerner-turned-New Yorker-turned-Southerner-again. She’s written for Autostraddle, them., Scalawag magazine, and Electric Literature. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her girlfriend and their cat Stevie Nicks.