TV Review: ‘Glee’ Bids Farewell to Cory Monteith

Glee Cory Monteith Tribute

The sendoff is emotional and heartfelt, but also feels like a missed opportunity

Faced with an impossible situation — addressing the death of Cory Monteith without appearing overly saccharine or in any way glib — “Glee” did what the show does best, letting the music do most of the talking. Given the circumstances it was emotional, certainly, in its painful exploration of grief, but also frustrating — and in some respects, a missed opportunity — in its stubborn refusal to address the circumstances surrounding the 19-year-old character’s death, and by extension, what prematurely took the 31-year-old actor.

Monteith died in July from ingesting a lethal mix of heroin and alcohol. Tributes have already poured in — among them the TV academy including him among several more esteemed luminaries at this year’s Emmys — but it was inevitable the series that made him famous would have to somehow tackle what happened to Finn, its one-time quarterback.

It fell to the show’s raging id, Sue (Jane Lynch), to state the obvious, saying the remembrances should be about Finn, “not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness.”

Still, the episode — written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, and directed by Falchuk — also used Kurt (Chris Colfer), Finn’s stepbrother, to say right up front in regard to the cause of death, “Who cares?”

In terms of grieving the dead, fair enough. But teens and young adults often die for highly preventable reasons much like Monteith did, and while a drug overdose would have been too on the nose, any of numerous other explanations — from drunk driving to other risky behaviors — would have made this not just a somber sendoff, but a teachable moment to the younger quadrant of the program’s audience. And if that sounds dangerously close to Afterschool Special territory, creatively overcoming that sort of challenge would have been a truly admirable tribute.

As it was, the show’s highlight came in the very first scene — a poignant rendition of “Seasons of Love,” a song all about the fleeting nature of life from the musical “Rent.” After that, the original cast members essentially took turns musically paying tribute to Finn, culminating with the golden-throated Lea Michele and a wrenching breakdown involving his teacher, played by Matthew Morrison.

Even those who have dutifully stuck with “Glee” — through cast changes and increasingly tedious melodrama — would mostly have to admit the show’s best days are behind it, a bright light that burned itself out pretty quickly. And with this sad chapter over, it will feel like something of a relief to get back to that, following a three-week hiatus due to playoff baseball.

Fox did present an anti-drug public-service announcement at the end of the hour, and dispensed with promos or the studio’s customary fanfare.

“There’s no lesson here,” Sue eventually says, admitting her own sorrow. “There’s no happy ending. He’s just gone.”

In the wake of a tragedy involving someone close to you — especially who dies so young — that’s an understandable response. But there actually could have been a lesson here, and it’s sort of a shame “Glee” — a show often about helping kids deal with life’s setbacks — didn’t even try to teach one.

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  1. ronnie says:

    The character of Finn did not have a drug problem. It would have been wrong for the writers to have said that he did. They dealt with the loss of the character and how young people deal with grief and did it in a classy manner. Everyone knew that Montieth, the actor, died of an overdose and having the PSA at the end dealt with that issue. They handled it all properly.

  2. a blumenthal says:

    I do not agree with the variety review. No opportunity was missed. The showzwas about the cast grieving on the show and in life. Future shows can deal with the problems of drug use.. if you go to a funeral of someone dying who died due to a reckless act that is not time to stress how the persin died but rather a time to b
    be together to feel the loss.

  3. MBK says:

    As usual with Glee, appealing musical performances, tedious storytelling, grossly overcooked acting, and cringe-inducing dialogue. Nothing was creatively special about this episode. This is where the real opportunity was missed.

  4. Greg Cooper says:

    The “teachable moment” was the grief process its self. This doesn’t need to be an after school special about drug use and addiction. The public and teens, especially are bombarded with those messages. What teens don’t get is what this episode offered. Seeing people grieve when unexplainable or senseless death happens. When tv gets too preachy about a message it makes the message sappy. This was the first time the grief process was tackled on television on it’s own merits. Why he died is irrelevant. Seeing how people grieve and try to make sense of something that is senseless is powerful. Instead of going for the easy message episode, they went for something more real, or as real as Glee can get. How do we mourn those we lose, especially those we have lost at such a young age.

  5. Glee Fan Aiice says:

    @BRIAN LOWRY – Why don’t you just state the truth?

    Hollywood doesn’t condemn anyone for doing heroine, cocaine, or anything else. What star has ever been forced to the sidelines, because they do anything morally reprehensible or wildly inappropriate?

    Truth be told, you can do absolutely anything you want in Hollywood and keep on working, unless you get caught by the public in something so disgusting that you must go to prison. Without getting caught by the public, you can do H, coke, or sleep with underage girls and it won’t hurt you even a little bit.

    There are some incredible people working in Hollywood, but there are also people beyond redemption on TV every single night of the year. Why are they there? They are on TV, because they make the decision makers money, and money is worth infinitely more to Hollywood bigwigs than morals, ethics, or right and wrong ever will be.

    That is a fact.

    Imagine what the public would say if they had any idea how depraved Hollywood personalities, agents, and sets really are. I’ve been doing it as a full time highly paid professional for 25 years now, and I sexual harassment, drug use, and religious bias barely even make the list of disgraceful things I’ve seen and heard first hand.

    Hollywood has no moral compass. Everyone should know that much at least.

    • Jacques Strappe says:

      In so many words, you feel as if Hollywood is responsible for the decline of civilization? Please spare us the Republican “Hollywood has no moral compass” diatribe. Hollywood, like politics, is just holding a mirror up to society overall. The world is full of both good and evil people–that is nothing new. Just look at the obscene wealth and power tied to politics on both sides of the political spectrum. The entertainment industry, like practically any industry (including high finance) is a bottom line one which will do anything, including breaking the law to turn a profit and make a few wealthy executives even wealthier, if they can get away with it. By Hollywood not overtly condoning most lifestyle choices (no matter how offensive you might find them) for fear of offending as few of their prospective consumers of said entertainment would seemingly appeal to a more libertarian point of view. Furthermore, consumers of mainstream Hollywood entertainment are supposed to be viewed as blameless victims in spite of their questionable taste and objectionable choices? I have only worked in the corporate world my entire life. I can assure you that everything you find offensive about the Hollywood entertainment industry, I have witnessed in the corporate world…and I do mean, everything.

      I don’t watch Glee. I have neither a personal interest and attachment to the deceased Mr. Monteith nor the character he played in Glee. Are the writers and producers of Glee condoning drug use because that was not included in storyline to explain the death of the character played by Mr. Monteith? Is this a matter of sin through omission? I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Lowry here, either. Glee is a show about fictional characters. Apparently, anyone with a pulse knows how the real Mr. Montieth died…and therefore, drug use is bad. Personally, I think the PSA airing after the show was appropriate.

  6. Sandy Shaw says:

    Glee touched just the right note, ending with the PSA at the end.

  7. sherry says:

    There wasn’t a need for a teachable moment. This was a tribute for the way he LIVED…not the way he died

    • Holden says:

      If the show was supposed to celebrate Finn’s life, we should have seen some of Finn’s life. His friends are saying they have so many great memories, but the show didn’t include a single flashback. Rachel says she hears his voice, but we never heard his voice. Sue was right: Finn was just gone.

      The music was beautiful, but the writing for this episode was very poor.

    • Glee Fan Aiice says:

      @Sherry – Cory failed everyone that loved him, everyone that worked with him, everyone that invested in him, and most of all himself.

      Those are the facts. The way he lived brought him to die in pathetic fashion at the age of 31.

      We should pity that and not honor it.

      I love the show Glee and loved him on the show, but being a fan does not mean being an idiot who thinks all behavior is great and that there are no repercussions for living out of control. There should be. There are. And Cory is dead because of what he decided to do and did.

      It is sad, but it will happen again within a year to some other young star who nobody would love enough to force them to get clean and sober and stay that way.

  8. You are so WRONG! The show was expertly written, and the whole premise was to celebrate both Finn AND Cory. It was brilliantly done! Kudos to the writers! There were PSA’s throughout the show (if you noticed them) and they did an absolutely amazing job of remembering both Finn and Cory, because for anyone who watches Glee, we know that the cast are close, and their characters ‘almost’ spill over into real life. We all know how Cory died, we don’t need to be reminded, but maybe we need to be reminded how much the world will miss him, and miss out on the light he brought to Glee… Finn and Cory. This is an opportunity for parents to take the reins they should be taking….and teach their children the perils of drugs. To Glee cast members…WELL DONE! What an amazing tribute. I cried through every moment. Keri.

  9. Crystal says:

    Cory is not Finn. I think Glee’s cast was dealing with saying good bye to one of their one consistent with the character. There will be opportunities to teach about drug use and alcohol within the breadth of the other characters. Overall the episode was balanced and really about what happens when you lose someone.

    We’ve already had the teachable moments of Quinn Fabray nearly dying because she texted while driving…too many of those overload a show. This way they will retain veiwers and at a better time they’ll be able to continue to connect on those issues.

  10. David Kasmier says:

    You are so right….the Glee writers, directors, and producers really blew it….they had such a wonderful opportunity to do the right thing and bring the heroin problem that is affecting so many young kids today (their core audience) to the table and have an honest, open discussion about it….but they didn’t….they are cowards and it’s sad….people are dying from this horrible drug (Cory Monteith comes to mind) and they ignore it….shame on them.

  11. Jen says:

    I have three daughters who are avid Glee (and Cory) fans. To say this show missed an opportunity is not necessarily true at all…The show, Cory’s death, and the grief of the cast, who I’m sure somehow seem like friends to them in a way, brought me an opportunity to have a frank discussion about drugs and addiction with my 13 year-old (even “normal” kids who have everything can lose it all). Most importantly, as Mr. Schu broke down sobbing at the end, my 9 year old, also sobbing, declared “I’m never doing drugs!”, followed by my 12 year old, sharing how “everyone he loved is hurting, and he can’t be here to fix it or say sorry.”

    Glee would be smart to visit addiction in another way, with another character, but this episode was not the time, nor the place.

  12. Jake says:

    Everyone knows why Corey died and no matter what it was– there’s still grief from the loss and there is no teachable moment there. It was a beautiful and heartfelt episode and no the best days are not behind it– this episode proves that. This series deserves to be nominated for best series. Roomy rosemont, who played Finns mother was heartbreaking.

  13. DK says:

    Making this episode a “teaching moment” would have done nothing but turn it into exploitative trash. The episode was beautiful. Let’s leave it that.

  14. Red says:

    …and your review , Mr. Lowery, just shows why you could never create or write a show like GLEE. You have to preach and convince. Nothing subtle. You totally missed the mark.

  15. Claire says:

    I disagree that the show should have used the opportunity to do an Afterschool lesson. Monteith’s tragic death, and his very well known life-long struggles with drugs — struggles that began for him at the age of 13 years, and that led him to have an entire adolescence spent in and out of reform schools (a life very unlike the character he played, as Monteith stated over and over again) — already serve as a huge lesson to viewers. It is disrespectful to them to think that they are not already very aware as a result of the death of the actor about the tragic reality that accompanied his drug use. The lesson is already overwhelming present in the reality.

    Furthermore, Kurt doesn’t merely say “who cares?” He notes that there was more to the character’s life than his death. One of the results of Monteith choosing to talk about his struggles with addiction a few years ago was to put a different face than the stereotypical one on drug addiction. His death does that even more. People already know he suffered from the disease of addiction, and we live in a society where that disease is immensely stigmatized. The social shame and disapproval of those living with this disease, and the reflexive tendency to reduce them to someone who is no more than the disease, is such that most of those struggling with it feel they have to do so in the shadows, and this often results in them not feeling like they can openly seek help.

    Putting a period to the character by rewriting his story after the fact to portray him as nothing more than a reckless individual who threw his life way through a preventable fault in a 43 minute PSA would have perpetuated the stereotypical treatment of those struggling with addiction. It would have said the only — or at least the main — value in their entire life is to serve as an object lesson and warning to others, with their death being their sole defining characteristic.

    Instead, the show directly acknowledged the loss of the actor — a loss every viewer was fully aware of — whose life and work was so much richer, and more full, and more impactful than his disease through the loss of his character. By doing so, they showed that those living with addiction are anyone and everyone — people who are kind, and loving, and inspiring, and who make a difference in the lives of others, while at the same time living with their own struggles and sometimes, tragically, losing the struggles. Monteith’s very well-known and publicized story is the lesson about the dangerous outcomes of losing one’s battle with addiction. The show, by focusing on how much meaning his life had to so many through the way his character impacted the lives of every other character on Glee, shared that those living with this disease are more than a stereotype, and are more than their end.

    Additionally, the episode did more than just portray a series of musical tributes, as powerful as those were. It showed characters reacting to the death in ways that set up ongoing story lines for them in the episodes to come through the rest of the season. But looking to see where the show goes, and what it does hereafter, may not be your main focus, based on your contradictory comment about it being a “relief” to go back to a show whose “best days are behind it.”

    • kls says:

      Thank you Claire, your words ring with thoughtfulness and truth. I watched this episode not merely as a fan of the show, but as a mother who lost a son to heroin addiction two years ago. I thought the writers and actors showed compassion and heartfelt grief over the loss of their friend Cory. I have watched the show since its beginning…not for the storylines, but because I love talented singers. In fact, two of the songs they sang in the show were played at my son’s memorial.

      The show was an accurate portrayal of the grief that we go through at the loss of a loved one, especially when it comes to someone so young. The grief expressed by Finn’s mother was so spot on that I could not quit crying. In fact, all the actors’ feelings seemed heartfelt and true and I honestly don’t know how they got through many of their parts, much less their singing.

      As far as the treatment of the show regarding the cause of Cory’s death, I thought they did an incredible job of portraying the grief process, without resorting to an “after school special” treatment of addiction. Those of us who have loved and lived with an addict don’t need another “lesson” on bad choices, wasted potential, and accusatory comments on bad behavior or lack of self-control. The addict in fact dies a thousand times over and over during their addiction. They are real people, with real lives, people who loved them, and often bright talents. They are not the sum total of their addiction which brought them to the end of their life too soon.

      Thank you to the writers, cast and crew of Glee. I grieve with you in the loss of your friend Cory. And with you, I celebrate his life and appreciate your tribute to him.

    • JanB says:

      Very well articulated Claire. Your comment was far more nuanced, thoughtful, intelligent and attentive than the article.

    • Coolrobert says:

      I agree with Claire. (Though Mr. Lowry makes good points as usual.) The show was a way way to say goodbye to Cory more than Finn. The emotion on screen felt.real. The people lost a friend and a co-worker. We didn’t need to know how Finn died because we knew this was really for Cory.

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