Let’s face it, “Glee” has been running on fumes for several seasons, making its two-hour finale more a subject of curiosity than the emotional event it would have been except for the hardiest “Gleeks.” Nor did this season’s buildup inspire much confidence, including such out-there moments as Sue Sylvester’s “Saw” homage and the combination of the McKinley High glee bunch with the rival Warblers, creating a giant if colorless super-team. Still, the big finish was everything it should have been, a sweet remembrance of what initially made the show take off. For a night, anyway, the series regained its voice.
Much of that can be attributed to the first hour (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), which flashed back to the formation of the Glee club in 2009, recalling such elements as Kurt (Chris Colfer) struggling to come out to his dad and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) still faking a stutter.
It’s no accident focusing on the core cast – and offering a number like the duet by Colfer and Lea Michele on “Popular” from the musical “Wicked” – elevated the show and brought it back to its roots. The nostalgia was also enhanced by including Jayma Mays and Jessalyn Gilsig, and the tiptoeing around the absence of Cory Monteith – at first awkward – paid off beautifully with the night’s emotional highlight, incorporating the knockout rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’” from the show’s pilot, which in a sense became its anthem.
To its credit, “Glee” has steadfastly pursued a push for acceptance and inclusiveness, and made a particular point of that throughout this final season, including plots that touched upon gay and lesbian marriage as well as the transgender community.
That said, the show has also indulged an impulse to pick off easy ideological targets, such as having the original “Glee” bunch march into a meeting of the school’s Tea Party group. And too many clunky episodes, such as the Bar Mitzvah interlude, made keeping abreast with the show at times a teeth-gnashing proposition.
The series also became almost insanely marriage-happy, inasmuch as its original characters are still only 20-ish in the show’s world, with proposals operating as a kind of dramatic crutch.
It’s hard to forgive all of that viewing the series in its totality. In hindsight, “Glee” would have benefited from following its original players through high school and graduating along with them.
Nevertheless, there were relatively few false notes in the finale – even if it went a tad overboard on happy endings – and a plethora of good and touching ones. Even the familiar device of jumping years ahead was generally well calibrated, from Rachel’s Tony Award to the political future of Sue (Jane Lynch) to dedicating the high-school auditorium to Finn, Monteith’s character, another lump-in-the-throat moment.
“Glee” was a roller-coaster ride, commercially as well as creatively. But in the warmth that permeated these two hours, it was more than enough to restore the faith even of those who had long since stopped believin’.