Fox’s Glee just ended its run tonight after six seasons. Like a bright flame burning fast, the show had a meteoric rise followed by a fast cool-off. Probably few of the original Gleeks stuck around for the sendoff tonight, which wrapped the story with a two-hour finale. But that shouldn’t take away from the show’s legacy.
Glee defied convention and the decades-old rule that musical series don’t work. They hadn’t, even when some of the best producers in the business had tried their hand, including Steven Bochco (Cop Rock, 1990) and Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone, 2008). And yet, Glee succeeded, paving the way for musical fare in primetime such as ABC’s Nashville and Galavant and Fox’s Empire and even the stage productions of The Sound Of Music and Peter Pan (NBC) and Grease (Fox).
Glee’s success also redefined auxiliary revenue for a scripted series as it spilled to touring and to the music charts, with a record 200-plus singles making the Billboard Hot 100 — the Glee cast topped Elvis Presley’s mark in 2011 — and three of the show’s soundtrack albums reaching No. 1, all in 2010. No show since had been able to reach the top spot until, fittingly, Fox’s Empire soundtrack landed at No. 1 the week of the Glee finale for a symbolic passing of the baton.
Glee‘s storylines may have meandered later on and the show may have lost its spark after the first few seasons, but it always stayed on message, standing up for equality and acceptance and promoting gay rights more than any show ever has done. (The series stayed true to its mission till the end, with the finale featuring a gay couple having a child, an elementary school named after gay activist Harvey Milk and an inspirational plaque in the McKinley High auditorium, “See not the world as it is but as it should be.”)
Glee also tried to stay real at the risk of losing fans. While so many successful series have kept their characters in high school for years and years, the New Directions members grew up and graduated in real time, leading to the loss of some well-liked original characters a couple of seasons in. And then there was the real-life loss of Cory Monteith, who had emerged as the series’ male lead, a tragedy few shows are faced with during their run.
Glee also helped usher in the era of auteur TV in American primetime, with its creators Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk working without a writing staff the first season and penning every episode. That technique is now employed in a number of series such as HBO’s True Detective and FX’s Fargo. Murphy, Brennan and Falchuk returned at the helm for the final chapter, writing the two-part series finale.
The first part revisited the series’ hugely popular premiere episode, re-creating the glee club’s original auditions and tracking the backstories of how all original New Directions members got to try out. All except Monteith’s Finn, who still was featured with the help of some creative editing.
The final episode lived to its title, “Dreams Come True,” with a happily ever after for everyone: Rachel gets married to Jesse St. James and wins a Tony; Kurt and Blaine have a baby, carried by Rachel; Mercedes is invited to open for Beyonce; Artie gets recognition as a filmmaker and gets back together with Tina; Mr. Schuester is made the new principal of the newly minted performance arts McKinley High; and Sue is running for president of the U.S. after two terms as President Jeb Bush’s VP.
Following Monteith’s death in 2013, Glee co-creator Murphy revealed that the original plan for the show’s final scene was to have Rachel, a big Broadway star, return to McKinley High, where Finn is a teacher, because it’s her home, with the duo’s reunion closing out the series.
The creators obviously had to change course after Monteith’s passing, but they didn’t stray too far in the final scene, which featured Rachel — as well as virtually every Glee character from the past six seasons — return to McKinley High. Finn still played a major part in the scene as it features Sue dedicating the auditorium in his name. Like with the series premiere, which ended with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the finale wrapped with a rousing rock anthem, OneRepublic’s “I Lived.” Full circle.