An Open Letter to Glee Creator Ryan Murphy About the Show’s Final Season

Dear Mr. Murphy:

Remember the pilot episode of Glee? It was a fearless trailblazer propelled by ingenious writing and peppered with the perfect cast of outsiders. It was a humorous look at high school hierarchy that never took itself too seriously while at the same time making very real commentary on various hot-buttoned issues like teen pregnancy, bullying, and coming out during a time when the media landscape was changing.

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Before Glee and Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), the only realistic representation of gay youth and the very real struggle it was to be gay in high school was Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek, and that was 10 years earlier. You took the high school hierarchy formula and created a smart satire with realistic teenagers, and despite the musical talent this band of misfits possessed, they were relatable; we watched them because we cared. Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) was awkward and naive and he struggled with his feelings on homosexuality for a full season and a half before he realized Kurt was so much more than the “gay” label everyone placed on him. We watched his character grow, and as an audience, we grew with him (and became just a little more tolerant.)

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Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), though often insufferable due to her insatiable drive and constant need to be “right,” was a sympathetic character because of her insatiable drive and constant need to be “right,” especially because most of the time, she was right (despite her going about everything the wrong way.) It was refreshing to see a teenage girl driven by something other than her love for a boy. She had a dream, a wide-eyed, shoot-for-the-stars kind of dream, but she showed that working hard and never giving up can and will pay off. Watching Rachel grow up and mature throughout the first 4 seasons was awe-inspiring; she went from a shrill girl with no friends but her dream to a woman who learned to be confident enough in her talent to let people in.

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Even the popular girls had problems; Quinn (Dianna Agron) walked a tightrope between her religious beliefs and her sexual urges which ultimately resulted in her getting pregnant. Her constant quest for perfection, illustrated by her quest for prom queen, showcased the unhealthy attitudes teens today face every single day. Santana (Naya Rivera) was a closeted lesbian, a storyline that was so painstakingly slow in its unravelling, but one of the show’s highlights because of how it showcased the back-and-forth questioning of her sexuality and her feelings for best friend and fellow Cheerio Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris), who was constantly a punchline due to her airheadedness (remember when she was left back and couldn’t graduate with her friends?) They weren’t just popular, they were flawed and fragile and faced real issues and their reign at the top of the high school food chain was fueled by their insecurities.

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Mercedes (Amber Riley), who was not only the resident black girl, but until Lauren Zizes in season 2, the only Glee club member who was on the thicker side. She was a strong black girl, a diva, someone whose vocal confidence rivaled that of Rachel Berry, and when she doubted her fierceness due to Sue Sylvester’s demands that she lose weight during season 1, she turned around and belted the hell out of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”

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This was also one of the only shows that featured disabled students. Becky Jacksonwas like a breath of fresh air; it isn’t often that actor’s with Downs Syndrome are featured prominently on a major network TV show and don’t end up as punchlines. Becky  was often an episode highlight and she held her own against some of the shows most formidable talents. And let’s not forget her inner monologues voiced by Helen Mirren … brilliant!

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It was a show with a fiercely diverse cast. Santana was a Mexican lesbian, Puck and Rachel were Jewish, Mercedes was black, Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang were Asian, Artie was disabled and in a wheel chair, Unique was black and transgendered, Kurt and Blaine (and Karofsky) were gay. It was refreshing not to see an all-white cast on a show centered on high school students.

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Remember the episode where Sue Sylvester’s sister Jean died and the Glee Club organized a Willy Wonka-themed funeral because it was her favorite movie? Ugly tears. Remember when Rachel choked during her NYADA audition? Breathless anger. Remember when Kurt came out to his father Burt, the brilliant Mike O’Malley, and he struggled with it, even though he tried to show his support? Chilling and life-changing; watching that unfold was breathtaking and all-too-real. Remember when Karofsky bullied Kurt for being gay even though he himself was harboring some serious self-hatred? That entire 3-season-spanning storyline was bittersweet and so well executed. That’s what the fans of Glee miss. We miss connecting with these characters because we grew to love them as a part of our family.

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When most of the original cast graduated at the end of Season 3, we were excited for a New York-themed Glee. Following Rachel to college was intriguing, and splitting the show between Lima and New York was a risky move that no other TV show would think of contemplating. But you, Mr. Murphy, you’re known to take creative risks in your shows. From Popular to Nip/Tuck to American Horror Story, you’ve created compelling stories with a hyper reality that just worked. But the split turned out to be uneven; those who turned in to see Rachel, Kurt, and Santana living as roommates in New York City were instead faced with a crock of newbies, all too fresh-faced and pretty with seemingly superficial problems who just seemed to have it too easy in a post-Glee Club-win-at-Nationals McKinley. The only character worth watching was Unique, yet the struggles of a transgendered student in high school were largely ignored (save for Season 5’s “The End of Twerk” episode, a missed opportunity which paired a hard-hitting storyline about Unique’s use of the women’s restroom with an inane “commentary” on twerking which just seemed to undermine everything trans-related in the episode.)

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It must have been extremely difficult to figure out a clear path for the show after Cory Monteith’s untimely passing. We all felt it. Finn Hudson’s loss weighed heavy on the first two Beatles-themed episodes of Season 5 (which, given the dark cloud of Monteith’s passing, were two of the best episodes post-Season 3, especially when Blaine proposed to Kurt, because marriage equality!) His tribute episode, “The Quarterback,” was probably one of the best, most well-written episodes of any TV show that I’ve ever seen. It was poignant, respectful and honored the show’s “quarterback,” while still being true to all of the characters and their varying relationships with Finn. It couldn’t have been easy to write that episode, but it was beautiful. It was also clear that, once that episode was shot, the rest of the season was more or less a hodgepodge of new and former ideas for the show’s direction. The writing was largely uneven (Rachel joining a band directly after the love of her life died? Really? Adam Lambert and his stunning rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night” was the only one who made that string of episodes bearable), but it seemed to come together post-hiatus for the second string of episodes. In fact, from “Frenemies” until the last few episodes of the season, the show seemed to finally find its groove again. The 100th double episode fit right in with the Best of Glee, and the end of Lima and full-tilt shift to New York was a breath of fresh air. It was a more mature Glee, one that followed the high school kids that we loved on their journey’s toward their dreams. Blaine and Kurt were at NYADA, Mercedes was recording her debut album, Artie was at film school, and Sam was trying to make it as a male model. You did, however, drop the ball with Santana (but I’m assuming her rumored on-set antics and break-up with Big Sean had a little something to do with that.) And then there was Rachel. “Opening Night” was another series highlight. It was a brilliant episode that harkened back to the many faces of Rachel throughout the years and saw her finally achieving her dream of starring in Funny Girl on Broadway.

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But a few episodes later she decided to skip her performances to go audition for a TV show pilot. Because that was her new dream. By the end of the season, she had left Funny Girl and was moving to LA to pursue a career in television. It’s un-ironic continuity issues like these that alienate longtime viewers. However, ultimately, I can forgive that. Rachel was different in a post-Finn landscape, just as Lea Michele, I’m sure, was learning how to live in a world without Cory Monteith. I can forgive it because, as a whole, season 5 was uneven because of Finn’s death. I can also forgive it because it has long been reported that Season 6 would be the show’s last. I was expecting the show to start wrapping everything up by the end of Season 5 so that Season 6 could focus on endgame story lines for the characters we started watching five years ago, like Rachel, Kurt, Blaine, Mercedes, Artie, Tina, Mike, Puck, Quinn, Santana, Brittany and Sam.

Then it was announced that the final season will not be airing until the beginning of 2015 and it would only have 13 episodes. It was also announced that we will be back in the halls of McKinley and that the show will get back to its roots and what the show was all about when it started: the arts in high school. Also, there will be a shift away from New York, and Naya Rivera will be demoted to a recurring cast member. And then this announcement on TVLine happened:

Glee is set to introduce at least five new characters — all of them McKinley sophomores — in its sixth and final season, TVLine has learned exclusively. The recurring newbies include:

RODERICK | Chubby and shy with a voice like Otis Redding, his looks don’t match with his talent. Described as, “a true goober.” He’s the show’s new underdog.

SPENCER | He’s the new resident “football stud” who just so happens to possess an incredible voice. He’s also gay. But, per the casting notice, “he’s post-Glee gay — no one messes with him about his sexuality because he will kick their asses if they do.”

JANE | Righteous, ambitious and unconventionally pretty, she’s funny because she doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. She wanted to be a Warbler but tradition kept her from joining so she jumps ship to the New Directions.

MASON AND MADISON |  Male and female twin Cheerios. They’re super-positive and extremely weird. Mason gives off a gay vibe (spoiler alert: he’s not).

FIVE NEW CHARACTERS?

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Why, with only 13 episodes remaining in the final season, are viewers getting introduced to five new characters? This seems like a mess.

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I’m assuming all of the old newbies, like Unique, Kitty, Jake, Ryder, and Marley are no longer in the equation. Or maybe they are. And if that’s the case, if there’s time to develop a brand new underdog and create four other characters with appealing breakdowns, then that means the original members of New Directions (and fan favorites) like Rachel, Kurt, et. al., will have considerably less airtime. I assume ratings aren’t an issue since the show is definitely ending, but I would think that focusing on telling the stories that the fans want to see played out is worth more than trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was the Pilot episode. In fact, this is a great way to alienate everyone who stuck by this show through all of its various incarnations (many of which were creative shifts that benefitted the overall story, but ultimately ended up cutting viewership.)

As a long-time fan of not only Glee, but Popular, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, and the exquisite The Normal Heart, I’m willing to journey with you and see through your vision of Glee‘s final season. But please consider a few observations:

  1. There are only 13 episodes of this amazing, trailblazing show left. Ever. The more screen time you can allot for the original New Directions, including Mr. Shue and Sue Sylvester, the better. You have an uphill climb making what’s left of your devoted audience care about these new characters, so I wouldn’t try to force them down our throats. Chances are, most people will just DVR the episodes and fast-forward through the newbie scenes anyway. No more Ryder-being-catfished-type stories. Nobody ever cared about him. It was wasted airtime. So, in short: OLD NEW DIRECTIONS PLZ.
  2. While your shows, in general, are always edgy and feature snappy dialogue, last season of American Horror Story lacked any real character development, as did Glee‘s most recent season. Perhaps it was due to your involvement in the poignant The Normal Heart, I don’t know. I won’t pretend to know why your characters on Glee Season 5 and AHS: Coven suffered, but I will say this: we need major development for the characters that we love so that the ending and their respective journeys seem justified.
  3. Bring Rachel back to earth. She’s not a fame-hungry Kardashian. She’s a Broadway Baby #PunIntended. Make it right.
  4. Get back to marrying witty dialogue and smart writing about real issues with the over-the-top satire that made the show popular in the first place.
  5. I know you want to focus on the premise (“arts in the school system”) but we want a focus on the characters. You proved with the brilliant New York shift that setting is irrelevant as long as there is heart and quality writing.

Glee was once groundbreaking. In its entirety, is still is. Above all, it’s a show with heart. So please, Mr. Murphy, in all of your infinite creative wisdom, keep it that way.

Rachel Berry once said: “There is nothing ironic about show choir.” Hopefully the irony isn’t completely lost.

Respectfully Yours,

#HyperReality

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11 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Glee Creator Ryan Murphy About the Show’s Final Season

  1. Great letter, Steven! I share your concerns about introducing new cast members just as the show is winding up. I enjoyed last season and hoped the coming season would focus solely on the original cast members. I was very disappointed with how Nip/Tuck ended. Hope Glee fares better.

    • Yeah, I stopped watching Nip/Tuck because of how horrible it became. It was so great in the beginning, though. I thought that last season of Glee had some of the series best episodes, but it was just so uneven overall. I just want it to end properly and evenly!

  2. They never showed it so much here but the few seasons I got to see were really good. Like you said, they did try to cover all the issues teens go through!

    • I hit enter too soon. Sorry. I was going to also say that he does great work in the beginning when everything is fresh and new. It happened with Nip/Tuck, Glee, and AHS. Popular ended too soon for it to happen. He usually starts working on a new show about half way through the other one, and then it seems all the creativity tends to go to that new show. I do hope that Glee will right itself in the end so that the fans can have a proper send off.

      • ABSOLUTELY! You hit the nail on the head here. Glee started to flounder when AHS was in development, and AHS: Coven floundered because he was focusing on The Normal Heart. I just think he owes it to himself, the fans, and Glee’s groundbreaking legacy as the only primetime musical dramedy (ever) to give us the best 13 episodes possible. And I just don’t see that happening with all of these new characters that I just know I won’t bring myself to care about…

  3. With all due respect, cut the PC crap. I know you have major body issues, but call a spade a spade – Amber and Lauren were (are) not “on the thicker side” – they were (are) fat. Very fat. Fat people need to own that word and not be afraid to say it loud and proud. And that includes you.

  4. Pingback: Media Round-Up: January 2015 | HyperReality

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