⭐⭐⭐ based on 5 reviews.

tl;dr: An average start leads into a genuinely great middle season, even if some of the jokes/storylines now feel a little dated and/or problematic, with some stunning performances, fun homages, and surprisingly intelligent trope-busting narratives. Then it all goes wrong. Seasons 1-3 are worthwhile, but call it a trilogy and end it there.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Yes, I'm going through a weird viewing order, having started watching Glee midway through season two. Still, I wanted to see how they set up the characters, so it felt right to jump back into season one and, wow, it's weird. They're all so young! It sounds stupid, but I honestly assumed they just were cast as 20-somethings, but some of them (Kurt and Quin in particular) seem much younger. I'm also assuming they started out deliberately singing poorly, though then Finn goes ahead and gives one of his best performances in episode one. The pilot is riddled with continuity errors (Rachel's dads, Pucks hair and attitude) but that's an artefact of the weird way TV is made in the States; though why it also seems to have been shot on mid-80s analogue film cameras I'm not sure, given it was made in the late 00s...

From the perspective of the main plot, the show does come out swinging in some big ways. The whole Quinn-pregnancy is handled well and leads to some excellent/devastating moments for her and Finn as characters, as is Kurt's whole arc (who is brilliant as ever), though I found the Kurt/Finn thing a little distasteful actually. It's interesting that even this early, Will treads a strange path between extremely nice teacher and douchebag creep that should probably never be allowed near other people, let alone children, but he (as he tends to) comes full circle. Plus the whole Terri baby thing is weird and just weird, so understandable that he's messed up a bit.

Overall, there's the beginnings of what would become a decent TV show here in the first season, and it's quite fun going back and seeing where all these characters came from, but man it took a little while to find its feet. I'm honestly a little surprised that it managed to become such a big hit when this is the starting point, but I'm glad it did. Though, to be honest, I ended up skipping around the season a fair bit, so I may have missed some of the better moments.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I remember Glee happening, but I've never been too drawn in with teen dramas (completely skipping the likes of the O.C. and One Tree Hill despite being the ideal target market) and completely missed the High School Musical hype-train that fuelled its success. So when Alison began watching it I figured to skip it again, but the universe had other plans. For a variety of reasons, I started getting involved near the start of season two; the main one being a cameo from Neil Patrick-Harris that I couldn't miss (even if his character was less than stellar). What really hooked me, though, has been the plot line around Kurt. Both the writing and the actor's portrayal have been brilliantly nuanced and delicately handled, with some great breakout moments and a huge amount of heart.

What I've discovered as I continued to get drawn in was that the rest of the characters all have fun little quirks and story angles which make them, together, become something far greater than the sum of its parts. On paper, a teen drama about a bunch of beautiful, talented jocks and cheerleaders being regarded as outsiders because they also happen to like to sing and dance feels a stretch, but the intermixing of those classic stereotypes is done intelligently enough to eschew the normal tropes and instead critique them. Of course, that's all helped by just how ridiculously talented the assorted cast are.

Which isn't to say everything is sunshine and awesomeness. The episodes do become a little formulaic and there's some clear filler plots used to pad out the season run time. Worst of all, whilst most of the narrative arcs and teachable moments are deftly done, some land very flat; the main teacher in particular routinely feels more like a creep than the morale centre that he is intended as. Perhaps that was an attempt at nuance, but it just makes me occasionally confused as to whether I should like some of the characters or not (Rachel being another highly unlikable person who never seems to be punished for her actions - I mean we have entire plots on bullying where she is a vocal campaigner but then she consistently bullies everyone around her).

Overall, though, I've become increasingly engrossed in the show and like how the characters are largely evolving. Some plots are a bit dull, predictable, or ridiculous, but for the most part it's become an enjoyable watch which makes me want to keep coming back to it.

Season 3

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Glee continues to impress me with the variety and depth of story telling it's willing to utilise. If the second season was all about Kurt (at least, that was the best major plot thread), then season three has allowed for a much wider diversity. The evolution of both Santana and Brittany, in particular, has become my new favourite elements (which, admittedly, kicked off in season two anyway) and I've really enjoyed the character development both actresses have been allowed to go down. Will's character has also become increasingly less creepy, though he does still have the occasional moment (like the wedding planner episode); in fact I'd say most of the early irritating character traits for many of the characters have now been ironed out without feeling like they were overwritten i.e. natural progression instead of retconning, which is nice.

Of course, Kurt (and now Blaine) remains a strong central focus and the storyline around his one-time tormentor and now friend's attempted suicide was handled particularly well, imho. The music continues to be good, I like that we're getting a lot of build up to the final year and what that means at an emotional level, and most of the subplots have been interesting. I'm not sure about the early plot involving Quin going off the rails and attempting to steal her baby back, and it's weird how little repercussions Puck's teacher-student romance have had (seemed to just be written out in a single line), but I like where she got to in the end. Ditto the Finn/Rachel marriage, but that's largely forgiven because of the excuse it gave Jeff Goldblum to both be in the show and be as amazing as ever. Plus, Sue continues to be an excellent foil and character in general, and Burt (Kurt's dad) has been a standout actor and excellent addition in general. Oh, and the brief body swap episode was amazing and a completely waster opportunity; that should have been a full show!

Which leads me on to the ending. Certainly the best conclusion so far; it was nice seeing them win nationals (though obvious so not too stressful) and that making a difference at school, plus all the character arcs seemed to tie off nicely and the number of callbacks and Easter eggs was a lot of fun (shot framing the same as the pilot, loads of small callbacks and throwaway lines). The follow up episode was largely great bittersweet story telling, but I remain unsure about the "stick Rachel on a train and join the army" ending for Finn. It just feels like the whole marriage plot was worthless and it would have made more sense to just scrap it, let him join the army, let them decide to have a last few months together, and then have that as a goodbye (for now). It feels a little like last minute script revisions or editorial screwed with the original plan and made even less sense considering both points (Rachel feeling like she should maybe be single in New York; Finn wanting to join the army as a tribute to his father) had previously been covered in the plot and concluded. Just felt odd, even if it makes for a more interesting continued setup.

A setup I'm not even sure we need. Glee is clearly going from strength-to-strength at this point, with the third season leagues ahead of the second in terms of story telling and characterisation, but it also feels like a clear three-season arc. Not too sure how they're going to feed back from that having just lost all of the main characters.

Season Four

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

So can Glee make it work now that half the original cast have moved on? Initially, the answer feels like "yes, they can". I enjoyed the introduction of the new cast a lot, particularly as it allowed them to shake things up a bit. Wade coming back as a permanent character was a solid move and Marley was a great addition that let them explore some new issues sensitively. I even thought Puck Jnr ended up being a decent character, though I don't think he actually needed to be Puck's younger half-brother. I'm less sure about the way the remaining OG cast are treated. Sam continues his slide into idiocy, Brittany gets some excellent moments but is then sidelined, Artie just becomes a bit of a prat, Tina is awful, and Finn... character assassination springs to mind? Or at least heavy retconning.

I really liked that he dropped out of the army, though I stand by we could have just avoided that entire mess and saved on the theatrics of the first few episodes. Still, I thought his overall arc was great and I was excited to see where it was going. Which is why the "kiss" felt so weird. It was purely to bring drama into the wedding, when they didn't need to. Emma's whole character is built around a hatred of change and fear that she isn't good enough. Still, the breakup with Rachel felt right, that he would become a teacher was a great move, and it's a genuine shame that we'll never get to see where his character would have gone. Plus, of course, we get to see douchey Will crop up again as he fails to think of anyone else whilst also having near superpowered empathy in other parts of his life...

In fact, most of the more interesting stuff was happening with the old characters that had left. I enjoyed the initial set up at NYADA with Rachel, it gave us some genuinely interesting new characters. I liked the evolving plot with Blaine and Kurt and thought it was generally handled well, and Santana moving to NYC gave a fresh perspective on her character. Even Puck seems to get a good send-off.

Overall, though, the show feels like its floundering a little. After a fairly solid start, I found myself wishing we were spending a little more time with the new cast and a little less time in NYC, as well as feeling like the show was beginning to get a bit a treadmill feel to it. I don't really know how they can fix both at the same time. We'll see, I guess. There were also a few just terrible episodes. The strange love-triangle turned catfish with Ryder and his "mystery texter" is messed up and surreal, systematically ruining both his and Jake's character. And then there's the "asteroid" episode. It starts out like a fever dream and ends with a school shooting. I can't comprehend that decision at all.

It really feels like the second half of the season was written during the writer's strike, but it's about six years too late. I get that Finn's real-world death probably contributed, but it's still a low moment for the show. I actually have a pet theory that the school shooting is the moment that Glee ends. That what we see in that episode is Brittany being shot and everything since (as well as the start of the episode) is just her mind trying to make sense of dying. A randomised, abstract jumble of past episodes, weird characters, and bizarre plot lines. That's my headcanon and it means that the pre-shooting season can be considered decent, but a bit wobbly, and everything after is now a new show and can be ignored.

Season Five

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

The term "jumped the shark" comes to mind...

The season starts out okay and, of course, rapidly gets derailed by the tribute episode for Cory Monteith. He was a great actor. It sucks. Still, I thought they did the tribute well, as with the later "reunion" episode. They were highlights in an otherwise dodgy season and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I liked several of the new characters. Starchild was genuinely fun and Bree added something that was lacking, though she was very much Quinn-lite. The returning "new cast" got some decent plot lines, but in general felt quite ignored. Instead, we end up focusing heavily on New York which feels increasingly forced. Again, at the start of the season it's interesting and fun to see Kurt, Rachel, and Santana get their lives together. Things seem to be going well.

But as the season goes on, those plot threads become increasingly frayed. Santana and Rachel needlessly yo-yo between friendship and hatred, with no real logic behind either. Santana's stealing of Rachel's role is just a weird plotline and completely undoes so much of the character development both have had up to that point. Plus, the need to keep the stories in both locations vaguely mirroring each other just doesn't work. It forces characters in one group to do weird things to stay relevant to the other. And then...

And then they kill the New Directions. They lose, the programme is cut, Sue wins. The end. What! Why?! Bye-bye new characters, bye-bye interesting plot threads. Hello full focus on the original cast, New York, and everything dull and boring. It's a real shame and the moment the show died for me. We kept watching, but without the core idea it just felt boring and increasingly ludicrous.

Honestly, I'm sticking with my "Britanny is dying and this is her fever-dream hallucination" version of reality. It actually explains a lot. Many of the plots and new characters are either ridiculous or rehashing stuff she already lived through. The moment New Directions is disbanded is the moment that part of her memory centre dies, so she writes it out. Ditto a bunch of the side characters. Instead, we get an increasingly fictional New York that she pieces together from films and her brief visits there, which is why it increasingly makes no sense and why NYADA and the actually relevant parts slowly fade into obscurity. It also explains why the characters all begin reverting to their early-teenage selves, as those are Brittany's dominant memories. To be clear, I'm not saying this makes the show any better or even enjoyable. I'm just saying it fits 🤦‍♂️

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