Why Glee Matters

Glee (Fox, Netflix, DVD)

There you had it last Friday night, the end of Glee. While the season proved a bit rocky (well, truth be told, maybe the season past, too), Murphy and Company brought viewers a conclusion fitting in that it reached back to the first episode to tie the entire  series together and reinforce the show’s theme guiding its six-year run. And we’ll get to that in a minute

But first, we enjoyed every season, even the so-so ones, and loved the main cast. And while some may not agree, Glee proved extraordinary and opened the broadcast waves for drama-based musical entertainment. Some older folks will recall the various sorrowful attempts to integrate music, singing, and dancing into the dramatic fabric of a show. (Steven Bochco’s Cop Rock anyone?) While producers and show creators manage it on Broadway and in film, nobody could put together the right kind of show for TV.

That is, until Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan (who drew on his own show choir experiences as a student at Prospect High School in Illinois). Because of its astounding success that first year, you can be sure people got to thinking seriously about this dramatic musical form. And there followed Bunheads, Smash, Nashville, and the current blockbuster, Empire. All good shows in their own right, though none have had the music sales success of Glee, which especially in its earlier seasons, yielded charting CDs and a concert movie (though, admittedly, Glee featured mostly familiar and hit songs, and only a handful of what most would consider serious original compositions).

In addition to its brilliant production values and very likable original cast, what made the show engaging and a hit, in spite of some often painful dumb extravagance, was its beautiful inclusive message and its irrepressible optimism. It was and will remain a show that appeals to people’s hope and to their best nature.

Now for the consistent theme mentioned above. Just look to Sue Sylvester’s over the top dumbness: we understand the point and it’s well taken. Cutting arts education in middle and high schools is among the most wrongheaded mistakes school districts can make. Yes, it appears that arts education is only about singing, music, acting, dancing, and other things some might consider indulgent.

However, consider all the skills and all the personal and interpersonal growth students learn and experience as part of a production, an orchestra, a dance troupe, a jazz band, a choir, or a show choir. They learn what the students portrayed on Glee learned: to discover their strengths, to work together as a team toward a goal, to find themselves and what they might do in the world, to express themselves clearly and forcefully. As many of us know personally, arts education can be transformative and spur students on to excellence in other endeavors, including academics and non-arts careers.

The arts in school matter, and Glee will continue to matter for bringing that point to life for six years, and for who knows how many years to come. c/w


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