The massive cultural phenomenon that is Glee took the world by storm when its first season aired in 2009. However, this show – which brought the idea of the TV musical to the general public – also ended the cultural phenomenon that it started. Questions of why Glee stands alone as the only TV musical to enter and exit the zeitgeist abound. Did the writing deteriorate too much? Did casting choices affect the show? Did the audience simply get bored? Is it a combination of the three? And, perhaps most importantly, what effect did this show have on the youth at the time? My personal experience with this show and the cultural shockwaves it created will hopefully shed some light on this.
A popular opinion towards the show (that I also hold) is that Glee massively overstayed its welcome, and I believe that its bloated run tired the general audience out from any concepts that revolved around a TV musical. After the conclusion of Season 3, the narrative was essentially over. Many of the main cast were graduating high school, and so it seemed that there was simply no more story left for Ryan Murphy, the creator of the show, to write. Therefore, when the show came back for a 4th season, some previously main characters were now relegated to a supporting role, a choice that angered many of the audience, myself included. There was no narrative need to continue, and definitely no need to continue without the cast that audiences had attached themselves to over the first 3 seasons. Additionally, the writing of the show became noticeably worse in Season 4. Perhaps the exclusion of the actors who were able to mask the poor quality of the script brought its lack of quality to light. Either way, this cast and its poor writing was endured by the audience of the show for three more seasons, losing many fans along the way. These three factors proved to be a main reason in Glee’s downfall, and indeed the downfall of TV musicals as a whole.
However, it is important to remember that while Glee was part of the zeitgeist, it inspired many of its younger audience to start theatre and start performing in general. American high schools experienced a surge in show choirs, and the many fantastic vocal performances in the show set a bar that many younger viewers wished to recreate. The resurgence of interest in theatre in the early 2010’s due to Glee is without a doubt one of the best outcomes from this show, and the fact that its overstaying of its popularity ruined any chance of new TV musicals gaining popularity for the near future is legitimately heartbreaking for the current generation of young potential actors. Despite this, what Glee was able to accomplish as an innovator and most popular example of a TV musical is no mean feat. It is just a shame that it had to ruin the solid foundation it had built for itself and others.