Glee burst on to our screens four years ago in an explosion of jazz hands, cheesy songs and high school stereotypes.
As the title might suggest, it is the epitome of light-heartedness, where even the gravest of problems can be dealt with with a joke and a musical number. However, earlier this year Glee fans were hit with the tragic news that one of the show’s stars, Cory Monteith, had died.
It was a shock for everyone; although fans don’t know the actors who appear in our living room every week, they feel like they know them, following their lives through social media and fan sites. Glee is such a cheery, carefree show; it was hard to know how it, and the fandom, would deal with the loss of its lead actor.
There were, understandably, many questions regarding the future of the show. Would they go ahead with the new season or postpone it? Would they kill off Monteith’s character, Finn Hudson, or create another exit for him, as happened in Holby City when actress Laura Sadler died (writing that her character had won the lottery and moved to Australia)?
The writers eventually confirmed that they would air two Beatles-themed episodes that had already been written, and then film a tribute episode named ‘The Quarterback’, which aired in the States in October, and recently aired on Sky1 in the UK.
The whole fandom was nervous at how Glee would handle the tribute to both Finn and Cory. Fans knew that it would be emotional and difficult to watch this episode. From the start it’s hard to tell when the actors are playing their characters, and when it’s their pain we’re seeing; watching Romy Rosemont’s portrayal of Finn’s grief-stricken mother certainly hits close to home.
It’s noteworthy that we as an audience aren’t just watching the New Directions memorialising Finn; we’re watching the cast pay homage to their friend and cast mate too, and at times it feels like we as the audience are intruding on a very private moment.
The writers were clear that they would honour Cory’s girlfriend and cast mate Lea Michele’s wishes as to how the show would be filmed and how she would be involved. Her character Rachel only appears at the end of the episode to sing a heartfelt and raw rendition of Adele’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’. Her struggle to keep composure is clear throughout the song, but she performs beautifully. However, the audience are almost certainly in pieces.
There are bound to be critics who think that this shouldn’t have been shown on-screen; that the cast and crew should have been left to grieve in private, or maybe even that the show should have ended. No-one can judge the best way to handle such an unexpected loss in television, but for a cast that is as tight-knit as the Glee cast is, perhaps filming this fitting tribute was what they needed.