Now that Glee's amazing first-season run is nearly over, it's time to ask: What happened?
Looking back, it's been a wild ride. Debuting with a measure of skepticism and critical goodwill during a May 2009 preview, Fox's cheeky dramedy about a high school show choir has benefited from an explosion of devotion in its first, meteorically successful first year.
At times, it feels as if the series has lived a showbiz lifetime in 12 months, from buzzed-about critical favorite to increasingly mainstream hit and backlash target in the time it takes most shows to figure out which character deserves the best lines.
(Among those immune to Gleek fever: Miley Cyrus, onetime star of a show about a global pop star pretending to be an average middle-schooler, who says Glee is too unrealistic. Pot, meet kettle.)
As the lovable teens from heroic New Directions show choir tackle the dastardly, powerful regional champs Vocal Adrenaline at 8:59 tonight on WTVT-Ch. 13, it seems a good time to recap what's working and what's not about TV's most pervasive new hit (with props to pop music critic Sean Daly, another Gleek who helped with this list).
It's everything: At times, Glee is a heart-rending drama. (If you didn't get at least a little misty after seeing wheelchair-bound Artie imagining he can dance, you're fit only for a job in BP management.) Other times it's a side-splitting comedy, knitted together with mesmerizing musical performances. Just when it seemed TV would never harness the power of great musical theater, co-creator Ryan Murphy and his crew make it look as easy as handing a microphone to hunky Matthew Morrison and bombastic Lea Michele.
Its side characters: Forget about Morrison, Michele and ace guest stars such as Neil Patrick Harris and Kristin Chenoweth; the show's real juice starts with super-villain nonsinging cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester and spreads to Mike O'Malley's macho-dad-struggling-to-understand-his-gay-son Burt Hummel and brutally dim-witted cheerleader Brittany, who calls dolphins "gay sharks."
Its music: As a child of the '80s weaned on Madonna and Journey, it's amazing to see a new generation of music fans face derision and worse for digging Glee's inspired reinventions of classic hits. (Tonight, another Journey medley, including Faithfully; get your lighters ready!)
What's not working
It's overexposed: The show's final nine episodes were greeted with an avalanche of magazine covers, a national tour, a pickup for seasons two and three and levels of iTunes activity normally reserved for Justin Bieber and assorted Jonas kin. Hard to blame some critics for feeling as if they're drowning in a show they barely understand.
It's inconsistent: No one expects a TV series to perform at its peak in every one of 22 episodes. But the last nine installments this year varied wildly in quality, as if producers focused on blockbuster showcases for Harris and Madonna's music at the expense of more routine episodes.
Some characters go nowhere: Glee club teacher Mr. Schu's conniving ex-wife, Terri, adds little. (Sylvester's enough of a villain; add a duplicitous wife and he just looks like a chump.) Ditto with Jonathan Groff's Vocal Adrenaline leader Jessie St. James and MIA football coach Ken Tanaka. Writers obviously have had no idea what to do with these characters; time to put them out of our misery for good.