It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Glee defined an entire generation of television viewers. The Ryan Murphy-created show followed an underdog high school show choir group in Lima, Ohio, and chronicled their attempts to win the National title.
Glee was never one for subtlety, and, like most other Murphy shows, it became more excessive as seasons went by. However, at its height, Glee was inescapable, a commercial and critical juggernaut that launched a new age for musical television. Six seasons were produced, although only half are fondly remembered by fans. Because while Glee was a game-changing event for television, its quality severely fluctuated through the years.
6 Season 5
Glee jumped the shark with its much-derided Season 5. The show started uncertainly, and not even the long-awaited tribute to The Beatles could help it. Cory Monteith‘s passing cast an enormous cloud over Glee, to the point where fans were unsure of how to feel about anything that happened on-screen. It didn’t help that the season shifted courses halfway, dropping the Lima storyline entirely and moving the action to New York.
To put it bluntly, Season 5 of Glee is awful. It includes some of the series’ most questionable storylines, including the now-infamous episode where Blaine (Darren Criss) gets high and imagines everyone as talking puppets. The characters also become different people; for example, Rachel (Lea Michele) fulfills her supposedly lifelong dream of making it to Broadway in the Funny Girl revival, no less, only to get tired and abandon it for a career in Hollywood after two episodes. Season 5 is the show throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks; it’s the point where it became a parody of what it was initially trying to parody. In season 5, Gleestopped being in on the joke and became the joke.
5 Season 4
With most of the main characters graduating, Glee underwent a revamp for Season 4. The plot went back and forth between McKinley High and New York, with decidedly uneven results. The high school plot saw the addition of several new characters – the newbies, as the fandom called them — while the New York side revolved around Rachel, Santana (Naya Rivera), and Kurt (Chris Colfer), a trio no one saw coming but which turned out to be one of the show’s best ideas.
Season 4 was the beginning of the end for Glee. The new characters felt like thin copies of the originals, while the show became increasingly self-important, addressing any social issue under the sun in the laziest, most uninspired possible way. Season 4 included many of the show’s worst storylines, dealing with many serious issues that it was wholly unqualified to address, like school shootings and sex work. Season 4 also included some of Glee‘s weirdest performances, amounting to an uneven season that has aged remarkably badly.
4 Season 2
Glee was one of the hottest shows on mainstream television when Season 2 began. It was so important for Fox that it received the coveted post-Super Bowl episode, a privilege reserved for the network’s most valuable property. Glee was on top of the world, and the fame went to its head. The season introduced a few new characters, explored several thematic issues, experimented with original songs, tried every possible couple combination, and saw the New Directions get to Nationals.
Season 2 had some of Glee‘s most memorable guest stars, from Gwyneth Paltrow to Britney Spears. However, the show’s greatest triumph was introducing Blaine Anderson, a character that would become a crucial player in later seasons. Overall, Glee Season 2 was good, but it showed signs of narrative excess and lack of focus. The music was still top-notch, and the cast was better than ever, but the plots became increasingly incoherent, with the show sacrificing logic for spectacle. However, it could still hold its head high and claim its place as television’s most successful comedy.
3 Season 6
After the trainwreck that was Season 5, all Glee could do for its final season was trying to wrap things up with as much dignity as possible. With a shortened sixth season and a surprisingly interesting premise, the show went back to the basics, returning to Lima to see Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer) taking over the New Directions, while Schuester (Jessalyn Gilsig) handled Vocal Adrenaline and Blaine led the Warblers. The show also introduced a new generation of students, which was successful, unlike their previous attempt at passing the torch.
Season 6 of Glee successfully recaptured the magic that made the show a hit to begin with. The new characters felt refreshing and compelling; unlike the Season 4 newbies, which felt like heirs to the original cast, the Season 6 kids were welcome additions that stood out on their own, away from the original New Directions’ shadow. Season 6 also featured some truly inspired ideas — a Burt Bacharach tribute and an episode devoted to mashing up Carol King‘s Tapestry with Alanis Morissette‘s Jagged Little Pill, for example. The show’s final episodes were satisfying, fun, funny, and highly rewatchable. And while the show went all in on the meta-humor, it was also undeniably self-aware; Season 6 was Glee‘s mea culpa, less a victory lap than an apology tour.
2 Season 1
Glee season 1 took the world by storm. The show about a group of underdog high school students who bond and find happiness through music and dance was a game-changer for 21st-century television. It launched Lea Michele and the cast into stardom, attracting commercial success and critical acclaim. Season 1 earned 19 Emmy nominations, including acknowledgments in every comedy acting category. In short, Season 1 was Glee at its most powerful.
The praise was warranted. From the moment the original six members of New Directions sang their version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” it was clear the show was on its way to the top. Glee was an injection of camp, adrenaline, and glitter, unapologetically and unashamedly spreading its namesake into unsuspecting audiences. Season 1 has many of Glee‘s best episodes, including the seminal “The Power of Madonna.” The show’s first thirteen episodes, in particular, are among the most celebrated in modern television, with many fans and critics believing the show would’ve gone in the history books if it had ended after episode 13.
1 Season 3
Season 3 of Glee was the end of its glory days. The season focuses on many characters’ senior year, exploring storylines about college, ambition, and dreams, resulting in the show’s most narratively cohesive effort. Season 3 also saw the rise in popularity of Santana Lopez, whose coming out storyline remains arguably the show’s crowning achievement.
Glee should’ve ended here. Season 3 was the perfect way to say goodbye to these characters, offering them full and satisfying storylines further enhanced by some of the show’s best covers. Every major figure got a chance in the spotlight, even if the leading players remained the same. Season 3 also saw the New Directions finally winning the National title, a cathartic moment where every Gleek screamed in joy. Glee season 3 was the show’s finest hour, the perfect combination of sentimentality, gumption, and music; it’s everything the show should be and more. Season 3 was Glee at the highest peak of success; no wonder its fall from grace was so devastating.
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