ARTS ISSUE: ‘Glee’s’ excess falls flat with age

December 5, 2013

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Five years ago, “Glee” entered the world with a campy, musical touch on a heartwarming and hilariously self-aware tale of high school. America’s jaws — and those of McKinley High students and staff — hit the floor when New Directions performed an overly sexual rendition of Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It.” The success of this outrageous musical show shocked everyone even more. But “Glee’s” no-holds-barred beginning and unabashed extravagance served it well. The show embraced its limited satirical and emotional boundaries to discuss pressing matters among today’s youth.

However, after each teenage stereotype was liberated and every Madonna hit sung, “Glee” began to run out of steam. The irony that carried the first few seasons faded and storylines like “Why won’t my girlfriend let me under her bra?” became prominent concerns.

This season, the tragedy of Cory Monteith’s passing forced the show to take a hiatus. The long-awaited tribute episode, “The Quarterback,” was flawlessly executed, and stands as one of the most heartbreaking episodes in television history. The boundary between character and actor blurred, and the authentic emotion was incredibly touching.

But the authenticity was fleeting, and “Glee” soon returned to its extravagant roots. The next episode focused on channeling one’s inner Katy Perry or Lady Gaga — a leap that served to highlight how “Glee” is struggling to find its way post-Finn (Monteith). The sentiment of “The Quarterback” feels like an isolated fever dream within “Glee’s” current season. The following episodes neglect the intense emotional height of the tribute episode, and the journey of the characters and audience. The series is simply floundering with the loss of a major character, ignoring the repercussions that come with attempting to revert to the way original style.

This involuntary shift could have been a chance for “Glee” to mature. After “The Quarterback,” New Directions’ plight to learn to twerk before Sectionals feels trivial. The series could have toned down its lavish nature, stripped away from camp and focused on the sincerity that often drives its most effective episodes.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 5 print edition. Isabel Jones is entertainment editor. Email her at ijones@nyunews.com.

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