A Very Special Glee: The Cory Monteith/Finn Hudson Tribute

I was torn about even watching the Cory Monteith tribute on Glee, a show I broke up with years ago. I wholeheartedly loved the first season of Glee. I refused to delete the shows from my DVR; I downloaded every soundtrack without fail; I actually StubHubbed tickets to see the first round of Glee: Live in Concert (and met a few members of the main cast in my hotel lobby, which I should admit included a glorious hug from Cory Monteith himself, who couldn’t have been kinder to all of his adoring fans); I even did that audition for new cast members which quickly turned out to be total bullshit when they ended up just picking a girl who had already been on Oprah. I loved Glee until Murphy, as I discussed last night, threw too much at the wall and I couldn’t love it anymore. I think I threw in the towel right around the time that Mr. Shue started an art installation with purple pianos or something gross like that.

But, as a human person who felt incredibly saddened by Monteith’s passing, I thought I should probably tune in for this. This was a show that once gave me a lot of feels and a lot of joy, and Monteith and his character, Finn Hudson, were a large part of that. The episode had also been discussed to death at this point by everyone involved, and I couldn’t help but be curious about the effectiveness of the tribute itself. How was the show going to handle the fact that Monteith, a role model struggling with addiction, was recently revealed (through an autopsy) to have overdosed on a combination of heroin and alcohol, even though Finn was never an addict himself? The character and the actor certainly overlapped as time went on (as one recap pointed out, Monteith did TWO concert tours in character), but Glee never had to make a decision about referring to any sort of addiction until Monteith’s death. Could Glee avoid its usual saccharine, poorly written and convoluted pitfalls to give the viewers a great and lasting goodbye episode for a favorite character? My answer is yes and no.

In terms of “yes,” the Internet has been reporting on this episode for months, and the first report released from set that was the actors, both past and present, were clamoring to do this episode. Every actor who had worked with and befriended Monteith, it seems, wanted to find a cathartic and final way to say goodbye to him. Ryan Murphy’s lines and storylines aside, there didn’t seem to be a lot of acting in this episode. The cast seemed legitimately wrecked over losing their friend and co-star, and it was almost impossible to not feel affected by their performances. Among other early-season regulars, Amber Riley, Naya Rivera, Mark Salling, Chord Overstreet and Chris Colfer returned to honor Monteith. Riley and Rivera both sang a tribute (and I’ll get to that later), Overstreet performed with Kevin McHale on a somber rendition of “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, and Colfer and Salling seemed to content to say what they needed to say while in character, all music aside. Jane Lynch, telling Santana that she wished she had ever told Finn what a good man he was, delivered a touching monologue, her eyes full of tears. Matthew Morrison, normally insanely irritating as Mr. Shue, finished out the episode by crumpling and sobbing into Finn’s letterman jacket. Romy Rosemont, as Carole Hudson, gave the second most heartbreaking performance of the night, while she packed up Finn’s room with Kurt and his father, telling them what it really feels like to lose a child – she wakes up every morning and has a moment of ignorant bliss before remembering that she’s a mother without a son. The actors sobbed, wailed and trembled through this episode, and while that kind of thing would normally seem overwrought, it was insanely difficult to watch these actors mourn someone they loved.

And in that vein, Lea Michele deserves her own paragraph. Glee‘s poster girl Rachel Berry didn’t arrive until forty minutes into the episode, when she came to McKinley High to see Finn’s memorial before it was taken down. And, yes, she sang – but it wasn’t the song or the singing that was so affecting (again, I’ll get there). I’m generally no great fan of Lea Michele, but it is impossible to not feel sorry for her. The man she loved died, publicly, of a drug overdose, and not only did she have to react as herself, she had to show the world exactly how Rachel Berry felt about it. If you weren’t already crying, you were the second Michele arrived. Yes, she cried. Yes, she broke down. Yes, it was almost impossible to watch. I don’t even really want to comment on, like, if she was “acting” well or not. She was and she wasn’t and all of it was devastating.

But. But! The “no!” Guess what, guys? GLEE GOT IN ITS OWN WAY AGAIN. WHAT A SURPRISE. For all of the beautiful, terrible, touching moments in this episode, there were moments that had a chance before Ryan Murphy wrote their crappy dialogue and/or Auto-Tuned the shit out of them and ruined them. Sappy Murphy-style dialogue aside, the music was so overedited and overproduced that it lost all resonance. I should have known that things were going to take a downwards turn when the insanely talented Amber Riley started lip-synching to “I’ll Stand By You,” even though that girl can belt anything live and totally nail it. But really, the worst example was Lea Michele, singing “Make You Feel My Love,” a beautiful and appropriate song. I’m not asking for any crazy Les Miserables shit here. I’m just asking the producers and sound technicians and Crazy Ryan Murphy to let Lea Michele, Emmy and Tony nominee, sing her goddamn song live. Michele wept through the entire song, which makes sense, but what makes NO sense is how calm and perfect her voice sounded. Yes, if she had sung the song live while she cried, it wouldn’t have sounded incredible, but isn’t that the point?! You can’t have a truly emotional moment and Auto-Tune it. They might as well have Photoshopped mascara tracks onto everyone’s faces before they even started crying. I started preparing myself for disappointment with Glee a long time ago, but this was too much.

It’s hard to say whether or not this episode was a truly effective tribute. When an actor dies, it’s hard to toe the line between catharsis and capitalizing on the actor’s passing (though, to the show’s great credit, the proceeds from the episode and the music will be donated to Monteith’s charity, Project Limelight). For the cast and crew, it was what they needed to do. They had the opportunity to give themselves over to their grief, publicly, and honor both Finn and Cory. For the audience, or at least for myself, I felt slightly cheated. Yes, there were great performances given, and it was an overall heartbreaking hour of television. But isn’t this show about the music, and the music that both Finn and Cory gave to us over the years? So why couldn’t the show quietly step out of its own way, and finally, truly, let the music speak for itself?

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