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Caution: so many spoilers.
The pilot episode was previewed in May 2009, and I didn't watch it, because it just didn't sound like something in which I would be remotely interested. But after it aired, people were saying good things about it online, so finally, shortly before the second episode aired in September, I decided to give it a chance. I watched the pilot on Hulu, and surprisingly enough, I liked it. So I DVR'd the season premiere, and I liked that too. And the more episodes I watched, the more I grew to like and eventually love the show.
Anyway. I've read that some people find the show somewhat unoriginal, and the characters cliched. To be honest, I'm not sure I would have noticed that if others hadn't mentioned it. Having that idea in my head, I suppose I can kind of see what they mean, but I also think such an assessment is true (perhaps even moreso) of the vast majority of shows on TV, most of which I have little or no interest in watching, so I don't see the point of... pointing it out about this show, in particular. But then again, everyone's entitled to their own opinions, and it's quite possible some shows that I find more unoriginal and cliched than this one, others would find less so. Still, it should be pointed out that over the course of the first season, the characters and the plotlines became more complicated and engaging than first impressions may have suggested. In any event, as interesting as the plot became, the highlight of the show has always been the amazing musical performances. But another thing I need to point out: some might call this show a "musical," but it isn't, really. Critics and viewers alike seem glad that characters don't break out in song at random times, it's grounded in reality. Which, as far as I'm concerned, means by definition, it is not a musical. Just having musical numbers doesn't make it a musical, if they're strictly performances. (Well, almost strictly; there's often some overlapping of scenes during a song, but the point is that people aren't actually singing at unrealistic times. And hey, what show doesn't sometimes have music playing during certain scenes, to enhance the dramatic effect? Music that the viewer can hear, but which the characters don't- except perhaps in their heads?)
So... it's set mostly at William McKinley High School, in Lima, Ohio. There's a Spanish teacher named Will Schuester, who becomes the new director of the school's glee club, after the old director (Sandy Ryerson) is forced out. Will renames the club "New Directions." (Sandy still pops up, occasionally. He's played by Stephen Tobolowsky, and his character's name is kind of a joke, since he played a character named Ned Ryerson in the movie Groundhog Day.) Will used to be in the glee club when he was in high school, in the early 90s, and apparently they were really popular, at the time. Now he's married to his high school girlfriend, Terri. They're trying to have a baby, though their marriage seems a bit shaky. He's quite dedicated to her, in spite of the fact that she's very demanding and he can't really afford her tastes, and she doesn't seem supportive of anything he wants to do, especially with regard to glee club, which he's passionate about. Will's principle antagonist will be Sue Sylvester, the coach of the school's national champion cheerleading squad, the Cheerios. Because of the Cheerios' success, they receive a huge portion of the school's limited funding. And Sue sees Will's attempts to make the New Directions popular and successful as a potential threat, and she is determined to crush them. Also she seems to have a general hatred of the arts, and in she's just kind of crazy. (Throughout the series, she'll get away with countless things that should get her fired or even arrested.) But in a way, her constant harassment of the glee club only makes it stronger. And we do eventually learn that she has at least a bit of a heart. She has a close relationship with her sister Jean, who has Down Syndrome, and she allows a student named Becky Jackson, who also has Down Syndrome, to join the Cheerios. Throughout the series, Becky will be a loyal assistant to Sue, in many of her crazy schemes. And every once in a great while, Sue will be on Will's side. But even when she's being ruthlessly evil, she's always hilarious.
Caught in the middle of Will and Sue's ongoing battle is Principal Figgins. Will makes a deal with him, that New Directions will have to place at Regionals or the glee club will be disbanded. And before Regionals, they'd have to win Sectionals, so that happens about halfway through the first season. I suppose it's a spoiler to say they win, but obviously, there wouldn't be much point in continuing the series if they lost. But, the way they win is both frustrating and amusing, so I won't spoil how that happens. Meanwhile, the school's guidance counselor (who is a germophobe), Emma Pillsbury, has feelings for Will. They're friends, and he eventually starts developing feelings for her, but he's still dedicated to Terri. There's also a football coach named Ken Tanaka, who wants to date Emma, though she's not interested in him. I think that's most of the adult characters, for now. They're an important part of the show, but mostly it's about the kids. (Incidentally, it's not just Sue who harasses the New Directions; in spite of Will's best efforts, the club remains pretty unpopular among the general student body. A trademark of the show is how the other kids frequently throw slushies in the faces of the glee kids.)
After Sandy's departure, only one member of the old glee club remained: Rachel Berry, a very competitive singer, who is single-minded in her desire to become a star, because as she sees it, fame is everything in our culture. But for now, she's pretty unpopular. (I should also mention she's got two dads, and never knew her mother. But there's a story arc toward the end of the first season, where she eventually meets her. I can't say more about that, because it ties into a few different storylines that I don't want to spoil.) Then there's Finn Hudson, the star quarterback, whom Will initially tricks into joining glee club, but he really loves it more than anything, even if his friends are very upset about his participation in the group. His girlfriend, Quinn Fabray, is also upset about it. She's head of the school's celibacy club (as well as captain of the Cheerios), and acts Christian, sort of, but really she's kind of... not. Meanwhile, Rachel has become interested in Finn, and the feeling may be mutual. (It's kind of a parallel of the Will-Terri-Emma situation.) Early on, we find out that Quinn has gotten pregnant (despite still trying to claim, at least with Finn, to be celibate; it takes a major suspension of disbelief to buy him buying her explanation of how it happened, but then, the whole series requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief). Meanwhile, Terri is faking a pregnancy to keep Will from leaving her, and plans to secretly adopt Quinn's baby, when it's born. There are some twists in that storyline, and everyone's plans fall apart about halfway through the season, which leads to all sorts of drama (the whole Will-Terri-Emma situation totally changes). But I think the most interesting thing is, Quinn started out pretty unlikable, but as the season progresses, she becomes a far more sympathetic character, and a far more likable person.
Then there's Kurt Hummel (who always has amusing quips). It was a little ways into the season before he came out as being gay, though... I don't think it could have surprised anyone. It never really seemed much like he was trying to hide who he is. But anyway... there is some complication in the fact that he's interested in Finn, and they become friends when they join glee club, but there's a certain tension, as well. More importantly, Kurt is nothing like his father, Burt (a widower). Burt is... the kind of character you'd expect to be a homophobe (and perhaps he was, when he was a teenager himself), but one of the show's best twists is that he truly loves and accepts his son unconditionally, even if it's a bit hard for him. Of course, things get more complicated because Burt eventually starts dating Finn's mother, Carole (a widow), and Burt begins to get closer to Finn, who shares common interests that Kurt doesn't. So it's hard for Kurt to watch this sort of father-son relationship between his father and Finn, that Burt doesn't have with him.
Other kids who join the New Directions early on include Mercedes Jones, Artie Abrams, and Tina Cohen-Chang. During the first season, there isn't as much done with these characters as with Rachel, Finn, Kurt, and Quinn, but they do get some development. Mercedes often clashes with Rachel, because Rachel gets most of the solos, and they are both very competitive and very talented. (Of course, pretty much everyone has issues with Rachel, since she kind of assumes leadership of glee club, whether anyone else likes it or not.) Artie is in a wheelchair, but he really wants to be a dancer. Tina is shy, and a bit goth (you know, not overtly goth, but there is one episode that involves the idea of vampires in a rather amusing way). And at the start of the season she has a stutter, though there's a secret about that which she eventually shares with Artie, and she finally loses the stutter. Oh yeah, and Artie and Tina were dating, for awhile. There's also a football player named Noah "Puck" Puckerman, who is Finn's best friend. At first he hates that Finn has joined glee club, but eventually he joins, too. And he has another very important role in a major plotline, which I won't spoil. And Mercedes dates Puck for awhile. And also she and Kurt join the Cheerios for awhile.
So, let's see... I need to mention that in order to enter competitions, the New Directions must have at least twelve members. I guess I've mentioned seven so far. That rises to ten when Sue gets Quinn and two other Cheerios, Santana Lopez and Brittany S. Pierce, to join glee club and act as her spies. (They also want to keep Rachel and Finn from getting too close.) Anyway, Santana is kind of a bad girl, while Brittany's mostly just hilariously ditzy (oh, the ridiculous things she says are priceless). Um, and eventually a couple other football players join, Mike Chang and Matt Rutherford, but they don't really have significant roles in season one. But that makes twelve members, so that's one major hurdle the club overcame. What else? Eventually, Rachel starts dating a guy named Jesse St. James, who transferred to McKinley to be with her. Originally, he went to Carmel High, where he was the lead singer in Vocal Adrenaline, which we've known since the start of the series was going to be New Directions' greatest rival if they made it to Regionals. So of course, no one really trusts Jesse, even when he joins New Directions, himself. But he won't remain for the entire season. And... so many things happen throughout the season, many of which I'm trying to avoid spoiling, but there are probably other things I'm forgetting. I definitely don't want to say who wins at Regionals, at the end of the season, nor what happens with Quinn's baby. But... New Directions will get another year, anyway.
Throughout the series, there'll be all kinds of drama, humor, important social messages, and of course tons of great music and great characters (who form great friendships).
I should try to mention some new developments, while doing as little spoiling as I can. Still, it's best if you don't read from this point on until you've at least finished watching season one. Anyway... I'll say now that Will and Terri had divorced, partway through season one. Also, Tanaka is now gone. There's a new football coach, Shannon Beiste (aka "the Beast"). Also, Tina is now dating Mike Chang, whose role is a bit more developed this season. It becomes clear that he is a very good dancer, though not so great a singer. Matt Rutherford, on the other hand, is gone. Also, Emma starts dating a dentist named Carl (who's played by John Stamos). There's a girl named Sunshine who briefly joins New Directions, before transferring to Vocal Adrenaline. Then there's a guy named Sam Evans, who joins New Directions as well as the football team. He dates Quinn for awhile. And there's a football player named Dave Karofsky, who is the main bully. He'd been seen in season one, but got a more prominent role in season two, as his bullying of Kurt intensified, forcing Kurt to change schools. At Dalton Academy, Kurt joined another glee club, the Warblers. Among them was a guy named Blaine Anderson, for whom Kurt developed romantic feelings. Another new member of New Directions this season is Lauren Zizes, with whom Puck eventually tries to start a relationship. Also this season, April Rhodes (Kristen Chenoweth) returns a few times (she'd been in season one, briefly), eventually offering Will a role in the Broadway play she's writing about her own life. Another recurring character is a substitute teacher named Holly Holliday (Gwyneth Paltrow). Jesse St. James also returns toward the end of the season. There's supposed to be a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (it gets cancelled, but of course we get to see some awesome performances, including "Time Warp.") Carole and Burt get married. Artie and Brittany date for awhile. And New Directions go to New York City to compete in Nationals. Of course, there's plenty of personal drama, romantic and otherwise, with all the characters throughout the season. (You have no idea how much I've avoided spoiling.)
Blaine transfers to McKinley High to be with Kurt, and joins New Directions. Santana and Brittany start dating, eventually. Emma and Will finally start a relationship, and eventually get engaged. Sam and Mercedes had apparently dated over the summer, but now Mercedes was dating a football player named Shane. Sam was gone for awhile, but he eventually returns, and wants to win Mercedes back, which leads to Mercedes having conflicted feelings. There's also an Irish foreign exchange student named Rory Flanagan, and a previously home-schooled Christian named Joe Hart, who both join New Directions. (Apparently the actors had won a reality show competition- "The Glee Project"- to get roles on "Glee," but I never watched that.) There's also a wealthy student named Sugar Motta, who joins New Directions, though she can't sing (but she believes she can). She's fairly annoying at first, but her role throughout the season is somewhat limited, mostly being a background character. (She's played by Vanessa Lengies, whom I always liked on American Dreams.) Also, Lauren Zizes quits the glee club early in the season. There's a swim coach at McKinley, named Roz Washington, who becomes a rival of Sue's, when Figgins makes her co-coach of the Cheerios. Also, Sue eventually gets pregnant, though the father remains a mystery. Beiste eventually marries a football recruiter named Cooter Menkins, but she'll leave him by the end of the season. There's a production of "West Side Story." And Sue campaigns for the House of Representatives, but Burt Hummel eventually runs against her. Mike's father wants him to quit glee club and give up his dream of dancing. Various glee members campaign for class president. Several glee members are seniors this year, so there's the question of what they'll do after they graduate, and in some cases, whether they'll graduate at all. Kurt and Rachel both spend a lot of time obsessing over whether they'll get into NYADA (the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts). A Warbler from Dalton Academy, named Sebastian Smythe, makes trouble for Kurt and Blaine. Several members of New Directions temporarily defect to a rival glee club called the Troubletones. Artie directs an awesomely retro Christmas special. Rachel and Finn get engaged. Eventually there's a prom, and New Directions compete at Nationals, and then there's graduation. As always, I'm leaving tons of stuff out, and what I have said is mostly out of order.
We see Rachel attending NYADA, and sharing a loft with Kurt, who gets an internship at Vogue.com (his boss, Isabelle Wright, is played by Sarah Jessica Parker). Rachel meets a guy named Brody, who becomes a potential love interest (she's no longer with Finn). And she has a nemesis in her dance teacher, Cassandra July (Kate Hudson). And Kurt breaks up with Blaine, after Blaine cheats on him. Finn starts helping Mr. Schue coach the New Directions. Santana eventually moves in with Rachel and Kurt. And we occasionally see other of last year's McKinley graduates show up for various storylines. But mostly the show continues to focus on the current McKinley students, who include various familiar faces (Artie, Tina, Blaine, Brittany, Sam, Joe, Becky, Sugar), as well as some new characters. Wade "Unique" Adams was first seen as a member of Vocal Adrenaline in season three, but becomes a member of New Directions this season. (Unique is... I'm not sure what term is appropriate, but s/he is, I guess, a boy who identifies as a girl, and often dresses as a girl, and will be offended if you don't refer to her as a girl, which leads to some discrimination, of course.) Another new member of New Directions is Ryder Lynn (from the second season of "The Glee Project, which I again didn't watch). And there's Jake Puckerman, the half-brother of Puck. And a girl named Marley Rose (whose mother works in the school cafeteria). Ryder and Jake vie for Marley's affections, and while she likes them both, she ends up dating Jake. There's also a Cheerio named Kitty Wilde, who is a major bitch, especially to Marley, but she occasionally displays a nicer side. (And of course, all the new characters are good singers.) Um... some of the season's important plot points include a production of "Grease," Will and Emma's wedding plans (and then nearly splitting up), Ryder having an online relationship with a mystery girl, Rachel auditioning for "Funny Girl," Kurt getting late admission to NYADA, and... well, numerous other things happen that I won't spoil.
The season is set in the spring semester of the same year as season four, which is odd (especially since it began airing in autumn), but they just never got around to finishing all the storylines from last season. So New Directions is still preparing to compete at Nationals. In New York, Santana and Rachel (and later Kurt) work at a diner where the servers sometimes sing. Also working there is a girl named Dani (Demi Lovato), who becomes a love interest for Santana. Kurt and Blaine get back together, and eventually get engaged. Artie and Kitty begin dating. Rachel wins the lead in "Funny Girl," on Broadway. Kurt starts a band called Pamela Lansbury, with Santana, Rachel, Dani, and a guy named Elliott "Starchild" Gilbert (Adam Lambert). That band eventually breaks up, and Kurt, Elliott, and Dani form a trio called One Three Hill. Sue becomes principal of McKinley High, and Figgins is demoted to janitor. Finn dies (owing to the death of actor Cory Monteith, between seasons), so of course there's a touching tribute episode. Sue gets a cheerleader named Bree to mess with New Directions... and Jake eventually cheats on Marley with her, which leads to a breakup, and Ryder asking Marley out. Sam becomes interested in McKinley's school nurse, Penny Owen, who is a sophomore in college. And this year's seniors (including Becky) start thinking about what they'll do after they graduate. New Directions lose the Nationals competition, so Sue finally disbands the glee club.
The last seven episodes of the season focus entirely on the various McKinley graduates living in New York City. I think these episodes cover a full year, so that season six will be set in the present, again. Anyway, Rachel has become a Broadway star, which leads to her dropping out of NYADA. Kurt and Blaine are now living together, and Blaine begins attending NYADA. Sam moves in with them while he pursues his dream of becoming a model. Artie is now attending film school. Mercedes, who has been living in L.A., moves to New York to record her first album, and she starts dating Sam. Blaine gets "discovered" by a famous socialite named June Dollaway (Shirley MacLaine), who plans a showcase event for him, which could launch his career. And a Hollywood TV executive wants to cast Rachel in a new TV show, which would mean the end of her Broadway career (at least for now). And of course there's always lots of other stuff going on, thoughout the season.
This is the final season, with only 13 episodes. Once again, the show focuses more on old characters than new ones; in fact, we barely get to know the new characters at all. (But of course, they're all really good singers.) Anyway, Rachel's sitcom was a complete disaster, cancelled after one terrible episode. She moves back to Lima and discovers that Sue has completely eliminated the arts from McKinley. Rachel can't accept this, so she convinces the superintendent to restore the glee club, which Rachel ends up coaching herself. She's soon joined by Kurt as co-director (he's on a work-study kind of thing from NYADA). Meanwhile, Will is now coaching Vocal Adrenaline. He's making a ton of money, but the kids are pretty awful and have no respect for him. They're incredibly talented, but aren't interested in anything except winning, and have no patience for his attempts at the sort of friendly relationship he always had with New Directions. So of course he's pretty miserable. And Blaine is no longer in NYADA, but begins coaching the Warblers. He and Kurt are no longer together, and in fact Blaine starts dating the absolute last guy you would ever expect (but I won't spoil who it is). Kurt also starts a relationship with a guy he meets on a dating service, but that's kind of awkward, for a reason I won't get into. Sam is now Beiste's assistant coach of the football team. And Beiste gets a storyline that I don't want to spoil. And... we see most of the original characters, from time to time, even if I don't feel the need to specify all of their plot lines.
It will be a major challenge for Rachel and Kurt to recruit new members to the New Directions, since Sue had forced all of the kids from the last two seasons to transfer to other schools (with the exception of Kitty, since she's still a Cheerio, and of course all the students who had graduated). But they manage to recruit a guy named Roderick (who kind of reminded me of the singer from The Commitments, so I found it interesting that he used a song from that movie for his audition). Also joining are brother & sister twins Mason and Madison McCarthy, who are both Cheerios. And there's a Dalton Academy student named Jane Hayward, who auditions for the Warblers. She's really good, and Blaine wants to let her join, but the Warblers themselves vote against it, because of the tradition of being an all-male group. So she transfers to McKinley and joins New Directions, instead. Rachel also eventually convinces Kitty to rejoin the group. And Sam helps convince a gay football player named Spencer Porter to join. Eventually a couple of other people join, who aren't even important enough to me to bother mentioning by name. And that's still not enough to compete, but New Directions finally get a sudden addition of several new members all at once, through a circumstance that I don't want to spoil.
Well, lots of other stuff happens. Much of it is more redonkulous than anything the show has ever done before, and that's really saying a lot. But also much of what happens is really sweet. Kurt and Blaine get back together. Santana and Brittany get back together. Rachel and Sam... at least consider dating. Or something; it's weird and complicated. Eventually Will quits his job, and helps Rachel and Kurt coach New Directions. Sue's evil machinations finally get her fired, and she ends up replacing Will as coach of Vocal Adrenaline. But in true Sue style, she occasionally helps her enemies. Rachel gets the chance to either star in a new Broadway play (alongside Jesse St. James) or re-enroll in NYADA. We get to see New Directions compete in Sectionals. The penultimate episode is a flashback to 2009, and I thought it was a lot of fun seeing everyone acting like their younger selves when the New Directions were first forming. (Though it was poignant to hear them talk about Finn, when we obviously couldn't see him in any new scenes. And then the episode concluded with the now-iconic performance of "Don't Stop Believin'" from the pilot, so we actually do get to see Finn... And oh, man... it was so many feels.) The series finale jumps forward first to later in 2015, when the winning show choir of Nationals is announced (even though we didn't get to see any performances in the competition). Then we see the aftermath, both at the start of the new school year a few months later, and in several flashforwards to 2020, to see major developments in the lives of some of the characters. I don't want to spoil any of those developments, but suffice to say everyone is doing really well. So it was a pretty good send-off for the series.