Ah, this is a question I ask myself whenever I’m in the shower and I get Glee’s version of Boogie Shoes in my head (and it happens every single bloody time, and now it’s there again and I don’t think it’s ever going away this time). I’ve written so bloody much about this show in the past, and I’m still not sure if overall I like it or don’t: it’s crass, over-bearing, reads like a PSA, has some atrocious actors, no consistent characterization, and would regularly and with gusto throw all it’s continuity to the four winds because the writers had another idea they just had to try. As somebody who’s watched the show for five years, I don’t understand why anyone would put themselves through it- a murderous mess that will strip to bone your faith in TV in the course of just one agonising Ke$ha cover.
But there were good moments. Moments where I laughed with the show, not at it. Moments were the covers were packed with gusto and just enough actual singing to make them bearable. So I’ve decided to try and compile a list of what I consider the show’s crowning triumphs. If you’ve always hated the show and could never understand what attracted people of seemingly sound mind and body to it, I’ll try to explain, and if you’ve been grappling with the show in therapy for years (like me), you can remind yourself how it hooked you in in the first place.
10. Bohemian Rhapsody
I can already hear the sound of a thousand laptops smacking shut as anyone with any self-respect who was half-interested in this article storms off. They covered Queen? Pssshhh. Rubbish. No-one can cover Queen, let alone Bohemian Rhapsody. But in the hands of the inimitable Johnathan Groff, a superbly talented Broadway performer who guest-starred in a few seasons of Glee, the song isn’t a catastrophe; in fact, it’s sort of good. Add to that the sequence of Diana Agron’s birth spliced through the song, and this is an entire second act in just six minutes: winding up on the final notes drifting away as Agron (another actress far too good for this show) is handed the baby she knows she’ll never get to hold again. It’s impressive, emotional, gigantic stuff, and it works.
9. Uptown Girl
On the flipside of the coin, you’ve got this cover of Uptown Girl, which is for my money one of the best the show ever did (and, bizarrely, this is it’s second appearance on this blog after it cropped up in my review of The Flash, but I digress). It’s pure, silly, catchy fun, an unadulterated hunk of pop that shines through the screen. I don’t think I’ll ever not love it. I hate to be that guy, but the teacher in the red skirt is crazy-hot, too.
8. Safety Dance
In the magnificent Neil Patrick Harris-starring, Joss-Whedon directed episode Dream On from season one, this was the tune that sequence that really jumped out. Kevin Mchale, who plays Artie, the kid in the wheelchair, started his career in a bunch of not-so-successful boybands, and his cheeky charisma is all over this number. Then, a smash cut at the end to him sitting in his wheelchair, alone with his thoughts, knowing that everything he’s just imagined is probably never, ever going to happen for him. Kevin McHale always did really well with the bullshit they threw at his character, and this silent moment of reflection is one of Glee’s most subtle and effective moments.
7. The Boy Next Door
Full disclosure: I wanted to put Glee’s original cover of I’m the Greatest Star here, but it’s nothing without the video. So we’re settling for Chris Colfer’s second-best solo performance in the form of The Boy Next Door from the musical of the same name (fun fact: if you think this is wild, go watch Hugh Jackman doing it- gold lame trousers and all). My crush on Chris Colfer knows now bounds, even though he’s gay and we’ve never met and I occasionally vanish down rabbit holes on Youtube watching videos of him being witty and warm and charming and snapping at Lea Michele that she’s comitting a hate crime by being mean to him. And he’s one of the best things about the show, an absoloute newbie with an incredible voice, oodles of charisma, and a sense of humour about himself which is lacking in much of the rest of the show. This song (and yes, that is Whoopi Goldberg there) is essentially the climax of his story, a big fuck-you to his old, small-town life and an embracing of his new one, whatever it may be, conveyed over the course of two minutes and some incredible, impossible hip movements (the crush grows stronger yet).
6. It’s Not Unusual
One of the few songs from the later seasons that actually worked, this Tom Jones cover (performed by Darren Criss, who I love very much even though most critics seem to hate him with a passion, maybe because he was the victim of the atrociously handled bisexual storyline I wrote about earlier), this was the pinnacle of Glee dissociating from reality. A decision was made from here on out that if reality got in the way of really awesome staging for a fun song, then it could go fuck itself, and here are thirty-year-old cheerleaders prancing around on the bleachers as some inestimably ripped internet star grins so much his teeth explode. I think I watch this at least once a week.
5. Adele Mashup
Glee has done a lot of mashups, and none of them have worked like this one has. Pitched at the end of an episode where Naya Rivera’s character (the girl singing the Someone Like You portion) has been outed, it’s got a bit of emotional clout behind it but is more than anything a belter of a tune. Staged simply, the songs (Rumour Has It and Someone Like You) are naturally inclined to pack a punch, and Rivera and co-lead Amber Riley prove once again that they were the most underused bit of the show for two seasons. I think a show is teetering when an Adele mashup is the most subtle thing they can do in an episode, but they just stuck the landing with this one.
4. Cough Syrup
Oddly, this is a song that’s turned up in the blog before, when I was talking about triggering. I re-watched Glee in my first year of uni when I was horrendously depressed, and I remember being utterly shaken up by this number. Even though the show doesn’t take the storyline seriously past this sequence, the combination of Max Adler’s performance (as a guy who’s just been outed after years in the closet, preparing for his suicide) and a gorgeous vocal performance from Darren Criss who, along with Chris Colfer, gave this scene a bunch more clout than it might have deserved to have. I don’t know if it’s just that I remember how strongly this affected me the first time I saw it, but these three minutes- the song and video inextricably linked- mark this as probably the most powerful moment Glee has ever pulled off.
3. I Dreamed a Dream
Another one from the Joss Whedon episode, this song- featuring Indina Menzel and Lea Michele- is a proper slap about the face. The premise of this is essentially that Lea Michele (the young one) is listening to her birth mother sing for the first time, and Whedon really wrings every drop of emotion from the already iconic number; the cinematography is great, the vocals are flawless, and if you don’t feel even a hint of emotion after this then you’re a cold, sad human being.
2. Don’t Rain on my Parade
Glee used the Barbara Streisand musical Funny Girl (from which this song is taken) as a kind of mirror image to lead character Rachel’s story, and this was the first time it made itself clear. This song, landing about half way through the first series, was the genesis of my obsession with musical theatre, and still the song I’ll point to when someone asks me what music I relate to on a personal level. Lea Michele is utterly charming in what is probably her best performance of the whole show, a proper salute to the desperate, never-give-up optimism that Glee floated atop of for five years, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the please-renew-us/also-show-tunes! balls of this number. Put it this way: my ex commented that Lea Michele really didn’t make the last note work in this and I think that was the moment our relationship was truly over.
1. Jim Steinman Mashup
Yes, that’s right- Glee did a Jim Steinman mashup, news so good it still hasn’t really sunk it. And it’s a perfect capper to the first three years of the show (after which everything took a nosedive as the main characters left high school). The final performances in the show choir championships (is anyone else buying the size and enthusiasm of that audience, by the way?), it’s got everything- a Lea Michele belt, then what’s probably their most diplomatic and entertaining group number in the form of their cover of Paradise by the Dashboard light. The late lamented Cory Monteith is at the peak of his handsome, charming, bumbling self here, the choreography is perfect, and the tune is just big enough to act as a satisfying farewell to all the characters we would barely see again after this episode.