Summer reissue: Ten years on from its first episode, Sam Brooks revisits all the wild, dumb, and plain terrible things that happened on Glee.
This was originally published on 27 May, 2019.
Ten years ago, a little show from the brain of Ryan Murphy premiered. Up until this point, he’d had a minor failure with black teen comedy-drama Popular and a minor success with scuzzy hospital sex drama Nip/Tuck.
The show had a simple premise: A bunch of high school misfits were part of a glee club, a club that performs popular songs to choreography.
On the back off of one of the best pilots in television history (truly, it is), Glee became a worldwide phenomenon. For a few seasons, it was inescapable. The songs were everywhere on the charts, the cast went on arena tours and released concert films, and it even garnered a spinoff reality show where contestants auditioned to be on the show proper.
Then, things went downhill. Everyone left high school, the cast ballooned in size, and it went off the rails in a typically Ryan Murphy fashion. Can you tell I don’t like Ryan Murphy? Can you tell I think he’s a charlatan who dresses up in the clothes of being ‘other’ while engaging in the very same language and narratives that twist real human beings into representations of their minorities and nothing else?
Which is to say, like any Ryan Murphy show, Glee was bonkers and problematic right from the very start. So, at great personal expense, I’ve rounded up a definitive list of all the stupid, wild, crazy, and straight up bad stuff that happened on Glee. Buckle in, because you’re on the Ryan Murphy train now, and there’s no stopping until we pull into American Horror Story Station, where people actually started giving rave reviews to this crap.
- We are led, consistently, to believe that Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) and Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith, RIP) have comparative levels of singing ability.
- The previous show choir teacher, Sandy, is fired for sexually harassing a student. He is played by Stephen Tobolowsky. It is played as a joke.
- Will Morrison plays Will Schuester, who is ostensibly a Spanish teacher.
- A show choir performs a high-octane, fully-choreographed routine to Amy Winehouse’s uplifting paean to alcohol ‘Rehab’
- A show choir, with the name New Directions, in a high school, in 2009, sings a song by the band Journey.
- The head cheerleader, Quinn, and the quarterback, Finn, willingly join a celibacy club.
- Will’s wife has a hysterical pregnancy, finds out about it, and lies about it for like half a season.
- Finn (Cory Monteith) kisses Quinn (Diana Agron) and prematurely ejaculates. Quinn later uses this to convince him that she’s pregnant, and he believes she got pregnant from when they sat in a hot tub together.
- New Directions perform Salt-n-Pepa’s ‘Push It’. Once more, this is set in 2009.
- Mercedes (Amber Riley) sings ‘Bust Your Windows’, Jazmine Sullivan’s epic revenge anthem, because Kurt is gay and does not return her feelings. She does not realise that Kurt is gay, despite being played by Chris Colfer.
- Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the cheerleading coach, teams up with confirmed predator Sandy to bring down a high school glee club. This is the entirety of her arc throughout the series.
- The football team performs ‘Single Ladies’ because Kurt told them to.
- McKinley High School somehow chooses Cabaret as their high school production.
- Kristen Chenoweth returns to McKinley High School to get her high school diploma, and sings a song from Cabaret. She also gets drunk and performs Carrie Underwood in front of the entire school.
- For one episode, everyone is addicted to pseudoephedrine.
- Terri, Will’s wife who is hiding her lack of pregnancy from him, buys Quinn’s baby. She also blackmails her OB/GYN to not reveal her hysterical pregnancy.
- For one episode, Sue divides the glee club into minorities and non-minorities.
- Rachel gives her underwear to a school reporter so the entire school doesn’t find out Quinn is pregnant.
- The glee club spends time in wheelchairs so they can feel what life is like for Artie, who has spent his entire life in a wheelchair. At the end of the episode, they all perform ‘Proud Mary’. The song that features the lyric ‘rollin’, rollin’ on the river’.
- Tina reveals that she has been putting on a stutter because she was too shy to be herself.
- Will sings ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ to Rachel, who has developed a crush on him. (Fun fact: Lea Michele and Will Morrison dated before the show started! Gross!)
- The glee club performs in a local mattress store commercial, believing it will protect them from bullying.
- Sue Sylvester roofies her boss. There are no consequences.
- The cast perform to ‘Like a Virgin’ to herald having sex for the first time. Almost nobody loses their virginity.
- The boys perform Madonna’s ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’.
- Kristen Chenoweth becomes mistress to a roller-rink tycoon.
- Olivia Newton-John stars as herself. She and Sue do a remake of the ‘Physical’ music video:
- ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is included in a list of songs that have bad reputations. This is patently insane.
- An 18 year old gay guy performs ‘Rose’s Turn’ from the musical Gypsy.
- Will and Neil Patrick Harris audition for a local production of Les Miserables by singing Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’.
- Tina decides to comfort Artie with internet articles about spinal cord injury treatments.
- Idina Menzel and Lea Michele perform a mother-daughter duet to Lady GaGa’s ‘Poker Face’:
- An entire episode is devoted to the glee club mastering funk songs.
- Idina Menzel adopts Quinn’s baby.
- Jane Lynch wins an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for playing Sue Sylvester. This doesn’t happen on the show, but I think it’s important that we recognise that this happened.
- Rachel directs an auditionee for the glee club to go to a crack house rather than the auditorium.
- Sue demotes Santana from head cheerleader for having breasts implants.
- Sue sets off the fire alarm in ordered to stop students being aroused by a glee club performance of ‘Toxic’
- Finn finds the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich. The episode is called ‘Grilled Cheesus’.
- Rachel sings ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me’ to someone else’s comatose father.
- Two teenage cheerleaders in 2010 emotionally connect to, and suggest performing, Melissa Etheridge’s 1993 lesbian-rock hit ‘Come to The Window’.
- A Rocky Horor Picture Show episode that I cannot engage with.
- Sue marries herself, which I’m pretty sure happened on Shortland Street first. Don’t fact-check me on this.
- Some gay bully kiss crap that reoccurs way too much. What is it with this trope? See also: the Netflix show Sex Education.
- Gwyneth Paltrow. A lot of Gwyneth Paltrow. Enough Gwyneth Paltrow that it leads to her performing on the Grammys (!!!) with Cee-Lo Green (???) and The Muppets (?!?):
- Sue bans tater tots at the high school cafeteria.
- Carol Burnett plays Sue’s mum, and also a Nazi hunter.
- It’s revealed that Quinn used to be overweight, had braces, and was called ‘Lucy Caboosey’. This is never brought up again.
- There is a genuinely amazing mash-up of ‘Thriller’ and ‘Heads Will Roll’.
- Sue loses a competition, and attempts suicide by overdosing on gummy vitamins. This is played for drama.
- Everyone has a problem with binge drinking for exactly one episode.
- Sue forges a cease and desist letter from My Chemical Romance.
- A teacher writes a song for his students called ‘Loser Like Me’.
- Sue continues to associate with Sandy, who was still fired for sexually harassing a student.
- Gwyneth Paltrow teaches sex education, sings ‘Landslide’.
- Sue gets the glee club’s flight rerouted to war-torn Tripoli. In the same episode, the glee club plans Sue’s sister’s Willy Wonka-themed funeral.
- Quinn sets a piano on fire.
- Lots of racist stuff with Mike Chang. Harry Shum Jr will go onto have a role in Crazy Rich Asians, and hopefully the sequels.
- Emma calls her parents ‘ginger supremacists’.
- Kurt is implausibly cast as Officer Krupke in West Side Story.
- An Irish student stays at Brittany’s house and lets her believe that he is a leprechaun because he has a crush on her. He promises her a pot of gold at one point.
- Sam becomes a stripper with the name ‘White Chocolate’.
- The class president elections go on for half a season, and everybody is incredibly invested in it.
- Finn outs Santana. He is forgiven for this almost immediately, because he sings ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.
- Santana sings ‘Constant Craving’. Santana is still a high school student.
- Will, a teacher, asks Finn, a student, to be the best man at his wedding.
- Finn’s mother tells Finn his dad died from a drug overdose. Finn’s dad also suffered from PSTD after coming back from Iraq. This is a plot point on the show Glee.
- Michael Jackson episode.
- Sebastian throws a slushie with rock salt in it at Kurt’s love interest, Blaine (Darren Criss).
- Ricky Martin plays a Spanish teacher.
- Fin and Rachel get engaged in their final year of high school.
- Sebastian threatens to leak photoshopped nudes of Finn.
- Kurt’s bully, Karovsky, attempts suicide.
- Quinn gets hit by a truck because she’s texting while driving and ends up in a wheelchair. She performs Elton John’s song ‘I’m Still Standing’ with Archie, who has been paralysed since birth, the very next episode.
- Will forces Finn, a student, to watch Saturday Night Fever, as depressing a film as you can find.
- In order to learn about domestic violence, Sue has the girls perform ‘Cell Block Tango’ from Chicago.
- Quinn stands up from her wheelchair while singing ‘Take My Breath Away’.
- In order to compete with a trans singer, Sue makes Kurt dress in drag.
(This is the season where they reined in the winners of The Glee Project. I recognise none of them, and neither do you.)
- Kate Hudson.
- Kurt gets an internship at Vogue.
- Will is impressed when Finn suggests Grease for a high school musical.
- Kitty (?) gaslights Marley (??) into bulimia.
- Sue tries to sabotage Unique, a transwoman, from playing Rizzo in Grease.
- An entire episode that is a dream sequence where Artie dreams he isn’t paralysed.
- Brittany and Sam believe in the 2012 apocalypse for an episode.
- Jane Lynch sings ‘Super Bass’ in Nicki Minaj cosplay.
- Tina has a crush on Finn for no reason.
- Tina has a crush on Blaine, and when he’s asleep, she declares her love for him because she’s destined for a sexless relationship ‘like many Asians girls and gay men’ (direct quote, do not email me), straddles him and rubs Vicks Vapo-Rub on his chest.
- Finn kisses Emma, Will’s soon-to-be wife, to calm her down.
- Honestly basically everyone this season has implausible feelings for each other.
- Rachel has a pregnancy scare, but is not pregnant.
- Rachel and her boyfriend Brody (????) sing Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. It manages to not be the worst version of this song.
- Rachel’s boyfriend Brody moonlights as a sex worker.
- There is a school shooting episode named ‘Shooting Star.’ although it turns out Sue accidentally fired a student’s gun. Sue remains employed at the school.
- An entire season-long plotline involving Rachel auditioning for nobody’s favourite musical, Funny Girl. (Seriously, I saw Funny Girl with Sheridan Smith in it on the West End and that musical is like drowning in double denim, with two brief gasps for air at the end of each act. It sucks.)
- Marley (??) faints during a performance of ‘Gangnam Style’ because she got gaslighted into bulimia by Kitty (?).
- Kate Hudson emotionally abuses Rachel. Rachel thanks her for this.
- Brittany is dubbed a mathematical genius, and is admitted to Stanford.
- Unique catfishes Ryder (???).
- Sue blackmails the principal of McKinley High, and somehow becomes principal afterwards.
- A lot of wedding crap that takes too long.
- Tina gets Carrie-d.
- Demi Lovato.
- Sue bans twerking. In response, the glee club performs ‘Blurred Lines’.
- ‘The Quarterback’, the episode covering Finn’s sudden and tragic death. There is nothing funny to be said about this, but it has to be acknowledged.
- There is a high school show choir with the unfortunate name ‘Throat Explosion’.
- Kurt starts a band called Pamela Lansbury. Adam Lambert auditions for it.
- An entire puppet episode, thanks to everyone hallucinating after a gas leak. ‘The Fox’ is sung.
- A weird non-canonical Christmas episode.
- Santana, a Latinx woman, becomes Rachel’s understudy in Funny Girl, despite having a wildly different voice, and being about as close to Fanny Brice’s demographic as I am.
- Tina and Sam hook up because it’s season five, why the hell not.
- Gwyneth Paltrow and Kristen Chenoweth audition to be on The Amazing Race. They sing Pharrell’s ‘Happy’.
- Tina hallucinates all of her friends in a parody of Friends called ‘Chums’. This is a 30 Rock joke from 2008.
- Rachel, the lead in Funny Girl, offers Santana, her understudy, ten shows in Funny Girl, which I’m sure is absolutely bad practice on Broadway and would probably not make ticket buyers super-happy! Santana resigns from the show.
- Artie tests positive for chlamydia.
- Blaine goes to a site called ‘Frat Boi Physicals’, and Kurt is worried for him.
- Santana reads Rachel mean comments about Barbra Streisand’s performance in Funny Girl to make her feel better.
- Sue goes to Rachel’s opening night only to complain loudly about it, which is maybe the most I’ve related to Sue Sylvester. She also sleeps with Chris Parnell.
- Rachel auditions for a non-musical television pilot with one of the worst songs of all time, ‘The Rose’. She does not get it, but implausibly they want to write an entire (non-musical) show for her:
- Santana becomes Rachel’s publicist, despite not liking Rachel that much and having no experience in the industry.
- Rachel gets dragged by a pack of dogs for several blocks when she tries to rehabilitate her image.
- Kurt replaces a dead woman in Peter Pan.
- A dog eats Mercedes’ weave.
- Rachel stars in a show called That’s So Rachel. The year is, ostensibly, 2015. She also sings ‘Let It Go’, which feels incredibly on-the-nose, but you always did you, Glee.
- Blaine dates Kurt’s high school bully, Karovsky.
- High schoolers willingly perform mash-ups of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and Carole King’s Tapestry:
- A two-part episode named ‘The Hurt Locker’.
- Kurt’s bully Karovsky ends up being Blaine’s cousin. Sue makes them both go to a gay club with her to tell them this.
- Kurt goes on a date with Harry Hamlin. Yes, that Harry Hamlin.
- Sue hypnotises Sam to sabotage the glee club.
- Sue, somehow, is the sole judge of the glee club competition.
- Sue kidnaps Kurt and Blaine and makes them bond.
- Brittany’s parents are played by Jennifer Coolidge and Ken Jeong.
- Brittany’s biological father is revealed to be Stephen Hawking. This is played with as much grace and respect as you’d expect.
- Tina ends up with Mike Chang, now having had feelings for literally every other character in the show.
- Everyone sings ‘Hey Ya’. It is, unsurprisingly, not the white boy version with an acoustic guitar that everyone with access to a file-share service showed you about 15 years ago. It is still, somehow, whiter than that version. The year is still 2015.
- Sue gives a honeymoon vacation to everyone.
- Sue is fired, goes on Fox News and more of her sordid past is revealed. Sue is immediately rehired at McKinley High.
- All arts funding at McKinley becomes dependent on the performance of the glee club, which is a horrible way to run a school.
- Sue firebombs Will’s car. In response, Will shaves Sue’s head.
- Rachel turns down a Broadway role, completely running against her character arc for the preceding six seasons but what-the fuck-ever.
- An entire flashback to the pilot happens in the penultimate episode, for the whole episode.
- Will becomes principal of McKinley High, which is now a performing arts high school.
- In a flashforward, Sue is Vice-President, Tina and Artie are a couple, Rachel wins a Tony and Ryan Murphy becomes a critically acclaimed maker of television.
I hope everyone involved with this show is sitting on piles of money and has mild amnesia.
More definitive lists by Sam Brooks:
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.