The 'Glee' Series Finale Is Here But Instead Of Hating Let's Remember 25 Times The Show Was Actually Incredible
Although the show may be going out with more of a whimper than a bang (ratings have declined from a series high of 26.8 million viewers for Season 2's post-Super Bowl episode to a series low of 1.58 million viewers for a Season 6 episode a few weeks ago), one thing is certain on the day of the Glee series finale: this show has firmly cemented its place in television history. It had an absolutely meteoric ascent, blasting from a little show about a glee club that nobody thought could possibly be successful into a veritable worldwide phenomenon. It racked up iTunes sales, launched a sold-out arena tour, and even inspired a reality show spin-off. But Glee's former glory faded with its dwindling ratings... which, to be fair, was not entirely the writers' fault. How do you continue a show that's literally about feeling gleeful when your leading man tragically passes away midway through your run? Not easily, it would seem.
Glee may never have entirely recovered from the sudden death of Cory Monteith, but now — on the eve of the Glee series finale — the show deserves to be remembered not for the shadow of itself that it became, but the truly groundbreaking show it once was. Even now, in its later seasons, Glee has proven itself capable of blending its heightened tone and musical prowess into moments of pure transcendence rarely matched by shows more grounded in reality.
So let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Here are 25 of Glee's most incredible moments, from that unforgettable pilot to the most recent season:
1. When We Started Believin'
Come on. You didn't really think I'd make a list of the best Glee moments without their iconic performance of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" in the very first episode, did you? This was the moment that we all knew how great the show could be... and would be.
2. When Beyoncé Led The McKinley Titans To Victory
Not every incredible Glee moment involved someone standing on a stage belting out Journey or Barbra Streisand. This memorable scene involved a ubiquitous Beyoncé track, a football team... and one scared gay Ohio teen trying to prove himself to his gruff father.
3. When We Realized Our Lives Would Suck Without Glee
Ryan Murphy never imagined Glee would be as big of a hit as it turned out to be, so he and his co-creators wrote Episode 13, "Sectionals," to serve as a possible series finale. The New Directions celebrated their victory to the tune of Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You," featuring snippets of choreography from all their most iconic performances to date, intercut with scenes of Will chasing Emma down the halls of McKinley. (Remember when Mr. Schue's love life was a big plot point?) Of course, then the show was picked up for a full season... and five more seasons after that. And the rest is history.
4. When Artie Stood Up And Danced
No one realized what a great dancer Kevin McHale was, since he spent the entirety of Glee confined to a wheelchair as the paralyzed Artie. That is, until this late Season 1 dream sequence, where he imagined himself dancing to Men Without Hat's "Safety Dance" in a shopping mall flash mob. In true Glee fashion, the thrill of watching Artie bust a move was tempered by the knowledge that, in reality, the character would never get that chance.
5. When Rachel & Finn Slayed Journey... And Our Hearts
The New Directions' entire Journey medley at Regionals was pitch perfect, but it started with Rachel and Finn's spine-tingling duet to the ballad "Faithfully." A surprise declaration of love, a Journey song, and Lea Michele's soaring vocals? Those are all the ingredients of an incredible Glee moment right there. This would go down in history as the best of Finchel's many, many duets.
6. When Blaine Was Kurt's Teenage Dream
We might not have known yet what we were in for on the roller coaster that was Klaine's relationship, but Darren Criss' Season 2 introduction to the show was one of Glee's biggest moments at the time. His cover of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the best-selling song in the country that week. Admit it — you swooned a little, too.
7. When Klaine Kissed
It's easy to forget now, four years later, exactly how groundbreaking it was to watch two gay teens lock lips on primetime broadcast TV. It was not only the culmination of half a season's worth of will-they-won't-they tension, but also affirmation for the thousands of gay teens watching from home.
8. When The New Directions Were Born That Way
Lady Gaga might as well have written "Born This Way" for the sole purpose of being Glee's anthem, it fits so perfectly. Watching the New Directions proudly own the attributes they were the least proud of was an inspirational and iconic moment. (The same episode also gave us the unexpectedly beautiful mash-up of TLC's "Unpretty" with West Side Story 's "I Feel Pretty" performed by Rachel and Quinn, widely considered one of the show's best songs.)
9. When Kurt Won Prom Queen
It was a bold move for Kurt to agree to go to the McKinley prom with Blaine as his date, but he felt like the school had made great strides in acceptance. So when the student body elected him Prom Queen as a cruel joke, it felt like a punch to the gut, both to Kurt and to us watching from home. But Kurt took the insult on the chin and turned it into a victory, accepting his crown with his head held high and dancing with his handsome date after the Prom King, Karofsky, bailed.
10. When Mercedes & Santana Attained Mash-Up Nirvana
Glee has featured many mash-ups throughout its six seasons; some have been inspired (like the "I Feel Pretty/Unpretty" combination mentioned above), and some have been duds (let's agree to forget about "Hair/Crazy In Love"). But this mash-up of two of Adele's biggest hits hit all the right notes: the choreography, the costumes, the vocals, the context (Santana had just been outed as a lesbian) all combined to form one of the show's most unforgettable performances.
11. When Glee Made fun. Happen
The show may be most well-known for covering showtunes and Top 40, but occasionally the writers would serendipitously manage to include a song from an up-and-coming band just before they hit big. This was the case with the New Directions' cover of fun.'s "We Are Young," which not only helped launch the fledging group to fame, but also made for one of Glee's most iconic numbers: "Tonight / We are young / So let's set the world on fire / We can burn brighter than the sun."
12. When Helen Mirren Made A Surprise Cameo
A common trope on Glee was voicing the inner monologues of its character, and when Becky Jackson got her first voiceover halfway through Season 3, viewers were surprised to learn that her inner voice sounded a heck of a lot like Dame Helen Mirren. "You may be wondering why I sound like the Queen of England. It's simple: in my mind, I can sound like whomever I want. So lay off, haters." This was a fun and oddly sweet way to show that, no matter what we look like on the outside, we can all rule countries inside our own heads.
13. When Karofsky Attempted Suicide
After Karofsky transfered schools, Kurt's bully found himself on the receiving end of some bullying himself. A fellow football player saw the closeted jock and Kurt at Breadstix together, and started a relentless campaign of torment, leading the formerly intimidating kid to attempt suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom. Fortunately, Karofsky's dad found him and his life was saved. But the largely wordless sequence, set to Blaine's vocally flawless cover of indie rock song "Cough Syrup," was one of the show's most shocking moments to date.
14. When The Girls Shook It Out
Although Glee usually sticks to straightforward covers, often their best performances are when they reinterpret a song in a new way. (Think the a cappella rendition of "How Will I Know" in Season 3's Whitney Houston tribute, or Season 5's acoustic version of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake.") But this acoustic version of Florence + The Machine's "Shake It Out" is the best of the best, given the emotional heft it has in the context of Coach Beiste's devastating abuse storyline.
15. When New Directions Finally Won Nationals
Season 3 climaxed with one of the show's strongest competition set lists. The stakes were high, since this was the seniors' last chance at a Nationals trophy. And the competition was fierce, with Unique leading Vocal Adrenaline in powerhouse performances of Nicki Minaj's "Starships" and The Who's "Pinball Wizard." This was the moment when the glee club truly came together and gave it their all, and it was a wonderful thing to witness.
16. When Everyone Broke Up
Early in Season 4, the Glee writers took the incredibly risk of breaking up all three of their show's major couples in one fell swoop. Finchel, Klaine, and Brittana all fell victim to the episode appropriately titled "The Break-Up." It's almost impossible to pick a stand-out moment from the hour: Blaine's emotional reprise of "Teenage Dream"? Santana serenading Brittany with Taylor Swift's "Mine"? The gut-wrenching performance of Coldplay's "The Scientist" that ended the episode? All of these songs are worthy of mention, but in my opinion the highlight of the episode was Lea Michele's performance in the scene where Rachel breaks up with Finn. Just watch her heartbreaking speech above and try not to tear up. I dare you.
17. When Santana Was On Fire
Fans finally got their wish to see Santana make the leap from Lima to the Big Apple when the former Cheerio finally embraced her full potential to the tune of Alicia Key's anthem, "Girl On Fire," and announced to Rachel and Kurt that she was moving in with them. Empowering, cathartic, fierce. This was everything we hope for from a Glee performance and an important step in Santana's development.
18. When Rachel & Finn Sang Together For The Last Time
Of course they didn't know it at the time, but Rachel and Finn's performance of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonite" at Will and Emma's wedding reception would be the last time the characters ever duetted onscreen together. Despite the fact that they were still broken up, the chemistry between them (both physical and musical) was electric. Hearing Finn confidently declare to Rachel, "We are endgame" before launching into the tune just makes the whole thing even more bittersweet in retrospect. Who could possibly have predicted that "tonight" would indeed be all these characters had left?
19. When Glee Reached 500 Performances
The cast and crew celebrated reaching the incredible milestone of 500 musical performances to the exuberant strains of The Isley Brothers' "Shout." Blaine and Brittany led the New Directions (and pretty much the entire student body) through the halls, library, and cafeteria of McKinley in this unabashedly fun performance. This was the show at its most purely — dare I say it? — gleeful. Congratulations, Glee!
20. When The Show Said Goodbye To Cory Monteith
Like "The Break-Up," it's almost impossible to pin down a standout moment from this devastating episode. Not only was the show saying goodbye to one of its central characters, but Monteith's cast mates were saying goodbye to a very real friend. While "The Quarterback" contained some memorable songs (the opening "Seasons Of Love" group number, Mercedes' soulful reprise of Finn's Season 1 solo "I'll Stand By You," Rachel's barebones rendition of Adele's "Make You Feel My Love"), it was the non-musical moments that stayed with me the most. Whether it was Sue lamenting the loss of all of Finn's potential, Mr. Schue quietly sobbing into Finn's letterman jacket, or (in the clip above) Kurt, Carole, and Burt somberly packing up Finn's room, the most affecting scenes in this case were also the quietest.
21. When Santana Rained On Rachel's Parade
Five-and-a-half years in, and Glee still knew how to surprise us. When Santana turned up to audition to be Rachel's Funny Girl understudy — singing Rachel's own signature song "Don't Rain On My Parade," no less — we all probably looked as shocked as Rachel herself. Giving the song her own sassy twist, Santana belted her way onto Broadway... and into a prolonged feud with her roommate (which yielded one of the best slaps in TV history).
22. When The New Directions Paid Tribute To Finn
Halfway through the club's Season 5 Nationals performance, chaperones Burt and Carole realized that the New Directions were singing all of Finn's favorite songs. The set list, which started with Boston's "More Than A Feeling" and Neil Diamond's "America," culminated in their ode to their former coach: U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," complete with flashbacks to Finn confidently strutting through the halls of McKinley. How dare the writers emotionally ambush me like that?
23. When We Still Didn't Stop Believin'
The show's 100th episode celebration ended in a reprise of Glee's trademark number, featuring every past and present member of the New Directions, walking onto the McKinley stage in the order they joined the show choir. The performance itself could easily have served as the end of a fitting series finale, as the episode featured the dismantling of the glee club after they lost Nationals. But in reality, it was just the beginning of a new chapter in the show's life, as it was about to transition full-time to NYC.
24. When Unique Blew Us All Away
The show's final season hasn't been perfect, but Unique's moving rendition of the song "I Know Where I've Been" from the musical Hairspray, sung in support of Coach Beiste during his transition from female to male, and backed by a trans choir 200 people strong, is one of the show's largest-scale performances ever attempted. And that last note! Literal chills. This is certainly one of the best solos of Season 6... if not all of Glee.
25. When The New Directions Rose To The Occasion
Throughout its six years on the air, Glee has always been about learning to accept others. So watching the newest iteration of the New Directions welcoming their bitter rivals, the Warblers, into their fold with open arms after Dalton burned down, was a fitting cap to these final 13 episodes. Their new outfits, the Dalton Academy blazer in McKinley High red, was a perfect symbol for the two choirs' unity. And the first song they performed together, "Rise," is a beautiful original tune written by Glee's Darren Criss himself.
Image: Adam Rose/FOX