Glee’s Controversial Episodes and What They Taught Viewers

I will never forget my first exposure to Glee when I was a measly eleven years old. I walked into my older sister’s room as she watched episode nine of the first season and I have been mesmerized ever since. I think it was all the music that drew me in, for I grew up in a house where the arts were supported and celebrated. All I know is that from that moment on, I was hooked. As the years went on, I gathered a plethora of Glee merchandise ranging from t-shirts to albums to notebooks to backpacks to Glee themed party supplies for my thirteenth birthday party. I won’t even go into detail about my ruptured tear duct I developed from crying so hard after hearing the news of Cory Monteith’s death in 2013. Safe to say that was a rough time for fourteen year old me. 

On that note, the other day I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline when I saw a tweet concerning Glee. I might be one of the biggest Glee fans out there, so it definitely caught my attention, to say the least. The tweet read something along the lines of, “Glee really trying to bring all these controversial topics to light, yet not really doing a good job at presenting them.” This made me chuckle because I could not help but disagree. I was reminded of how crucial some of these controversial topics were for my development through adolescence. 

While I could easily praise Glee all day long, I think it is important to bring up the more controversial episodes where Glee writers really tried to inform and educate viewers about modern day problems going on in society. The first one I am reminded of is episode 2 x 3, “Grilled Cheesus.” This episode focused on religion (or lack of religion) and was able to perfectly balance the opposing viewpoints. This episode showed what it was like for both pro and anti-religious high schoolers and emphasized the fact that all you needed what something to believe in.

The next episode I am reminded of is episode 3 x 5, “The First Time.” This was without a doubt one of the most controversial episodes of Glee’s time as it was centered around the nervousness of losing your virginity for both straight and gay teenagers. It shows the importance of taking things slow and not trying to rush into being an adult. The scenes felt very honest and real, more so than any other episodes regarding sexual activity amongst high schoolers (aka the fiasco that was Quinn’s pregnancy in season one). This episode premiered in 2011, a time where sex (especially gay sex) amongst high schoolers was not talked about, therefore making it less of a taboo topic and opening up a discussion.

Another episode that I believe highlighted many important aspects of growing up in today’s society was episode 3 x 14. In a dramatic turn of events, we do not only see school bully Karofsky attempt to commit suicide, but also witness our beloved Quinn get into a major car accident due to texting and driving. This episode was a lot to unpack, but it provided many great lessons about life. While both incidents were incredibly dramatic, I believe the most impactful one was the scene in which we see Karofsky try to kill himself. In early seasons, Glee writers tried (and succeeded) in getting us to hate Karofsky. We all did not like him, but little did we know his anger was just being displaced due to the hiding of his sexuality. In this episode we feel bad for him and accompanied by Blaine’s singing, we see a different side of the infamous school bully. While Quinn’s storyline was also fairly dramatic, we all already know not to text and drive. This just cemented that idea in our heads, and was important for teenagers to see the repercussions of being on your phone while driving.

It seems that the writers of Glee really wanted to use season three as a creative outlet in dealing with modern day problems, as the episode “Choke” also comes from this season. In this episode, viewers learn that Coach Beiste is a victim of domestic abuse. While the episode does not dive too deep into the subject matter, viewers are exposed to the harsh reality of being in an abusive relationship and the importance of speaking out about it. 

Airing only four months after the Sandy Hook shooting, this next episode brings the word “unsettling” to a whole other dimension. In episode 4 x1 8, titled “Shooting Star,” McKinley high students are placed under lockdown after shots are heard somewhere on campus. This is definitely one of the episodes that just sticks with you after watching, especially after remembering that this is not too far from our reality. It brought awareness to a problem, and the actors did an incredible job of displaying the thoughts and emotions that one might have running through their head in a situation like this. At this point, Glee had been known to focus on polarizing topics and this just exemplified the idea that there was nothing writers were afraid to show. 

To end, I think it is important to highlight one of the most heart wrenching episodes in TV history. “The Quarterback” was the tribute episode dedicated to Cory Monteith and subsequently his character on the show. It is no surprise that it was viewed by over twelve million people. It was well known that Monteith passed away due to a drug overdose, yet the writers chose not to disclose how his character died and instead used Kurt to explain that what was important was his life he lived. I remember watching this episode and almost feeling like the fourth wall had been broken because it seemed like the writers were speaking directly to the viewers. Monteith had lived a troubled life, but how he died was not important, just how he lived. I think this was an interesting take, and something that definitely honored Monteith in the afterlife. Many people die from terrible addictions every day, but the writers really emphasized that just because you do bad things, does not make you a bad person. This was such an incredible message to send and the writers did a perfect job with this whole episode. 

Description automatically generated" height="294" src="/%3Ca%20href%3D"https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/ORgdyMlu9tCdRIjbKa0wGPH3dS6LXVIIl9U3dPP9qkQrAPIq3WUgPQ7CaqLGdh-idsd1SX90fbYXUgE0z0Jmxi5MJSTpIVrfUXHaNm8aAVHfP9tkptn090K9P4ju8MTmR3dsSoGhxavYnTRzMRGYNg">https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/ORgdyMlu9tCdRIjbKa0wGPH3dS6LXVIIl9U3dP..." width="434" />

To say Glee was ahead of its time seems like an understatement to me. They brought to light many controversial topics such as homosexuality, gun violence, suicide, and domestic abuse. It exposed a generation of young adults to a world full of things you should never stop fighting for or against and reminded its viewers that it is okay to be a little different. Nine years later, I owe much of what I believe in to this show and all the characters on it.