Glee holds off sermonising
GLEE isn't just another comedy about the horrors of high school.
Now in its fifth season, this cheeky Fox show has become a cabaret-meets-after-school-special that sneaks in as many life lessons as it does pop songs.
After one of its stars, Cory Monteith, died in July from a toxic mix of heroin and alcohol, it seemed almost inevitable that the show would somehow work in that loss as a cautionary tale for young viewers.
Last Thursday's episode was the first to address the disappearance of Monteith's character, Finn Hudson, a quarterback turned glee-club singer when the series began in 2009.
The episode opens three weeks after Finn's funeral, and the entire school is grief-stricken. But there is no hint of how his life ended. There are no elliptical references to the dangers of substance abuse.
That decision will undoubtedly disappoint anti-drug advocates who may have been hoping for a teachable moment, but it's a bold and respectful one. Rather than milk the tragedy and pump up media attention and ratings, the show's writers went out of their way to step around the obvious.
As he prepares to attend the memorial, Finn's stepbrother, Kurt (Chris Colfer), says: "Everyone wants to talk about how he died, too, but who cares? One moment in his whole life; I care more about how he lived."
And those words are meaningful, not just for the character, but also for the people who worked with Monteith.
Glee is famous for addressing all kinds of issues related to tolerance; there is even a transgender character. But the show is not particularly known for diffidence or decorum, and neither is its creator, Ryan Murphy, whose credits include Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story.
So, of course, in this commemorative episode, there are funny, as well as sorrowful, songs like The Pretenders' I'll Stand By You and The Band Perry's If I Die Young.
There are also some sober messages about the different ways people handle loss.
A mother's grief is indescribable, but the writers find a way for Finn's mum, Carole (Romy Rosemont), to express herself as she sits on the floor of her son's room, contemplating the task of packing up his belongings.
"You don't get to stop waking up," she says. "You have to keep on being a parent even though you don't get to have a child anymore."
This funny-maudlin tribute to Monteith won't please everyone, but no one can accuse the show of crass exploitation.
As usual, Sue (Jane Lynch), the acid-tongued cheerleading coach who's now the principal of William McKinley High School, says it best.
In one scene, she snaps at teachers to stop wallowing in their grief. They can best pay tribute to Finn, she says, "by not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness".