Is It Time to Retire the “Glee Curse?”
Here’s what you missed on Glee!
CREDIT: TV Insider
If you haven’t binged Glee yet, wyd? Living under a rock? Glee is arguably the most capital-C Camp show of the decade, dare I say, century? Eon? Lifetime?! The show’s eccentric plotlines, outta-pocket one-liners and iconic characters make the show truly unforgettable. Once you’ve seen Glee, you can’t unsee it.
"No matter how talentless, misshapen, ugly, miserable, or sexually ambiguous you are, [glee] will still love you unconditionally" — Sue Sylvester
The latest news circulating the Glee Cinematic Universe has been the Glee docuseries, The Price of Glee. The three-part docuseries premiered on January 16, 2023, and explores the infamous “Glee curse,” a term coined to explain the misfortunes of cast and crew members. Namely, The Price of Glee investigates the deaths of three of the series’ main actors: Cory Monteith, Mark Salling and Naya Rivera.
The first episode delves into Glee’s rise to popularity. Glee’s pilot episode premiered in 2009, amassing 9.3 million views. The show flopped by the series' season six finale, earning 2.6 million live views. So what happened between then? Well, a lot.
We watched The Price of Glee, so you don't have to!
The docuseries begins by laying a foundation for the series’ inevitable downfall. The cast contained novice actors with limited professional acting, singing and dancing experience, save for Lea Michelle, who previously performed on Broadway. Thus, fame was a newfound experience. They took pleasure in the attention, in the multitude of Instagram likes and Twitter followers. It was an alluring desire. However, fame was ultimately alienating. Cast members were bottled together at all times, foreshadowing the series’ messy explosion. If they weren’t filming, they were at dance rehearsal; if they weren’t at dance rehearsal, they were at the recording studio; if they weren’t at the recording studio, they were learning the next scene, and so on. Both the cast and crew worked under enormous pressure, staying on set until the early morning hours. Despite its fame and glory, the set of Glee was truthfully unhealthy.
Grappling with fame was especially hard for Cory Monteith, actor for Finn Hudson, the quarterback turned glee club sensation. As the series’ male lead, Cory faced significantly more attention than his colleagues. Friends of Cory’s before Glee stardom were worried about his moving to Los Angeles for the show, expressing how a luxurious lifestyle might worsen his drug and alcohol struggles. Cory had publicly spoken about his addiction and sober journey, shocking and inspiring fans globally. Much of Cory’s segment of the docuseries is recounted by his L.A. roommate, Justin Neill, who tells both the highs and lows of Cory’s sobriety and concludes by retelling the heartbreaking phone call about Cory’s accidental overdose in 2013.
From personal experience, Cory Monteith’s passing is the first celebrity death that struck me strongly. It’s one I remember vividly and still get emotional about today. Many eyes turned to the show for answers — how does the series move on after the passing of its lead actor? The industry expected an appropriate hiatus to give cast and crew space to grieve, but Lea Michelle thought differently. The show's creator, Ryan Murphy, approached Lea, Cory's on-and-off-screen girlfriend, to decide. The docuseries cast Lea in a fraudulent light, insinuating the show’s continuation was for business purposes. I agree that Lea Michelle's motives are suspicious. Other cast members were not consulted on the decision to return to set 2 to 3 weeks after their friend's death. If they were, I assume a hiatus would have taken effect. In an Ellen DeGeneres Show interview clip, Lea emphasized how she wished to be with her Glee “family” even though her co-stars hated her. The choice to return to a high-pressure environment coupled with losing a friend does not seem reasonable.
To quote Finn, “the show must go… all over the place… or something.”
Glee carried on for the remainder of seasons 5 and 6 without Monteith. After the show's conclusion, several deadly details were unveiled. The Price of Glee mentions how the "curse" expands to crew members, such as key stand-ins and grippers, who also meet a sad demise. The "curse" permeates the entire Glee operation, eliciting skepticism and turning fame into shame.
Five years after Monteith's passing, Mark Salling, the actor of Noah “Puck” Puckerman, died by suicide. The actor was under intense scrutiny, having possessed thousands of pictures and videos of child pornography, and sentenced to jail only weeks before his suicide. He would have spent 4 to 7 years in prison. The Price of Glee rightly gives limited screen time to Salling’s narrative. The interviews about Salling mostly state he was an odd guy on set, and it was "hard to hear" the news of his grotesque behavior and following death. Hearing the news of Salling's crime was an expected surprise to me, and I still can't get over how one can be so loved yet so cruel.
Two years later, in 2020, Naya Rivera, actress of Santana Lopez, drowned in a boating accident in California while saving her young son. Rivera was initially declared missing, for only her son was found alive and alone on a pontoon boat. Her missing status created waves — cast and family members close to Rivera gathered together to pray her body would soon be found. Thousands of Gleeks took to social media to express their heartache. Many fans connected with Rivera’s character, Santana, who is a keystone figure in the LGBTQ+ community. Santana catalyzed lesbian realness. Her narrative explores an adolescent’s difficulties in accepting one’s identity, coming out to family members, and cultivating confidence in sexuality, uplifting thousands of fans to come out to their families and keep going. Naya’a section of the docuseries includes heartfelt interviews with her father, home videos, and a few talking heads. Her portion concluded with an important message: “Her greatest legacy is that she saved her child first.”
Most of everything discussed in the docuseries is public knowledge, save for a few insightful and credible moments during Naya Rivera’s portion. Overall, The Price of Glee is incredibly unserious. Many of the docuseries’ featured interviews are delivered by heads of departments (i.e., hair, set, photography, etc.), stand-ins, entertainment reporters, and “Scott on Tape,” a YouTuber who tours celebrity death sites. Each interviewee gives their hot take on the series and its lead actors, which the docuseries amplifies and stretches ceaselessly to the point of exploitation. The docuseries plays like a TMZ-produced broadcast — all for money and show. The degree of separation is blatantly obvious, as no one from the main cast was interviewed. It’s like if your best friend’s freshman year roommate’s little brother produced a docuseries about you. The only good connections to the cast are Naya’s father and Corey’s roommate.
The notorious “Glee curse” is merely a scapegoat to avoid the truth about Glee’s toxic work environment. The "curse" distracts from reality and allows theories to take center stage. The series’ connections are frail at best, invading and harmful at worst.
Jamie Knox and Gabriella Garcia-Urbay are online writers for Rowdy Magazine.