We know it’s hard to believe, but the last episode of Glee ~*eVeR*~ airs tonight. The New Directions have given us an incredible six years of singing, dancing, and awkward teen sexual tension, but it’s time for them to leave the show choir room for good. Admittedly, the most recent seasons of Glee haven’t been that great (this season especially, with its self-referencing jokes and out-of-control fat-shaming). However, we can’t let Ryan Murphy’s inability to craft a third act stop us from honoring Glee. When it was good, it was really fucking good. And, more importantly, it changed culture forever.
From putting gay teens on primetime to introducing us to living Ken doll/actual sex god Darren Criss, Glee wasn’t afraid to go where television had never been before. It broke racial, sexual, and gender boundaries — not to mention it brought the musical back in a big way. Simply put, television is more inclusive, vibrant, and engaging because of Glee. And it will definitely be missed.
Before you watch the final curtain close, relive all of the incredible things Glee did for the human race, and let us know your all-time favorite moments in the comments below. (We recommend drinking a slushy while reading this, because #feelings.)
1. Gay and lesbian teens got the primetime treatment.
In 2011, Entertainment Weekly featured Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) and Blaine Anderson (Criss) on its cover with the headline “Gay Teens On TV.” Just think about that for a second; in 2011, putting LGBT adolescents on television was so groundbreaking that it warranted an EW cover. The progress we’ve made since then is astounding, and we must credit Glee for blazing the trail in such a public way. Watching Kurt come to terms with his sexuality in the small town of Lima, Ohio not only helped many people like him — this writer included — it led to other complex gay characters on Glee and beyond.
2. And transgender individuals followed shortly after.
We first met Alex Newell on the short-lived Oxygen series The Glee Project. This led to Newell landing the part of Unique Adams, a young trans girl at McKinley High School. While there have been similar characters on television in the past, Unique’s was one of the first to emerge at the cusp of the transgender movement gaining mainstream visibility. Orange Is The New Black premiered roughly a year later and featured Laverne Cox as transgender inmate Sophia Burset. And now, we have shows like Transparent (which centers on a trans woman coming to terms with her identity) winning big at awards shows. (Another fact for you ex-Gleeks: Shannon Beiste, played by Dot Jones, recently came out as transgender. His character is now named Sheldon.)
3. The musical TV show genre exploded.
When Glee premiered in 2009, its musical-dramedy format stuck out like a sore thumb. But as audiences responded positively to its seamless marriage of music and acting, other television shows quickly followed suit. Smash, which told the story of a songwriting duo working to create a new musical, took several notes from Glee in its composition. FOX’s Empire, the most popular show of 2015, incorporates original songs — something the New Directions did five years ago. Even American Horror Story (also created by Murphy) can’t help but burst into song every now and then. While Fame will always be the first, Glee helped reboot musical television in an accessible, fun way.
4. The anti-bullying movement gained steam.
With the social media boom, bullying has become more of a problem among teens than ever before. Glee faced this controversial issue head on, particularly with football player Dave Karofsky’s (Max Adler) harassment of Kurt. The show’s raw portrayal of this conflict helped spark conversations about bullying and, more importantly, ways to prevent it.
5. Down syndrome wasn’t relegated to the background.
At first, Becky (Lauren Potter) was just Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) right-hand girl on all things glee club destruction. But something wonderful started happening as the show went on: Becky received plot lines. Good plot lines. Recently, Becky started dating a boy who doesn’t have Down syndrome, and Glee succeeded again in tackling a topic that needed to be discussed. Since Becky’s 2009 debut, another actress with Down syndrome has emerged on a Murphy show: Jamie Brewer. The 30-year-old has had the incredible opportunity to play a variety of characters on AHS. And it makes our hearts so happy!
6. Teen pregnancy was explored unlike ever before.
Yes, we did get The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family about a year before Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) got pregnant on Glee. However, Secret Life’s Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley) had a fairly supportive network of friends and family. Meanwhile, Quinn got kicked off the cheerleading team and had zero support from her parents. Quinn’s vulnerability, fear, and — perhaps most surprisingly — anger toward her situation was unprecedented for primetime.
7. It made dyslexic students feel less alone.
Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) told his fellow Gleeks he had dyslexia when he joined the club. But it wasn’t until Ryder Lynn (Blake Jenner) emotionally dealt with the learning difficultly in front of millions that it started helping teens across the country. Ryder’s academic struggles were heartbreaking to watch, but his later triumphs showed dyslexic students that they are going to be just fine.
8. We met Darren Criss.
OK, so Criss was a working actor before Glee. (A Very Potter Musical, anyone?) But his Dalton Academy blazer is what made him a bona fide superstar, and thank Jesus for that. Honestly, there’s no one on this planet hotter than Blaine. The perfectly coiffed hair! The intense smolder of his eyes (see above)! The fact that he can impregnate you by singing a Katy Perry song! Thank you, Glee, for introducing us to this fine specimen of human. Yes ma’am.
9. It made show choir badass.
When I was in high school, no one wanted to join the show choir. After Glee premiered, it suddenly became the hottest club in school. Glee turned show choir students into superheroes: tireless performers who executed routines with athletic precision. We triumphed when the New Directions won competitions like they were a Friday Night Lights-esque football team. The choir room became a place where anyone — baseball players to theatre fanatics — could come together and share their love for music. Glee was instrumental in getting teens to see that the arts are both cool and worthwhile.
10. It introduced millennials to the best damn music in history.
While Glee’s Top 40 covers are nothing short of flawless, its incorporation of show tunes and classic hits helped introduce youths to the artists who basically invented music. The McKinley kids have covered everyone from The Beatles to John Mellencamp and the Rolling Stones. Plus, the series has dedicated entire episodes to cultural staples like Madonna and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Cheers to Glee for getting youngins’ to realize Justin Bieber is not the king of music.
Jane Lynch discusses filming the final episode on Big Morning Buzz Live.
[Photo Credits: Fox/Getty Images]