New exploitative docuseries The Price of Glee proves that death still sells. Don’t buy into it

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Jan 19, 2023 at 11:45 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

As someone who had the first three seasons of Glee downloaded on their iPod touch and who personally attended the show’s 2011 live tour at the O2 in London, you’d think that a new docuseries exploring the popular TV show would be right up my street—you’d be wrong.

When I first heard about The Price of Glee, I immediately cringed. Then, after I discovered that a number of the former cast members had explicitly criticised the series due to its exploitative nature, I was angry. We’ve witnessed a tidal wave of shady shows recently, all profiting off of the trauma and tragedy of celebrities and normal citizens alike—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is clear evidence of this. From a former Gleek and loyal fan, I’m truly disappointed—here’s why.

Gleeking out online

Glee may have aired in 2009, but for a lot of people, the musical theatre-themed TV show only entered their atmosphere when the internet decided to peddle a ridiculous albeit hysterical rumour that Lea Michelle is illiterate. It was admittedly incredibly entertaining watching gen Zers pirate old clips of the actress seemingly struggling to read—the internet does have its moments of genius.

@pinkteabags

she’ll say it after the fact or not at all🤔 #leamichele #leamicheleisilliterate #foryoupage #glee

♬ original sound - kim

With a renewed interest in the show, opinions, hot takes and conspiracy theories began to flood my TikTok FYP, and while some of the videos were lighthearted and understandably nostalgic, others exposed a different subsect of content also picking up speed—videos hinged directly on unearthing past trauma and dredging up upsetting situations connected to the Glee cast.

If we’re being specific, the top three topics of conversation flooding my timeline concerned either the drug-related death of Cory Monteith (who played Finn), the suicide of Mark Salling (Puck)—who’d been charged with possession of child pornography—and the death of Naya Rivera (Santana), who’d drowned in a tragic accident in 2020. I’d also like to make it abundantly clear that I do not consider Salling to be held in the same regard as Monteith and Rivera—I don’t even like mentioning him in the same sentence—however, his existence is relevant to my argument.

Now, it’s one thing for netizens to stick their nose into celebrity stories and conjure up salacious gossip. It’s another thing for a television network to create a three-part series—broadcast on national TV—produced in efforts to profit off of the deaths and trauma of former cast members.

Just another exploitative docuseries

When it was first announced that a new Glee tell-all docuseries was due to air at the beginning of 2023, I’ll admit I was curious. Part of me thought we’d be given a deep dive examination into why producer Ryan Murphy ever allowed Matthew Morrison—who played Mr Schuester—to bump and grind with a cohort of high school students while belting out Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Instead, the popular network Investigation Discovery teased a show which, from the gate, makes it clear that not only would zero former cast members participate in it—red flag number one—but also that the tabloid-infused series would be dabbling with Monteith and Rivera’s deaths by interviewing an executive assistant twice removed along with a circle of unknown reporters. Talk about inside scoops, heh?

Within the trailer alone, we were fed snippets of interviews, all focused on trying to reel audiences in with promises of ‘exposing’ and ‘revealing’ new dirt and gossip surrounding the show. In reality, when The Price of Glee eventually came out, all we were given were vague segway anecdotes and what production considered to be ‘new’ insights on stories that’ve been rehashed in the media for years on end.

For me, as I’m sure can be said for many other viewers, I felt incredibly uncomfortable watching Rivera’s father George recount his daughter’s death and theorise about how the tragic accident occurred. I can imagine this is the kind of content which, when pitched to former Glee cast members such as Kevin McHale, who played Artie on the show, dissuaded them from participating and subsequently even resulted in them actively criticising the show.

After someone tweeted about the docuseries, insinuating that former cast members would be directly involved, McHale responded: “Show me this ‘cast’ you speak of. This is trash.”

Chord Overstreet, who played Sam, also stated his thoughts on the matter, telling sources: “I think that everyone [who] did that show and experienced it doesn’t have anything to do with that from what I know… We’re all really close, pretty much like family and nobody knows anything about that. I think it is a little bit of just trying to get people to watch something.”

Glee was a true television dichotomy. For many of us, it was a haven of escapism—full of awkwardly choreographed musical numbers, teen romance and gay awakenings. It represented a time before Trump had demolished democracy or Prince Harry had told the world about the time he lost his virginity. However, as society continued to grow, the mysticism and allure of Glee seriously dampened. We now cringe at the abundance of overtly problematic and inappropriate plotlines—cultural appropriation and misogyny featured in the show as often as Gwyneth Paltrow did.

The Price of Glee proves that sensationalism is still king in the entertainment industry. One only has to look at the popularity of true crime documentaries on Netflix to see as clear as day that death is selling in droves—even pushing sex out of the limelight. I’ll still Gleek out whenever I hear a song previously covered on the show and I’ll continue to enjoy TikTok’s finest memes. What I won’t do however is engage with a scheme that manipulates someone’s death, rather than honours it.

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