Re-Watching Glee’s Pilot Episode Five Years Later: A Reflection
Many former Glee fans have been over the show for years. Of course, we all fell in love with Glee when it first premiered back in 2009 as a quirky little musical comedy about a high school of misfits. Almost immediately, Glee skyrocketed into a ratings smash hit but a lot of time has passed since then.
Some gave up after Season 3. "It's just not good anymore!" they moaned. Still, the plenty of fans were still fully on board. Then came Season 4. Ratings were down The plots were starting to feel tired and reused. All the beloved couples had broken up. The show just didn't capture our collective imagination the way it once did.
Could Glee continue without Finn? Sure, his status as a main character had gone down to recurring guest in Season 4, but Finn was the love of Rachel Berry's (Lea Michele) life. And Rachel Berry isGlee. It was hard to see how she, or the show, could move on without him.
We're now eight episodes into Season 5, eight episodes into this weird Cory-less existence, and it seems clear that the show is hurting. Ratings have sunk to their lowest ever. Plots seem uneven and drab. The cast is trying, but Glee has lost its spark.
The show is currently on hiatus, so it won't be airing any new episodes until the end of February. We still miss it — what can we say? — and during one of our lonely Glee-less Thursday nights, we pulled up Netflix to re-watch the very first episode of the series.
It's been almost five years since this episode aired and so much is different. The actors, the stories, the tone of the entire series. In Season 1, everything seemed fresh, different, new. It's weird to look back knowing the tragic ending in store.
So here it goes. Glee Season 1, Episode 1. Original air date May 9, 2009.
0:01 — We open on the familiar McKinley High School football field, where the Cheerios are practicing one of their world-class routines. Their red and white cheerleader uniforms look exactly the same.
0:31 — We forgot that Glee's pilot opened by introducing us to Sue Sylvester! Can you even remember the world before Jane Lynch's snarky cheerleading coach? Sue might very well be one of the most hilarious and quotable characters in recent TV history, and she was in top form during Glee Season 1.
"You think this is hard?" she yells at her championship-winning Cheerios. "Try being waterboarded. That's hard."
0:47 —Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) drives up in an old, beat-up car. Oh, Mr. Schue! Back in Season 1, we actually used to like him. He was idealistic and hopeful back then. Now he's just annoying and weird.
1:02 — A bunch of football jocks are about to toss Kurt in the dumpster. (Note: How young does Chris Colfer look?! Such a baby face. Today's 23-year-old version is all grown up. And he grew up quite fine.)
1:04 —LOL Puck (Mark Salling) and his mohawk. Remember when we all thought he was, like, attractive and stuff? Yeah. That.
Schue walks by, "Hey, Finn, you still owe me that report..."
1:06 — Finn fumbles. "Almost halfway done with almost all of it, Mr. Schue." Oh, Finn. I just realized that watching this is going to be harder than I thought. Just seeing him standing there: the earnest, well-meaning, adorably-inept football jock we all grew to love during Glee's first four seasons. And now he's gone. Gone from the world, for real. Just like that.
Finn doesn't stop the football goons from tossing Kurt into the dumpster, but he does agree to hold Kurt's new Marc Jacobs jacket so the expensive designer piece won't be ruined. Finn's not a flawless character, but even in the beginning, he clearly has a heart.
1:54 —Weird to see Mr. Schue actually teaching Spanish. Like, in a Spanish classroom. In later seasons, one of the series' biggest logic fails is that Will is rarely ever seen in class. He's always in the choir room with glee club.
1:58 — More Finn. More of our hearts starting to feel all sad and heavy.
2:37 — Our first shot of Rachel Berry, who will soon make it clear to all that she is the show's shining star. For now, she is silent, staring through a window with a disapproving glare. She's wearing a headband, her brown hair curled, a string of pearls around her neck. Gleeks, your queen has arrived.
3:04 — Oh, Glee's first love triangle. Gym teacher Ken is in love with Emma, the guidance counselor, but she only has eyes for Will. Too bad he's already married (to his whiny, endlessly-complaining high school sweetheart). That said, a lot can happen in five seasons...
OMG, and I forgot that Brad the Piano Guy has been sitting there, wordlessly playing the piano, for all five seasons. Hi Brad!
5:26 — Kurt is back. Hi again, baby Kurt! He's wearing a bright blue t-shirt with giant sunglasses on the front. Clearly, the man's fashion sense has improved tenfold since the early days. But his vocal range? Still flawless.
6:05 —Artie (Kevin McHale) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz)! Remember back when Tina had a fake stutter? Goth Tina with a Stutter auditions by singing Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." Despite a poor showing, she still makes it in the glee club, because, well, not a lot of people auditioned.
6:49 — We now get to officially meet Rachel. She announces that she's singing a "seminal Broadway classic," and goes on to blow everyone away with her stellar vocals.
Oh, here it is: The very first of Rachel Berry's signature voice-over narrations, one of the hallmarks of Glee's early days. "You might laugh, because every time I sign my name, I put a gold star after it," she tells us. "But it's a metaphor. And metaphors are important. My gold stars are a metaphor for me being a star."
At that very moment, Puck walks by and tosses a bright red slushie straight into her face. Ah, the first of so many slushies.
7:30 — "I have two gay dads," Voiceover Rachel continues. "My two dads screened potential surrogates based on beauty and IQ, then they mixed their sperm together and used a turkey baster. To this day, we don't know which one is my real dad, which I think is pretty amazing."
Throughout her speech, we're shown multiple photos displayed in her locker. One of Rachel's dads is Jewish, the other is African American. You get one guess which is her biological father.
Rachel's dads actually make an appearance later on in the series, after their daughter and Finn get engaged towards the end of Season 3. But creator Ryan Murphy opted for celebrity casting, so the men who ultimately ended up getting the parts look quite different from the two men in these photos.
15:28 —Glee is all about celebrating the underdog, and Sue makes sure to let Will know just how much of underdogs his glee club kids really are. "High school is a caste system," she tells him, "and kids fall into certain slots. Your jocks, your popular kids: up in the penthouse. The invisibles, and the kids playing live-action druids and trolls out in the forest: bottom floor."
"And where do the glee kids lie?" Will questions. Her answer is quick, "Sub-basement."
18:01 — What glee club needs is a couple of popular kids to make it cool. Predictably, though, no one in the it crowd wants anywhere near glee club. But that doesn't mean they don't have talent.
Will happens upon Finn in the locker room, singing his heart out to REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling." And you know what? This quarterback is good.
19:00 — So Will does what anyone would: He blackmails Finn into joining the glee club by planting weed in his locker and making glee his only alternative to detention.
21:28 —Adorable flashback of childhood Finn! Turns out he's always loved to play the drums. Sadly, though, his life hasn’t been an easy one. Being a single parent is hard for his mom, and it gets even worse when the man she was seeing runs off with some 20-year-old. She's tossing a jug of milk, then crying in the middle of the street.
Oh, Mrs. Hudson. Don't be sad! Next season, you're going to marry Kurt's dad, who is just about the most wonderful, caring, accepting, and perfect father in the entire world.
22:17 —Finn's officially joined the glee club. Rachel has the leading male soloist she so desperately needs to make her look good. She latches on to him with a terrifying quickness. He looks confused, and also pretty scared. (Ah, the early days.)
25:22 — Okay, so maybe Puck is kind of attractive. If you just try to pretend he doesn't have that dumb mohawk.
27:39 — Here we have Finn and Rachel's first official conversation. She's clearly shorter than him — a full one-foot-one-inch — but still dominates the conversation. The juxtaposition is comedic. "You're very talented," she tells him. "Really?" he asks. "Yeah. I would know, I'm very talented, too."
Rachel tells him everyone will probably expect them to start dating. He explains that he already has a girlfriend: Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron). (Blonde, bitchy, cheerleader, head of the celibacy club — and set to give birth to a baby girl before the season's out. So... celibacy. Heh.)
30:36 — Now we're watching rival show choir Vocal Adrenaline perform Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." The performance is fantastic, but where's their lead singer, Jesse St. James? (Played by Lea Michele's former Broadway co-star Jonathan Groff.) Jonathan is one of our favorite Glee guest actors, and we'd give anything to see him on the show more.
33:06 — Oh, the classic “Terri Schuester fakes a pregnancy” storyline. Can we just pretend this part never happened? Ugh.
43:14 — Here it comes. The glee club is about to sing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," perhaps the most recognized and beloved performance the show has ever done. Finn and Rachel sing lead. His voice is earnest and full of raw talent while hers is strong and polished. They're clearly different, yet still so in sync.
Meanwhile, Kurt, Mercedes and Tina — all looking so young — sing backup. The entire song is filled with simple, pure joy. It makes you wish this song, this moment, this feeling could last a lifetime.
Beth Douglass is an Associate Editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. She's our resident Glee expert and loves celebrity kids. Follow her on Twitter and Google+!