Much ado has been made about FOX’s absolute juggernaut Glee, a musical dramedy that redefined the television landscape, put queer filmmaking at the forefront, ushered in an impressive roster of new talent, and even transitioned into a hugely successful live stage performance show that toured all across the United States. I count myself among the show’s earliest fans—I will never forget the first time I watched the pilot, airing after American Idol, and how completely and totally it captured my heart by the time it concluded. My love for the series never wavered through its impressive six-season, 100-plus episode run, even as numerous tragedies and unspeakable hardships loomed in the background. Laboriously drawn out over three full-length episodes, Discovery+ miniseries special The Price of Glee is an exploitative, poorly-made dive into the deaths of three major Glee cast members. It lacks any type of narrative cohesion or throughline beyond the laziness of exploring a so-called “Glee curse,” and the glaring absence of a single key member of the creative team or cast should reveal all you really need to know.
Not only are none of the cast or creatives involved, but many of them have made it their mission to publicly disparage those behind this documentary. As I started the miniseries, it was not difficult to see why. Though the first episode samples the auditions of many of the leads, nothing in the lead up to the show’s rise in popularity in 2009 is at all surprising if one has even the slightest iota of familiarity with Glee. Lea Michele’s car accident pre-audition is practically legendary, and Cory’s magnetic musicality in his audition are nevertheless so magical to watch again. As wonderful as celebrating Glee is, that’s apparently not what we are here for. The moment The Price of Glee started its annoying zoom-ins on cast photos and pill bottles, a sense of uneasiness began to settle in.
Logically, The Price of Glee was expected to split its three focal points (Cory Monteith, Mark Salling, and Naya Rivera) into the three separate episodes; weirdly enough, two of the three heavily focus on Monteith, leaving the final one to do the heavy lifting of literally every other topic. They even manage to pile on Lea Michele’s alleged on-set behavior and Melissa Benoit’s domestic dispute with co-star Blake Jenner as if that has literally anything to do with their “Glee curse” thesis. Being so top-heavy on Cory isn’t necessarily an issue, but it only further emphasizes that so little material is actually here. There is already enough tragedy and trauma for this cast to deal with in real life, so why would they want to relive it here? What new insights do these filmmakers have to offer, and what is their point of view? “Nothing” seems to actually be the answer.
The Price of Glee really began to get under my skin with its editing. It keeps reusing the exact same shaky fan footage or red carpet events, and tries to repurpose them or carefully clip as if the audience would not be able to tell the difference. To my surprise, I saw myself pop up near the end of the debut episode, during a long aside with one of Cory’s former roommates where he is discussing how much Cory “hated fame.” In my memory, meeting Cory at Live with Regis and Kelly is one of the highlights of the absolutely crazy Glee experience that I partook in firsthand—he was always the kindest and most sincere cast member when it came to meeting fans. Of course, they can pile on to sweet Cory when he is not here to stick up for himself. They get Chris Colfer’s stand-in to make the bold claim that Cory constantly came to set unprepared, which I do not buy for a second.
This is a constant thread. Every time someone makes a claim like this, they are the only one to make it. There is no corroboration of any single story, only one-sided dialoguing that we are supposed to just blindly accept. For my money, the world is not this black and white. I do not buy that we were supposed to know Cory was troubled because he had an unmissable “sadness in his eyes,” or that something was always off about Mark that could have subconsciously inspired the writers of Glee to write in Puck’s obsession with women. Pardon me if the opinions of a random coroner on the specifics of Naya’s death or an alleged psychotherapist’s take on how fame affected the psyche as fact. A hairdresser makes an allegation that seems to imply Cory’s relapse and ultimately his death is to be blamed on a cast member encouraging Cory to drink a beer—how is this okay? Glee the television show did not kill any of these people, just to get that out of the way.
Another aspect that absolutely disgusted me is when they discuss how Lea dealt with Cory’s passing, in confiding to creator Ryan Murphy that she would want to immerse herself back into her work. How is Lea to be blamed in not wanting to end the show, which contributed to hundreds if not thousands of jobs on the Paramount lot and beyond? The episodes are filled with these kind of frustrating narratives that they paint through manipulative editing and repetitive clips. Unintentionally funny moments meant to be foreboding made me roll my eyes, and wish that we actually had a proper Glee doc to dive into the specifics of the show without feeling this ridiculous and annoying. Perhaps one day we will finally get a proper deep-dive into the behind-the-scenes machinations without needing to wallow in the misery, or comical conspiracy theories. Until then, here’s what you missed on The Price of Glee: absolutely nothing.
The Price of Glee airs all three parts back-to-back Monday, January 16th, then comes to Discovery+ on the same day.