Written by: Robin C. Farrell | January 15th, 2023
The Price of Glee (discovery+) 2 out of 4 stars.
The three-part limited series The Price of Glee delves into the dark history of the titular musical comedy-drama seriesthat ran from 2009 to 2015. Documented here is the rise of the show’s popularity, the overwhelming fame heaped upon the stars, severe working conditions for cast and crew alike, and the tragic losses that occurred after the series ended. Most prominently among them were the deaths of Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson), Mark Salling (Noah ‘Puck’ Puckerman), and Naya Rivera (Santana Lopez).
The approach and style are far more that of a broadcast-TV special than a pensive study. The editing is fast (too fast, at times, and even sometimes choppy) and maintains a pace that never settles, despite the serious and somber topics. Even at three episodes, it covers a lot of ground in a somewhat scattered structure, without ever really seeming to land anywhere. The most in-depth segments of The Price of Glee come when exploring the life and death of Naya Rivera. This is, in large part, due to the touching testimony of her father, George Rivera. But the only cast interviews are those of former stand-ins and dancers, including archival footage from previous broadcasts. Far more often than them, though, we hear from reporters and entertainment journalists.
This series is without much in the way of subtlety across the board, but the musical score is where you feel it the most. The music is almost constant throughout all three episodes. On a few occasions, it fades out and lets the subject matter fully resonate, but those moments never last nearly long enough. Instead of being given the chance to draw your own conclusions or experience your own emotional reaction to the information, the music forcibly tells you what to feel.
The most compelling and fresh-feeling aspect of this limited series is its spotlight on the working conditions of everyone involved with Glee. This is beginning to sound more and more like something of an of-the-moment rallying cry in Hollywood: the excessive and unreasonable expectations associated with large-scale production. Many of the interviews in this documentary are former crew members, not usually in the limelight, and who offer genuinely new perspectives. Sadly, however, with so much being covered here, no full call to action is on offer.
This feels like a massive missed opportunity. Fragments of these stories piece together in a way that somehow remains distant and scrutinizing, rather than personal. The focus is most often aimed at the details, recounting the events and trying to solve the multiple mysteries. Yet the most heartrending sections (heavy-handed music and all) are those that honor the deceased in earnest: George Rivera talking about his daughter and the talented, vibrant life she led; Monteith’s friends appreciating their years of friendship; and the precious few moments of hearing cast and crew alike reflect on why they invested so much in Glee to begin with.
There’s very little explored here about the creation of Glee itself or any analysis of the show’s content beyond the first few minutes and overall introduction. It’s likely that most viewers of this docuseries will be fans of the show, or at least folks who are generally familiar with its story and characters and the fandom that sprung from it. For them, this will probably be a generally satisfying and worthwhile watch, but they shouldn’t expect anything terribly groundbreaking.