The backlash against ‘Glee’

Fans aren’t happy, and they’re directing their unhappiness at the show’s creator
The backlash against ‘Glee’
Fox; Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Sarah Mackinnon; Everett Collection

The producers of Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, which arrived in theatres on Aug. 12, were hoping it would be part of a celebration of the TV show’s success. Instead, it’s turning up at a time when Glee is facing almost as much backlash as 3D movies. The most recent season, the show’s second, got mixed reviews and seven fewer Emmy nominations than the first; much of the backlash is directed at co-creator Ryan Murphy, responsible for such shows as Popular and Nip/Tuck. When it comes to bizarre stories and over-the-top preaching, Murphy is the writer who, as TV critic Myles McNutt puts it, “has become synonymous with the cultural excess of Glee.” And now he’s known as the man who caused some of the show’s actors to mistakenly think they were fired.

As the most-interviewed member of the Glee crew, Murphy has said some controversial things; when Guns N’ Roses rocker Slash criticized the show, Murphy denounced his comments as “uneducated and quite stupid.” But last month he seemed to go too far when he announced that actors Lea Michele, Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer would be leaving the show after their characters graduate in the upcoming season. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he wanted them “to have an open and closed experience for them to go out while they were on top.” The actors thought they had been booted off the show—“I looked on my Twitter replies and that’s how I found out,” Colfer told Entertainment Weekly. “I was like, oh, oh, okay, I guess they announced something.” Fans were livid. Murphy’s co-creator Brad Falchuk had to step in and announce that Murphy had it wrong: “Just because they’re graduating doesn’t mean they’re leaving the show.”

In an attempt at damage control, Murphy gave an interview to Deadline where he claimed, “For any of those actors to say, ‘I found out that I was fired off the show from Twitter’ is absolutely 100 per cent not true,” and blamed the media and “actors’ representatives” for twisting his words. He also said that after the controversy, plans to do a spinoff with the actors have “collapsed,” which led commenters to think he was being vindictive. “Do you realize how childish you sound?” one commenter wrote. “‘We WERE working on the spinoff. Now . . . not.’”

None of this would be creating a lot of ill will for Glee if it were in a great spot creatively. But the show’s reception has soured, with USA Today’s Robert Bianco speaking for many critics when he wrote that it became bogged down in “gimmick-laden ‘very special’ episodes,” like tributes to Britney Spears and Rocky Horror, or heavy-handed takes on social issues. Even Murphy admitted to TV Guide that he became preoccupied with “bigger, better, bolder.” An anonymous insider told E! Online that Murphy created incoherent storylines to revive his flagging interest in the show: “Ryan gets bored very easily.” McNutt points out that Murphy is “credited on all of the ‘tribute’ episodes,” which means that although he’s responsible for many of Glee’s best moments, he’s also the poster child for its descent into silliness: “He has become an easy target for fans frustrated with the show, valuing iTunes downloads over the characters they care about.”

Murphy has also been spreading himself thin, something that caused his previous show, Nip/Tuck, to decline after a strong start. He’s not only a judge on The Glee Project, a reality show spinoff that the Los Angeles Times described as a “farm team” for Glee, but he’s also launching a new show, the gothic soap American Horror Story, only a few weeks after the third season of Glee begins. This has led to speculation that Murphy and Falchuk (who co-wrote Horror Story) want to move on to something edgier.

That may be why Murphy is turning much of the third season over to a new staff of writers, including Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whose rewrites helped save the Spider-Man musical. Fans who disliked the second season might find the show duller, with fewer of Murphy’s crazy gimmicks, not to mention fewer inflammatory Murphy interviews. “I’ve learned to really monitor what I say,” he told Deadline. The backlash against Ryan Murphy might be nothing compared to the backlash against having less of him.