Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s announcement that the McKinley kids would be graduating and leaving the show at the end of this upcoming season (stated with a “isn’t-this-totes-obvs?” tone) caused a stir surprising to even Murphy himself. Gleeks are practically worked up into a lather of separation anxiety. And it makes sense: no one is excited about the prospect of Glee devoid of Rachel’s self-aggrandizing, Finn’s lumbering dance moves, Mercedes’s vocal runs, and Brittany’s non sequiturs.
But his rationale is valid. Unless the show abandoned all pretense at realism (and it’s already halfway there with the rock-concert-worthy production values that accompany each performance), it’d be hard to draw out the chronology enough to allow the characters to stay at McKinley for any more seasons.
But Gleeks need not worry. The original stars are fantastic in their own unique ways, and they are collectively responsible for selling us on the show, but the show is not defined by them. Rather, The show is defined by the concept, the tone, the theatricality, and the (overstated) themes. Let’s face it: if the show were to continue without the original kids, Gleeks would still watch and likely enjoy the show. After all, there were only six members of the Glee club in the pilot episode: Rachel, Finn, Mercedes, Kurt, Artie, and Tina. Quinn, Brittany, Santana, Puck, Mike, Sam, and Lauren were all added to the mix later. (Oh, yeah, and that Matt guy… but we barely remember him.)
Murphy’s challenge now will be to make the changing of the guard as seamless as possible. The reason we grew to like additions like Sam, Lauren, and our favorite Cheerios so much was that they weren’t billed as replacements but rather introduced organically and intriguingly. The same needs to happen with the new New Directions. We need to be so taken with them that we forget they’re taking the place of the original crew.
Television history is chock-full with examples of cast replacements done both well and poorly. Only a fraction of the Grey’s Anatomy cast are Season 1 veterans, but the newer doctors are all equally likable. ER was a revolving door of cast members, but the still stayed fairly popular. On the flip side, fans never took to Doggett or Reyes in The X-Files or Rachel and Tom in Alias because those characters weren’t introduced as smoothly and fans could neither forget nor forgive that they were the heirs apparent.
And it’s not like there won’t be holdovers. None of the adults have any particular reason to leave McKinley, so we’ll still have Mr. Schuester and Sue Sylvester, as long as the potential for Emma Pillsbury, Coach Beistie, and maybe Holly Holliday if we’re especially lucky.
Gleeks, I’m optimistic about the changeover. It’s not only necessary but also potentially reinvigorating for the show. Uh, hello, don’t stop believing, okay?