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Flowers and photos are left at a small memorial for Canadian actor Cory Monteith outside a downtown hotel in Vancouver, July 15, 2013. Monteith, the 31-year-old heartthrob of the musical comedy television series Glee, was found dead in his hotel room on Saturday. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)
Flowers and photos are left at a small memorial for Canadian actor Cory Monteith outside a downtown hotel in Vancouver, July 15, 2013. Monteith, the 31-year-old heartthrob of the musical comedy television series Glee, was found dead in his hotel room on Saturday. (ANDY CLARK/REUTERS)

JOHN DOYLE

With Monteith gone, Glee – and its teenage fans – face a dilemma Add to ...

When I was nine years old, a close friend of mine, a neighbour boy, died. Soon after, my family moved away to another town. The distance helped me, a kid, deal with the death of another kid. Death is hard for a child. Old people pass away: somebody’s grandmother or grandfather. But the death of a kid is hard to absorb. The grief that follows death is foreign, uncomfortable, unknowable to a child and to most teenagers.

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Now Glee, a show so successful at connecting with teenagers already lost in their feelings of being outcasts and misunderstood, must deal with a brutal reality. The death of Cory Monteith means the death of an actor playing a significant, much-loved character and, worse, someone involved with another much loved-character (Rachel, played by Lea Michele) on the show. The relationship was in real life and, at times, as part of the show’s fiction.

Should Cory Monteith’s character, Finn, die on Glee? Or just disappear from the series, his absence explained by some plot contrivance? What about Rachel and her feelings for Finn? How on earth can all of this be woven into the show?

The questions are far from trivial. Glee’s audience, its fanatical followers, amounts to many sensitive teenagers who adored the show’s advocacy for the fragile, the lost, the different and the troubled.

Because Glee’s following is so vast, a debate has been active online. There seem to be two schools of thought about how Glee should handle the situation. One group feels it would be germane to have the character Finn Hudson die and the other characters grieve and deal with his death. Many Glee fans feel this would be in the spirit of the show, one that has dealt directly with bullying, suicidal thoughts, confusions about sexual orientation and heartbreak.

Another portion of the fans feels differently. Essentially, they believe it would be inappropriate to have the actors subjected to another bout of grief by reliving Monteith’s passing in an episode that would probably be awkwardly contrived to acknowledge his death. In particular, these fans object to obliging Lea Michele to face again the death of her boyfriend. It seems cruel to them. Most of these fans would be happy to see a brief, commemorative mention of the Finn character/Cory Monteith at the conclusion of an episode and leave it at that.

One doesn’t envy the Glee creators. The dilemma is genuine. There have been several instances of actors passing away while their character is still active in an ongoing series. John Ritter died while his hit show, 8 Simple Rules, was airing. His character then died, off-screen. On Cheers, the actor Nicholas Colasanto who played the popular character, Coach, died and the character’s death was part of a storyline. And there have been other instances. Mostly, the way a series deals with an actor’s death is to briefly acknowledge that his character has either died or moved away.

It’s different with Glee. The series has dwelt on the harshness of life. It has often been emotionally anchored in sadness. It hasn’t shied away from sorrow. And Glee is not a sitcom like Cheers or 8 Simple Rules. As much as it might be considered escapist entertainment by some, its impact has been far more profound. It has nurtured the kids and teens who have clung to it as a guide to getting through the awfulness of adolescence.

Perhaps it’s best if it continues to nurture by taking that second option favoured by many of its followers – acknowledge Finn’s death, allow the other characters to deal with it and express grief. No matter how difficult it is for them and, especially, Lea Michele. After all, Glee posits art and performance as the path to transcending the harshness of life and overcoming pain. And these actors on Glee are certainly artists.

The show is good enough to do it well. And by doing so it can make death and grief less foreign, less uncomfortable for the kids and teenagers who have been inspired by it. They will face worse, as I did and we all do, when we are no longer kids.

Airing tonight

The Bridge (FX Canada, 10 p.m.) rolls out its second episode, one that will show us if the series has staying power and genuine dramatic heft. (The first episode last week was a huge hit for FX in the U.S.) Will central character, the U.S. cop Sonya (Diane Kruger) become less irritating? What The Bridge has going for it, no matter the characters, is a fabulously vivid sense of place – the divide between Juarez in Mexico and El Paso, Tex., just across the bridge. Border politics and a serial killer with a political message – that’s the gist, so far.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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