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'Glee' grand finale feels more like an afterglow

GLEE: L-R: Mercedes (Amber Riley), Kurt (Chris Colfer),

GLEE: L-R: Mercedes (Amber Riley), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Blaine (Daren Criss), Rachel (Lea Michele), Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Artie (Kevin McHale) and Kitty (Becca Tobin) watch Will and Sam perform in the special two-hour "2009/Dreams Come True" Series Finale episode of GLEE airing Friday, March 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Credit: FOX


WHEN|WHERE Friday at 8 p.m. on Fox/5. The two-part series finale: "2009" (at 8) and "Dreams Come True" (at 9).

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Friday's two-parter begins with a flashback episode -- hey, why did the other members of New Directions first decide to audition for the McKinley High glee club all those years ago? The second hour is the grand finale, and Gleeks already know that Sue Sylvester's (Jane Lynch) ill-fated-but-talented Vocal Adrenaline lost the sectionals to archrival Mr. Schuester's (Matthew Morrison) New Directions. (A preview screener was not made available.)

MY SAY While the few remaining Gleeks out there will disagree, "Glee's" moment pretty much passed about three years ago, or specifically May 22, 2012, with "Goodbye," the third-season finale. That was the moment for the final curtain, or at least the final Foreigner anthem. Absolutely everything showrunners Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan had probably wanted to accomplish had been accomplished by then. Popular culture had long since succumbed to "Glee's" will and relentless charm. The "Glee" message of tolerance and acceptance had not only been received, but embraced.

Besides, "Glee" had always been a coming-of-age story, not an of-age story (college, Broadway, Rachel's awful sitcom) that it mostly turned into afterward. Goodbye and good night.

Instead, "Glee" ends Friday, and probably a few million people need a reminder that it's even still on.

By now, "Glee" feels more like an afterglow, or remnant, reminding us all that something remarkable once happened here. And something did: Albums, concerts, tours, books, household-name status for a few of the stars, and a whole new re-evaluation of the tracksuit as a fashion option, courtesy of Sue Sylvester.

Then, of course, there was a TV series, too. "Glee" essentially applied high school alienation, angst and social stigma -- the rootstock of a thousand teen movies and TV series that had come before -- to the achingly specific experience on one Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), who initially refused to emerge from the closet because of a justifiable fear of what was on the other side.

In time he did emerge, and as a gay lead on a mainstream hit, Hummel -- and Colfer -- was also the first missionary of many in Murphy's mission to get LGBT acceptance on TV and in the culture at large.

"This show has allowed a lot of people to redo high school, and do it right," Falchuk once told Variety. What he might have added is that it also championed every LGBT teen who was frightened, marginalized or bullied. "Glee" was especially for them.

But "Glee" also championed much else: The arts, Broadway, Madonna, while covering just about every major pop hit from every pop icon from Adele to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As music producer, Murphy's own tastes tended to show tunes -- notably, repeatedly from "Wicked" -- but "Glee's" superb musical support, led mostly by Adam Anders, covered everything else. With some sorry genre exceptions, "Glee" was an encyclopedic spread of late-20th and early-21st century pop standards.

How to say goodbye to all that? Hard to say, but the memory of Finn Hudson -- Cory Monteith, who died in July 2013 -- seems like a good and bittersweet place to end. Gentle, soulful, melancholy Finn. He was Murphy's most effective missionary, as the straight teen who came to question his own assumptions about football, high school and even life, and ended up loving . . . everyone.

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