From High School to College: 4 Lessons Glee Should Take From Other Teen Shows

GLEE: Rachel (Lea Michele) gets a callback for her Broadway audition in the "All Or Nothing" season finale episode of GLEE airing Thursday, May 9 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Mike Yarish/FOX
Photo: Mike Yarish/FOX

With two more seasons to look forward to, Glee, which closed out its fourth season last night, faces a grown-up challenge — future beyond its high school walls. Glee already experienced such growing pains this season as the first wave of original cast members reached graduation age — Rachel and Kurt went to New York while others like Santana and Finn struggled to find a place outside of McKinley’s classrooms. How will the show navigate its final years? Here are four dos and don’ts that Glee might want to follow:

Don’t Keep Us Trapped in High School Too Long
Last night’s Glee season finale saw the group win Regionals, a competition that usually takes place halfway through the show’s spring season, with the final episodes focused on Nationals and graduation. This year now ends not at a natural break in the school calendar, but at a point that leaves us wondering what comes next. Teen TV has seen this before, most notably with Saved by the Bell. The show stretched the high school experience out over various sorts of time-shifted seasons — sometimes airing prom-focused episodes in early September or 4th of July beauty pageant episodes in October. Glee’s big what-if will be how they address the passage of time when the show returns in September. Wisdom suggests the gang will finish out the school year and then potentially head to college. Still, the newbie characters of this season will only be juniors even if graduation rolls around in December, and keeping the show tethered to them and Ohio spells doom. There’s a reason high school only lasts four years, and only so many prom-themed plotlines an audience can endure.

Do Use College as a Setting, Not a Plot Point
A show that excelled at transitioning to college was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Instead of focusing on the trials and tribulations of organic chemistry exams, Buffy let the characters undergo growth — which is half of what college is for in the first place. Buffy explored a tumultuous relationship with Spike and Willow discovered her witchy powers (and sexual identity). Glee’s college experiences thus far have been hit or miss. In the case of Santana’s brief stint at Louisville we only caught sparring, sapphic glimpses framed around her breakup with Brittany. Finn’s somewhat random Lima Community College matriculation decision came mid-year, and featured frat-type antics and fleeting plot points.

NYADA, the fictional performing arts school that Rachel and Kurt head to, however, resulted in the most character development, and the setting allowed the show to introduce a love interest for Rachel and a hard-ass teacher in Cassandra July, while it allowed Kurt to find his place outside of an educational setting with Isabelle Wright at the offices. Unfortunately, much of that was overshadowed by frequent returns to Ohio, and if Glee wants to continue to tell the story of artistic ambition, a greater focus on New York will be needed next season.

Do Focus on Your Best Characters
When Dawson’s Creek made the leap from high school to college, it shifted in focus from Dawson to Joey, while still keeping much of the gang close together by picking Boston — a city known for its many colleges — as a location, thus sidestepping the perilous “we all somehow ended up at the same school!” trope. This past Glee season has been strongest when dealing with storylines surrounding fan favorite characters. The original retconning of Blaine’s age after season two (despite being called “Junior Member” of the Warblers in season two, he was suddenly a junior to his boyfriend Kurt’s senior status in season three) allowed the New York and Ohio storylines to co-exist this season. But even with an extended senior year for Blaine and his crew, the links holding our most beloved characters to Ohio are wearing thin. If Glee knows what’s good for it, it will give up the choir room in favor of Kurt Hummel.

Don’t Get Trapped by Teen Marriage
This season’s final shot shows Blaine clutching an engagement ring behind his back in the choir room as the gang celebrates Emma and Will’s impromptu wedding. Despite warnings from all sides, and the actual fact that Kurt and Blaine aren’t even dating at this juncture, all signs point to next season dealing with the aftermath or actual action of Blaine’s surprise proposal to Kurt. As interesting as it will be to have the teen marriage trope finally played out between gay characters, it’s an impulse that Glee should avoid. The show already toyed with the idea of high school sweethearts rushing to the altar last season to disastrous results with Finn and Rachel, and the teen TV track record around too-young engagements and marriages isn’t sparkling. Following its season five nuptials between Corey and Topanga, Boy Meets World became an unexciting show about young marriage for the remainder of the series. Of course, that glorious union is now breathing new life into the franchise with Girl Meets World, a next generation series that features the daughter of Corey and Topanga thirteen years after the original show’s finale. Perhaps Glee is just gearing up for a spinoff fifteen years down the road about Kurt and Blaine’s adorable fraternal twins starting a glee club of their own. But if the show wants to stay palatable for now, the show would be wise to steer clear of this storyline.

4 Lessons Glee Should Take From Other Teen Shows