Adam Rose/Fox


S1 E22
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June 09, 2010 at 04:00 PM EDT

I’ve been trying to collect my feelings on the first season of Glee. It’s difficult. For one thing, the experience has been spread out over the course of a year. There was awe-inspiring debut back in May 2009. Then the unsteady episodes in early fall — forget all the fake pregnancies, remember ”Acafellas”? But the show found its footing, and turned into a cross-platform phenomenon. ”Sectionals” was just about perfect… right in time for a months-long hiatus.

The back nine episodes have been a mixed bag. That’s to be expected. Glee was the out-of-nowhere underdog when it debuted. A cast of unknowns, most of them shockingly normal-looking? And in a musical drama, a genre that hasn’t been successful since, lemme think, NEVER ONCE IN TV HISTORY? There’s bound to be whiplash when a show like that turns into a phenomenon. Look no further than the first words of the ”Previously On” narration on last night’s season finale: ”I dunno anyone who’d miss an episode of Glee.” Very cheeky, ”Previously On” Narrator. Hubris alert! Icarus: meet the Sun.

Don’t get me wrong. The back half had great episodes, and some of the show’s best performances. I could watch Rachel’s ”Run, Joey, Run” video a million times and never get tired of it. Of course, not everybody liked ”Run, Joey, Run,” and not everybody (myself included) liked the Madonna episode. Glee is practically designed to be as a mixed bag, when you consider how it tries to reflect something like the entire sweep of  pop music history, from Judy Garland to Barbra Streisand to Madonna to Lady Gaga. Tell me how many times you’ve experienced this watching Glee: the kids start singing a song that you don’t recognize, but someone you’re watching it with says, ”Oh, I love this song!”

To me, though, the first season finale, ”Journey,” was just about perfect. Every essential plotline from the season reached a sense of closure (even the ones you might’ve wanted to forget: hello, Olivia Newton-John!) More than that, this was one of those high-energy episodes that narrowed its song focus (only four performances!) and found a just-right mix of cynicism and optimism, of banal reality and glam performance. Oh hell, I cried. How could you not?

The episode kicked off with Mr. Schue proudly posting a flyer for New Directions’ Regionals performance. Sue could sense his pride, and swooped in like a vulture: ”See you on Saturday,” she said, ”I’m one of the judges.” Schue complained to Figgins, but Figgins’ hands were tied: Don’t blame me, blame the Show Choir Governing Board, who went with celebrity judges this year.

Sue qualifies as a celebrity? Sue Sylvester, going way meta: ”I’m a legend. It’s happened.” Sue then created a new watershed moment in the history of jokes about Schuester’s hair: ”I’m having a really difficult time hearing anything you have to say today, because your hair looks like a briar patch. I keep expecting racist animated Disney characters to pop up and start singing songs about living on the bayou.”

NEXT: Mr. Schue’s man-tears

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Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, and high school anxiety star in Fox’s campy musical.
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