As you might have heard by now, Glee actor Cory Monteith has died, leaving the show with the question of how to handle the loss of one of its biggest stars. Monteith had not appeared in last season's final episodes as he was in a rehab facility, but was to play a prominent part in the first two episodes of the upcoming season.
Deadline.com reports that the star's death "creates something of a crossroad for show creator [Ryan] Murphy," noting that the actor's return to the series post-rehab was "sure to have been a ratings draw"... but that writing his death into the show "could draw even bigger numbers."
It's a cynical way of looking at death in show business, but Glee's decision going forward will be just that: business. Given that this is a show that hasn't shied away from covering controversial or sensitive topics like teen pregnancy, teen sex, relationships for people with developmental disabilities, and more, it isn't far-fetched to think that it will tackle its star's death head on. But, given the mixed (at best) reaction to one of its more headline-grabbing plot points -- a school shooting -- Glee can't always be trusted to deal with a delicate subject in a way that doesn't feel pointless, shameless, or blatantly exploitative.
So here's how they can deal with Monteith's surprising death: Don't.
In her statement regarding Monteith's death, co-star Naya Rivera notes that, while the cast is grateful for fans' well wishes, "privacy during this time of grief is greatly appreciated." Add to this the fact that Monteith's real-life girlfriend, Lea Michele, played his on-off-and-on-again love interest, Rachel, on the show. To have these actors work out their grief for the sake of a plot point can conceivably work, but only in the hands of the most skilled writers and director. And only if the actors are able to either bury or channel their incredible grief in order to spout off lines about a fictional person when someone very real is gone forever.
But Glee is not a show known for its maturity, its restraint, or its depth. Glee is a nothing so much as an after-school special that is losing its hold on viewers and uses cheap ploys, like a recent discussion on school shootings and mass violence, to draw in numbers at the expense of plot, character development, or substance. Glee will never illuminate its viewers; it won't tell its fans anything it doesn't already know about death and loss and the grieving process. It's not a smart enough show to do that, and it has shown this in the way it has fumbled big ideas and reduced broad, scary, complicated concepts to a song that will later be sold on iTunes. Again: Just take a good long look at the fact that this show did a musical school shooting episode and tacked the blame on a developmentally disabled student who brought a gun to school because, well, SOMEONE needed to shoot a firearm in order for this episode to get your attention.
And while it's true that Monteith's fans might want some closure, that's not the duty of the show. This is beyond the scope of a sitcom that tries to be something more. Besides, there are ways to mourn celebrity we will never really know without requiring, for example, their girlfriend to focus their rage and their sadness on the passing of a fictional person in order to sell detergent ads.