Photo Credit: Courtesy of FOX
It's been three months since the death of Cory Monteith, and tonight, Glee is airing the long-awaited tribute to his character of Finn Hudson: "The Quarterback".
Monteith's loss has been difficult enough to process. (The actor was well-loved, and the show's creator Ryan Murphy described Monteith as "guy who never had a bad word for anybody.") But losing Finn is also a blow.
“We had a beautiful memorial for Cory in the auditorium and some of the cast members sang and people spoke about him," his girlfriend Lea Michele (who played his on-screen love Rachel Berry) told Australia's TV WEEK. "It only felt right that we would do the same thing for Finn."
On most teen shows, there's a hunky high school boy at the center of things. Finn was Glee's Jordan Catalano. Granted, on this show about celebrating differences, he sometimes sacrificed screen time to make room for the outspoken gay kid and various other targets of bullies. But he was the hunk that everyone pined for, and his relationship with Rachel was the show's central love story. Among Glee's many characters, Finn was a major one to lose.
On tonight's tribute episode (9 p.m. ET on FOX), Finn's friends, loved ones and teachers will gather, sing, crack jokes and comfort one another as they grapple with the incomprehensible news of his passing. Murphy is aware that fans, too, will be maneuvering their way through an unfamiliar and devastating reality -- anyone can die, even a young, popular jock -- and he's offered advice for watching the episode.
"For people who are fans of the show, and him particularly, I think it would be great if they watched it with other fans, because it has that sort of family feel to it," he told E!.
Michele expressed the same sentiment when explaining why she returned to work after his death last July (of an alcohol and heroin overdose). "Everyone is asking: 'Is it hard to do this?" she told Austrailia's TV WEEK. "Is it hard to be back at work?', but the truth is it’s no harder at work than it is in life so we might as well all be together as a family supporting each other to get through this together."
And that decision allowed her castmates to process their own grief. "She had one of the first songs we filmed for the episode," Matthew Morrison (Mr. Schue) told the magazine. "And she did it so beautifully and after, she said something like, 'It can’t be harder for anyone else than it was for me'… so we knew we had to show up because our leader stepped forward and kind of gave permission to all of us to do it. I don’t think we could have done it without her."
The episode allows no time for talking about the cause of Finn's death; instead, it focuses on the ways that his friends, family and teachers deal with their emotions in its aftermath.
And they range from indescribably poignant to, well, sort of funny. Rachel has been hard hit, of course, and her song is all the more heart wrenching in lieu of the fact that Michele herself is devastated by her real-life loss. Finn's mother Carole (Romy Rosemont) is inconsolable, yet manages to articulate her grief: "You don’t get to stop waking up," Carole says. "You have to keep on being a parent even though you don’t get to have a child anymore."
Meanwhile, while the episode tries to take a lighter tone, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) cries woefully about having to wear black. She gave up this goth color two years ago! And then there's the tracksuit-loving Sue (Jane Lynch), who urges her fellow faculty members to do their part “by not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness.”
Of course, the tribute relies heavily on Glee's main strength -- its musical calling card -- throughout the episode. All the proceeds from "The Quarterback" music will benefit Monteith's favorite charities (the album is already sitting near the top of the iTunes charts before the episode has even aired). Here are the songs:
"He was our quarterback on the set, in our Glee family, and he was the quarterback of the football team and the glee club," Lynch told USA Today. "So we lost a big, big presence."
One that no teen show should ever have to lose.
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.