Three months after Canadian television actor Cory Monteith died from a drug overdose, Glee aired a highly-anticipated episode that addressed the death of his character, Finn Hudson.
And initial impressions from television critics note that while the cast's handling of grief – both real and fictional – struck a sincere emotional chord, the show lacked a necessary link to the circumstances surrounding Monteith's death.
On Wednesday, Alessandra Stanley from the New York Times revealed after previewing the episode, titled "The Quarterback" that it would take place three weeks after Finn's funeral with no mention of how he died nor any "elliptical references to the dangers of substance abuse – not even an Amy Winehouse song."
"That decision will undoubtedly disappoint antidrug advocates who may be hoping for a teachable moment, but it's a bold and respectful one. Rather than milk the tragedy and pump up news media attention and ratings, the show's writers went out of their way to step around the obvious," she continues.
In Brian Lowry's recap for Variety, he writes , "teens and young adults often die for highly preventable reasons much like Monteith did, and while a drug overdose would have been too on the nose, any of numerous other explanations – from drunk driving to other risky behaviors – would have made this not just a somber sendoff, but a teachable moment to the younger quadrant of the program's audience. And if that sounds dangerously close to Afterschool Special territory, creatively overcoming that sort of challenge would have been a truly admirable tribute."
Those who are okay with spoilers can read the Hollywood Reporter's take in which writer Lesley Goldberg provides a thorough look at how each main character copes with the loss.
Perhaps the frankest – even if unsurprising – takeaway from the tribute episode comes from The Washington Post's Hank Steuver who writes , "It's no secret that Glee's better days are increasingly behind it," saying that the tribute "brought out some of what's still good about the show and a lot of what's become stale about it."
He also makes a strong point in suggesting that co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk ostensibly "erased" the character from the show by failing to provide clips from previous episodes, focusing instead on moving on. "It came across as a bizarre absence of basic plot in a show that built its reputation on deftly locating comedy in the most uncomfortable personal details."
AV Club's Brandon Nowalk notes, "The episode is peppered with funny jokes and light deliveries. The closest a song comes to milking the emotion is 'Seasons Of Love,' and even that is so, well, produced that it doesn't start draining until Finn's picture appears."
His analysis might be the most thoughtfully comprehensive of the lot. He also observes, quite plainly, "It's always strange to see Glee governed with maturity, but here we are."
As the credits rolled, members of the cast delivered a public service announcement to raise awareness about addiction.
"Our friend Cory didn't look like an addict. He was happy, successful and seemingly had it all," said Jane Lynch who plays teacher Sue Sylvester, the incoming principal at William McKinley High School.
The show also posted a link to the website for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In an unfortunate twist of irony, this is one of the branches of government affected by the shutdown. It reads, "The agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted."