"Glee" Bids Farewell to Monteith, Finn

Thursday's Cory Monteith/Finn Hudson farewell is shaping up as a bittersweet tribute to an actor – and a character – who held the show together.

By Jere Hester
|  Thursday, Oct 10, 2013  |  Updated 4:57 PM CDT
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Other TV series have woven a cast member's death into an episode honoring them and their character. But

AP

Other TV series have woven a cast member's death into an episode honoring them and their character. But "Glee" has an especially sensitive task.The Fox series will pay tribute Thursday to Cory Monteith, who was found dead in a Canadian hotel room in July of an accidental alcohol and drug overdose that ended his long, self-described fight against addiction at age 31.

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Even in the best of ensemble TV shows, there's almost always a clear star – an actor whose name comes first in the credits for playing (in most cases) a relatively stable character at the center of the action. Think Judd Hirsch in "Taxi," Alan Alda in "MASH" and Bea Arthur in "The Golden Girls," to name a scant few. Steve Carell filled the role on "The Office," save for the last two Michael Scott-free seasons.

"Glee," which marches – and dances and sings – to the beat of its own conveniently ever-present in-house drummer, is a pure ensemble show. It’s produced breakout characters, to be sure, but there’s no one headliner at McKinley High.

On Thursday, though, “Glee” will have an undisputed star, for at least one night. The show’s sole focus deservedly will be on Corey Monteith, whose recent death will be addressed in what's destined to be the program’s most emotionally wrenching hour.
 
The episode is titled, “The Quarterback,” a nod to his character Finn Hudson’s dual leadership of the school football team and glee club, as well as Monteith’s off-screen role. Monteith was never the star of “Glee,” but he was the glue of a program that regularly splits in different, often new directions.

Monteith’s earnest man-child Finn bridged not only the worlds of sports and song, but of dreams and reality (as in the great “Grilled Cheesus” episode), and, during last season, youth and adulthood. Sadly, with his death, Monteith is helping the show broach the toughest, especially for the young, of life’s passages.
 
Other shows have thrived after the death of an actor who portrayed a major character: “Dallas” lost two Ewing Family patriarchs (Jim Davis and Larry Hagman) 31 years apart. Nancy Marchand passed away before her TV son, Tony Soprano, could come to grips with his mommy issues. Nicholas Colasanto, who played the sweet-souled coach on “Cheers,” died three seasons into the classic sitcom’s 11-season run.

Colasanto succumbed to illness at 61, while the others were all north of 70. Monteith’s death in July at age 31 is more akin to the loss in 1977 of 22-year-old Freddie Prinze, another strong young performer who couldn’t overcome his personal demons.
 
“Chico and the Man” continued without Prinze, but not even the great Jack Albertson could keep the show going for long with a new, younger sitcom partner. The death of Prinze’s character wasn’t addressed until the series staggered to a close a year-and-a-half later.

The tribute to Monteith and the death of Finn come in the third show of the season for “Glee,” which opened with a two-part salute to the Beatles, who famously sang, “life goes on” in “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.” As “Glee” prepares to push ahead while saying goodbye to an actor and a character who helped hold the show together, check out a promo for “The Quarterback” above:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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