So, Glee is ending its run after 6 seasons (2 of those abbreviated). I, at one time, loved this series unashamedly, but somewhere along the way (specifically midway through the 3rd season) I started to hate the show. Reading that it was ending made me revisit the pilot to see if the show always had problems, and no: this show was so very promising at the start. And I think I am going to marathon it on Netflix (powering through that exceptionally rough patch in season 3) to kind of honor the series for what it was and what it did.
So, the pilot episode: As far as these things go, it is one hell of a start to the series. Great character intros all around, excellent song choices, and the show really managed to grasp that outsider feel so many feel in high school.
The Main Players:
Will Schuester: For the first part of the series, it really felt like this was going to be Will's story. You lose it a bit later on in the series, but he really was a good teacher at the start of it all. The episode focuses on his desire restart the Glee club that he was once the star of, and you really feel his passion for it. Matthew Morrison wasn't always given the best material, but this groundwork that the character was built on is solid, and it is somewhat a shame that he wasn't able to pick up an Emmy for at least this first season's work.
Sue Sylvester: Undeniably the breakout star of the show's first season (and really, the show in general), it was great to see character actress Jane Lynch gets such a great comedic showcase for her talent. I always though Sue should have been a recurring character, rather than a regular, as having her in every episode takes away quite of bit of the character's threat, but credit to Lynch for not losing it throughout the first season. What's great about the pilot episode is that you get to see more than just the Evil Antagonist Sue became later in the series. The benevolent dictator bit with the coffee (loved her repartee with Jayma Mays' Emma Pillsbury during that scene), the self-important condescension (gentle at first, but growing ever stronger) - Lynch gives this character nuance despite being able to quite easily fall into the villain role.
Emma Pillsbury: Oftentimes throughout the first few seasons, I felt that Jayma Mays was the under-sung hero of the series: Lynch received the bulk of the accolades, but Mays was doing solid character work also, and her unrequited crush on Will works so well during this episode in particular that you can't help but fall in love with the character. The OCD is done well at first also, though it does become a Very Special issue later on (but we will cross that bridge when we get to those episodes).
Rachel Berry: What theatre/choir kid didn't relate to this character? Played with Tracy Flickian cutthroatness tempered with a vulnerability that is quite affecting, Lea Michele could have very easily come across as unlikeable during this episode (and to be fair, later on they lose the balance to the detriment of the character). Instead, we get a perfect outcast type that doesn't feel overdone, and good Lord does Michele have some pipes on her. I especially love the scene on the bleachers with Mr. Schu.
Finn Hudson: Confession: I have never though Cory Montieth's voice warranted any of the love so many other characters throw at him. He was easily the weakest of the main Glee guys the first season, and it oftentimes felt like the other characters were trying to convince the viewers of his talent moreso than just complimenting him in the series. That said, Montieth does have a nice, if unspectacular voice. The real strength comes from the acting. Montieth does an excellent job of selling the not-quite-bright Finn's conflict between what is expected of him as a popular kid versus his enjoyment when performing.
Terri Schuester: Poor Jessalyn Gilsig. She does some great work in this role, often hilarious even in throwaway bits, but the character often comes across as so unlikable that one wonders how she and Will stayed together for any length of time, much less five years. Despite some great lines in this episode, most of her focus is on getting Will to get a job as an accountant and insulting his dream of getting the Glee Club restarted. This is another character that I think would have benefited from being recurring rather than a regular (although, to be fair, she misses quite a few episodes despite being in the opening credits). Ah well.
We get introduced to pretty much all the other major characters of the first season this episode, but most of them are small parts, so they will be discussed in greater detail when they are more prominent.
Audition songs from Kurt/Mercedes/Tina: Nice little snippets, but nothing really substantial to talk about.
Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat/You're the One That I Want: The same as above.
On My Own: Perfect mix of music and dialogue. Michele's performance is great, vocally. She really captures the longing needed to make this song work and it mixes well with the monologue that basically introduces you to the character. Glee was always at its best when mixing things this way, and it became much less common even later on in the first season. Still, I would rate this as the second best number of the premier.
Rehab: Totally inappropriate for high schoolers to be singing, but as far as a showcase for the rival team? Phenomenal. And the shocked looks of New Directions afterwords sells it even better.
Leaving on a Jet Plane: Beautifully sung, but kind of extraneous. Nicely captures Will's disappointment and inner conflict, but felt unnecessary.
Don't Stop Believin': Kind of the unofficial Official Song of Glee. This moment was perfection, and really sold you on everything the show could be when firing on all cylinders.
Whatever happened to Hank Saunders? Why didn't Will try to recruit him?
Did Lance get cut from the Cheerios? Sue called him the weak link. Really feel like this should have been followed up on.
This happens often throughout the series, but it sure seems like lots of teachers start to quit but change their minds before the end of the episode. Does Figgins even start the paperwork, or does he wait until they actually stop showing up?
How did the football team find out about their teammate watching Grey's Anatomy?
"Your resentment is delicious" - Sue Sylvester to Emma Pillsbury
Episode Grade: A