I hope I don't have to write this kind of post ever again. It hurts to lose someone you used to look forward to seeing on TV every week, someone not that much older than you.
I may not have watched Glee very much this season, but my appreciation for the show's first two seasons will always be there. And I was there to see the show's cast experience the kind of insane success that seems almost unfathomable to the rest of us. (I don't want to call it "overnight success," since many cast members worked very very hard before they booked Glee.) The pilot episode is still one of my favourite pilots of the last five years. And that's why it hurt me so much to find out that we lost Cory Monteith yesterday.
This post won't include any pictures of him or clips from the show. I'm still kind of processing the fact that he's gone.
I can't even imagine what his castmates are going through. They worked with him every day. They rose to fame with him. And, as far as I know, they were all good friends. So the question remains: how can the show deal with this? There's no chance to casually write him out or give Finn Hudson a real goodbye. And I'm quite sure that despite all the tumult Finn seems to have gone through in season 4, that the writing staff would want to do his character justice. I can't even imagine how they would go about this.
When NewsRadio tragically lost Phil Hartman, they had no choice but to keep going, and write an episode where the staff find out that his character, Bill McNeil, has passed away. It can't have been easy for his castmates to film that episode, since they were going through exactly the same thing as their characters. In a nice meta tribute to Hartman himself, they ended up finding a replacement in Jon Lovitz, who seemed ready to fill some of the emptiness left by the loss of such a great comic actor.
Probably the closest thing to a blueprint for the Glee writers would be the way that John Ritter's death was handled on 8 Simple Rules. (I don't think Glee could call on James Garner to play a friendly, loving grandpa, but if there's a context for it, then by all means please let it happen.) They already did something similar in season 2, when Kurt's dad suffered a heart attack and survived. It was a real instance of serious drama that shook the teenage characters, and it rang true to life. Teenagers mourn death differently than adults do, so the emotions we saw on NewsRadio might not really translate the same way to Glee. Lots of teenagers have seen much of themselves in the characters - to the point that the show has often served them, and tried to communicate important messages instead of just being good for a laugh. And, ultimately, the show has probably been the better for it - maybe not creatively, but certainly as a media phenomenon.
If it were up to me, I'd take inspiration from an unexpected source. One of the most touching tributes I've ever seen to a fallen cast member came from 90's sitcom Suddenly Susan. (No, I never expected to make a Suddenly Susan reference on this blog.) David Strickland committed suicide before the third season had finished filming. How do you say goodbye to a character when you barely have time to say goodbye to the person? By letting your cast say goodbye to the person. An episode where the characters spend the day looking for Strickland's character, Todd, was peppered with talking-head footage of the cast (out of character, though that's never 100% clear) paying tribute to their friend. I remember seeing that episode in syndication a couple of years after it aired and it still packed a huge emotional punch. I know how much the characters on Glee need to express themselves. Giving them an outlet to do that, especially in their own words, one by one, would be a fitting tribute. Somehow I feel like putting Monteith's friends and girlfriend through rehearsals and multiple takes of a musical number would be difficult, and kind of unfair.
If it were up to me, I'd wait a little while to write the season premiere, and I'd let a few fictional months pass, so that whatever tragedy befell Finn is in the past. Instead of dealing with the shock of his death, I'd have the characters learn what it's like to go through the first few months of "normal" life after the loss of a friend. But I'm not Ryan Murphy. He's a talented and focused showrunner, and he'll probably know exactly what to write and when it should happen.
Until that episode airs, all we can do is wonder.