Glee, which premiered in 2009, was never expected to become the entertainment behemoth that it did. But the show from creator Ryan Murphy, about the ups and downs of a high school glee club, became a ratings juggernaut and thrust several formerly unknown actors into the spotlight. Within the first two seasons, the stars of Glee became some of the biggest celebrities of the 2010s, and their fame continued after the show wrapped up its sixth and final season in 2015 and many of them moved onto other projects.
The 2013 death of the beloved actor Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson, brought renewed attention to the show and its stars and generated new interest in what happened behind the scenes. There were reports of ongoing feuds between the stars, a workhorse mentality that had the stars rarely ever taking a break, and sadly, more tragic deaths to come.
To this day, a fervent fan base continues to support the Glee cast, and still clamors for details about what happened on set. There was excitement when Investigation Discovery announced back in December that they would be releasing a three-part docuseries about the television series, The Price of Glee, that re-examined the deaths of the show’s major stars—in addition to Monteith, Mark Salling in 2018 and Naya Rivera in 2020. But when the trailer was released, that excitement was largely extinguished.
In the trailer, one of the interview subjects (who is revealed to be a cinematographer, Christopher Baffa) mentions that there might be a “curse” on the show. It’s not the first time the idea of a curse was mentioned in reference to the series; the idea had floated around on social media, to the displeasure of fans. The idea that the docuseries would focus on a curse gave it an impression of salaciousness and exploitation, prompting fans and cast members alike to begin to speak out against it.
The three-part series premiered on Monday, Jan. 16. Here’s what to know about the series and the reaction to it.
What is the alleged Glee “curse” and why are people upset about the idea?
It’s as simple as it sounds: because eight people involved with the show have died (three cast members and five crew members), some have pushed the narrative that there was a “curse” on Glee. Monteith died of an accidental heroin overdose in between the filming of Glee’s fourth and fifth seasons. In 2015, Salling was arrested for possession of child pornography and two years later, he pleaded guilty. He died by suicide in January 2018, just two months before his sentencing. Rivera died by accidental drowning after saving her son while swimming in a lake near their home in California in 2020.
Outside of the tragic deaths of three major cast members, there were deaths among the crew as well. Two members died of a heart attack: Jim Fuller, an assistant director, and a man named Paul, who was in charge of props. In addition to Salling, there were two more deaths by suicide: Nancy Motes, a production assistant, and an unnamed rigger. The main stand-in for Matthew Morrison, Mark Watson, died in a car crash.
Many have criticized the idea of a “curse,” which they say dramatizes and cheapens these tragic deaths. Still others lament how The Price of Glee groups the three late stars together, even though Salling had admitted to being in possession of child pornography. The cinematographer doubles down on his “curse” theory in the second episode, saying that all of these deaths created a “pattern.”
When the idea of the “curse” was first brought up on social media, fans expressed their disappointment with the handling of these sensitive topics.
What has the Glee cast said about the documentary?
This docuseries has been largely subject to disapproval by the cast and the fans. Some of the original cast members have spoken out against it. Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz, who now have their own Glee recap podcast called And That’s What You REALLY Missed, have both denounced the project. When a writer tweeted that cast and crew were involved, McHale tweeted, “Show me this cast you speak of. This is [trash].” He continued, “This was the nice version [for the record]. Don’t make me speak on this again.”
This was the nice version, ftr. Don’t make me speak on this again.
— Kevin McHale (@druidDUDE) December 10, 2022
Ushkowitz said she and McHale were not associated with the controversial docuseries. “We were the ones who were there, and we were the ones experiencing this. And we know what really happened.” In November, their fellow cast member Chord Overstreet called the documentary a “gossip thing,” saying, “I think all that’s bullsh-t. I think anybody that knows anything about that show and experienced it doesn’t have anything to do with that from what I know.” Becca Tobin, who was introduced to the cast toward the end of the series, said on a podcast that the cast is still a family and they have loyalty. “It doesn’t matter what happened on that set.”
TIME reached out to McHale, Ushkowitz, Overstreet, and Tobin—in addition to over a dozen other members of the cast. Reps for McHale, Michele, Riley, Shum, and Benoist all declined to comment.
What can Glee fans expect from the three-part docuseries?
A lot of nothing. No primary or secondary cast members from the show are interviewed. The closest viewers get to actual cast members are stand-ins for some of the actors like Chris Colfer and Naya Rivera (stand-ins mostly help camera crew, lighting, and directing keep the actor’s place if they step off set) and one of the actors who plays a member of the central glee club’s rival team, Vocal Adrenaline.
Other interview subjects include heads of the hair department for different seasons, gaffers, the assistant to the executive producer, a cinematographer, former publicists, and friends of the stars. Rivera’s father, George, makes an appearance at the end of the first and second episodes. In the third episode, he goes further into detail about his relationship with his daughter her relationship with Salling, whom she dated early on in Glee’s run. He mostly offers up that he’s “still looking for answers” as to why a “strong swimmer” like his daughter wasn’t able to make it back to the boat.
Initial reviews of the docuseries have been released. The Daily Beast called it “ghoulish, gossipy garbage,” and many have echoed the argument that one reviewer from Buzzfeed made, saying this documentary “cheapens” the work of a beloved show with a complex legacy.
If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.