Tuesday night's winter finale of "Glee" tackled the difficult topic of teen bullying and suicide. David Karofsky (Max Adler) — who bullied Kurt (Chris Colfer) because of his sexuality only to be revealed later as gay himself — tried to kill himself after teammates at his new school discovered the football player was gay and viciously harassed him verbally and online.
Karofsky's attempt was unsuccessful but it brought the subject to the forefront for all of the characters. And while the show's decision to take on the topic was bold, the portrayal has inspired a mixed reaction.
Among the viewers who felt the topic was handled deftly and with great care is David McFarland, the interim executive director and CEO of the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. The group aired a much-discussed PSA featuring "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe during the episode.
"It's clear after last night's episode that Ryan Murphy and his team did an excellent job of doing their research to tell a tough story and we were very proud to be involved and have the opportunity to air Trevor's PSA with Daniel Radcliffe," McFarland told MTV News on Wednesday (February 22).
Others, however, complained that the episode had too many additional story lines — a teen wedding, the Regionals' singing competition and a major incident for one of the principal characters that we won't spoil here — which ultimately served to oversimplify and trivialize an important topic.
MTV News' own "Glee" re-capper, Kevin Sullivan, took particular offense to a comment made by Mr. Schuester, who revealed that his own suicide attempt was prompted by being caught cheating on a math test.
"Suicide has so many aspects to consider that it cannot be glossed over in the same hour that features a regional show choir competition and a fictional wedding," Sullivan said.
McFarland disagreed, however, saying he thought the episode was an example of responsible storytelling. "[The Trevor Project wasn't] told in advance ... what the episode was going to be, we weren't on-set advisors to the episode," McFarland added. "We've been involved to the extent that if they were going to tell the story about suicide, we just wanted to make sure that they had access to resources to tell that story properly."
What seemed to be sloppy product placement also raised some eyebrows given the subject matter. After a member of McKinley's Christian student club (a.k.a. the "God Squad") mentions that they're sending Karofsky an Edible Arrangement, we later spot the fruit bouquet when Kurt visits the hospital. And when Warbler Sebastian announces that his team will be taking donations for Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation at Regionals, some couldn't help but cringe.
While the Born This Way Foundation's anti-bullying mission aligns well with the episode's message, some fans questioned the wisdom of plugging the yet-to-launch organization of a major pop star when other, less-visible organizations have demonstrated their work on the matter. Still, McFarland thinks the show did a great service by putting the topic of LGBT teen suicide on a large national platform; he's happy the subject is getting the national attention it deserves.
"It's being discussed on many platforms and levels throughout this country, including on the radar screen of the president and first lady of the United States," McFarland said. "And a story like this reinforces the important attention that this country needs to give to what is truly a health crisis in America.
"We really need to provide safe spaces and environments for our youth and that episode told that story beautifully," he continued. "More of these stories need to be told, more work needs to be done. Overall, we need to do a much better job for our young people in providing safe environments and they need to feel socially, emotionally and physically safe and supported at home, in their communities and their schools."
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