Despite those priorities the series notably lacks interviews with creator Ryan Murphy, other major producers, or cast members. The series features interviews with cheerfulness‘s former director of photography, head of the hair department, set decorator, art director and location manager – roles that, while crucial to the production of a television show, have little say in what happened when the stars went home. The series features extensive interviews with Rivera’s father, George Rivera, as well as three allegedly close friends of Monteith: former college roommate Justin Neill, actor Stephen Kramer Glickman, and Vancouver friend Frederic Robinson. But the closest thing to cast interviews comes from a former backup dancer and a few stand-ins.
Cast members Agree Overstreet and Becca Tobin have spoken out against the docuseries and doubted anyone in the core cast would be involved. In a joint interview with BuzzFeed in November 2022, former cast member Jenna Ushkowitz – who co-hosts a podcast called And that’s what you REALLY missed with comrade cheerfulness alum Kevin McHale — expressed her concerns about the documentary: “As far as the Discovery+ documentary goes, it feels even more important to me to make the podcast, because we were the ones who were there. And we were the ones experiencing this. And we know what really happened.”
The series’ approach to the cast’s misadventures is often inhumane. In The price of cheerfulness‘s first episode, every interview turns philosophical about the cast’s disorienting launch to prominence. They talk about Journey and the audition process. These memories would be benign, even boring – if it weren’t for the surreal true crime score dun-dun-dunon the background. “By 2020 all of it [this cast] would be famous,” the on-screen text tells viewers, “and three would be dead.
Unlike in cheerfulness themselves these camp moments offer no trace of irony. A montage of highlighted headlines, tweets and photos plays as if to illustrate the central thesis that yes, this show and its cast are, of course, cursed. The montage references 2019 from former cast member Melissa Benoist allegation of domestic violence to her ex-husband and former cheerfulness Co-star Blake Jenner. (In 2020, Jenner released a statement taking “full responsibility” for the pain he inflicted on Benoist, “emotionally, mentally, and yes, physically.”)
But cheerfulness is not a true crime story. The price of cheerfulness attempts to carve grand mythology from the lives of more than a dozen actors who once made small talk about craft services. Along the way, it often forgets that these people are people.
Benoist met a man at work, he became her husband and he made the choice to hurt her. There is no point in lumping allegations of domestic violence with the deaths of former colleagues or placing Rivera’s or Monteith’s names next to those of a man who died during a legal battle over child sexual abuse images. The series’ connections are tenuous at best, voyeuristic and damaging at worst.
cheerfulness was camp: gaudy and a little strange, amusing and with a confusing relationship to self-awareness. That sensitivity has long defined how the show is discussed. In the public imagination, stories about what happened behind the scenes at cheerfulness feel like natural extensions of the show’s own fun mirror image of the world.
But the cast of cheerfulness were just a group of colleagues. They worked together on a very specific – and very intense – TV show. They worked long hours, talked with blunders and seized. They fought, they fucked. They faced challenges that most of us can’t relate to (dodging stalking paparazzi) and the ones we can (micro-aggressions from type-A colleagues). Then their job ended. They continued. Some left the industry. Life happened.
There is probably a lot that is interesting Glee’s alumni — experiences we haven’t heard yet, hilarities and tragedies not yet unearthed. However, the key to any story is that people are what make a story interesting. The price of cheerfulness is not interested in that. The show mines lazy hot takes of tragedy. It’s a slap in the face to the people it exploits. And to a lesser extent, it is also an insult to those who watched at home. Those interested in how people navigate Hollywood’s extraordinary setting.
The stories we tell carry weight. No one – at least not yet – has understood how best to tell the story from whence it came cheerfulness. ●