A Tale of Two Time Jumps: How ‘Glee’s’ Final Season Will Be Different From ‘One Tree Hill’s’

The quirky universe of Glee — sometimes a campy paean to musical theatre, other times a heart-wrenching after-school special — has undergone a few different mutations since Cory Monteith’s death last July. Finn Hudson and Rachel Berry’s diverging paths were meant to intersect once again in the series finale, in a final scene showrunner Ryan Murphy said he’d planned for years. But when Cory — and with him, Finn — died, Murphy chose to let the McKinley High Glee Club suffer the same fate. It was bittersweet, but not really; the lame Ohio high school story lines had taken a backseat to the grittier and far more interesting New York scenes. We said a quick goodbye to Mr. Schue and basically nothing to the younger McKinley students, then the star older characters — Rachel, Kurt, Artie, Sam, Mercedes, and Blaine — moved to NYC to finish out Season 5.

Season 6 — Glee’s final chapter — comes with another unexpected change. In an interview with TVLine on Tuesday, Murphy revealed that there will be a time jump between Seasons 5 and 6. This means the show is essentially being thrust through the same wormhole that allowed the 20-something high schoolers on One Tree Hill to skip college and finally look their ages.

Time jumps are difficult devices, usually reserved for the last scenes of series finales to bring viewers some far-reaching future closure. But jump too far and things get icky — old-age hair and makeup on a TV budget are only so realistic (we’re still hurting from Robin’s helmet/wig in the How I Met Your Mother finale), and some shows go overboard trying to wrap up every single loose end. So let’s take One Tree Hill‘s multi-season experiment as a cautionary tale for Ryan Murphy & Co., and see what lessons can be pulled from its wreckage.

On OTH, the jump between Seasons 4 and 5 made sense, given that they were only placing the show four years ahead to skip the college years. But even then, it asked us to suspend a lot of disbelief about what the small town North Carolina teens had accomplished by age 22: Peyton became a music producer, Lucas wrote a bestselling novel, Haley became a pop star, and Brooke was a successful fashion designer (brand name: “Clothes Over Bros”). Plot lines included Nathan’s partial-paralysis and subsequent recovery (people always miraculously recover from being paralyzed on TV, don’t they?), and 22-year old Brooke trying to adopt a 15-year old daughter. Eventually, time jumped ahead another year, Lucas and Peyton left the show, and they brought on a bunch of other characters we were supposed to care about, but couldn’t (clearly this was when my loyalty to the show wore out).

While One Tree Hill eventually lasted nine seasons, the show lost its spark somewhere in the year or two after the original jump. Glee, I think, is likely to fare better, and here’s why. First of all, they’ve already done the hard-to-believe successes: Rachel got the lead in Funny Girl on Broadway as a drama school freshman, Santana swooped in and became Fanny Bryce’s understudy after one song, and Mercedes is some sort of ambiguously successful bi-coastal pop star. Thus, any major grown-up successes they might throw at us in Season 6 will be expected, because the entire show has been about talented underdogs clawing their way to the top. It also helps that their talents are visible to us, and in a meta sense, propelled many of them from unknown TV stars to household names — as opposed to Brooke’s fashion empire on OTH, which consisted mainly of sassy, screen-printed T-shirts.

Apart from the main cast, Murphy is also skilled at weaving side characters into the Glee world and convincing us to care about them quickly — Marley, Jake, Unique, and Kitty entered the Glee family easily. Murphy made Marley so likeable that it took a full two episodes for me to start questioning her affection for hideous newsboy caps. It helps, of course, that the original cast was so large that a few could quit without leaving a gaping hole in the show. Plus, we’ve known the cast members who will be jumping from the beginning. Rightly, Murphy is leaving those with less of a history behind instead of testing the elasticity of our affections.

We don’t know how far Glee will jump yet, but with a finite number of episodes left, we won’t be expected to meet a bunch of new faces and care about them just as much as the future versions of our old friends. (And also, in the span of one season, no one has time to get bored and quit.) Because Murphy’s kept original cast members, the only factor to which we’ll really need to adapt is the timeline. And since so few of them have been following a traditional college path, it won’t be jarring when school isn’t the main setting anymore like it was for One Tree Hill. It was especially savvy, too, that Glee‘s move to New York was more akin to grafting than a transplant; episodes contained bits of Ohio and NYC until we were ready to make the move permanent. The time jump seems like it’s coming at exactly the right time.

Murphy told TV Line, “My feeling about the last season of Glee is very clear.” That clarity of vision — and from an acclaimed showrunner — is already more than One Tree Hill had to work with. If it’s successful, Glee‘s final season could be a sharp precursor for Lea Michele’s rumored spin-off. If not, it’ll be just one crashing-and-burning season in the history of a wildly successful show. And in the words of Neil Young, whose own music has been performed on Glee, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”