Thursday night’s episode of the Fox series Glee hit too close to home for some families in Newtown, Conn.
The hour-long musical comedy has been known to take on serious issues—from eating disorders to bullying and suicide—but its most recent episode centers around a possible school shooting. As members of the fictional McKinely High School’s glee club begin rehearsal in the school’s choir room, gun shots ring out and the students and teachers immediately go into lockdown mode.
“Start texting, tweeting. Let everyone know what’s going on, but don’t tell them we’re here. Shooters have smartphones too,” glee club teacher Will Schuester tells his terrified students as they hide in corners of the darkened choir room, crying and hugging. A few minutes later, one student begins recording his friends on his phone as they say their last goodbyes in case none of them survive.
The Newtown Action Alliance, an anti-gun violence group formed by Newtown residents after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, posted messages to its Facebook page Thursday evening before the episode aired, warning viewers about the subject matter of the episode. “I would suggest if you do watch this TV show to either not watch it tonight or watch with caution,” the post read.
The comments on the Newtown Action Alliance’s page were divided after the episode aired.
One viewer wrote, “Art and culture need to show the horror of this first before society can follow…We are all for massacre control aka gun control for a reason. Everybody needs to know and feel why.”
But Andrew Paley, whose two sons survived the shooting at Sandy Hook, disagreed. “It’s too soon as our kids and our own wounds are still too new,” Paley wrote on the Facebook page. He added that the producers should have given a warning to Newtown residents before the episode aired.
In a letter obtained by WNBC, the superintendent of schools in Newtown sent a letter to families warning them about the episode, quoting a preview that described it as “claustrophobic and emotionally charged, as students cower in the rehearsal room and consider their possible fates.”
Nobody was injured in the episode, and the gun shots were later revealed to have been an accident—but the commentary in the script’s dialogue still drew parallels to Sandy Hook.
“I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when that gun went off. Something was taken from them—their innocence, their idealism, a feeling of safety,” Schuester says as he watches students enter McKinley High through metal detectors in the days following the incident.
The episode also entered the political side of the issue: the gun control debate. ”The safety net of the public mental health system is gone,” cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester says near the end of the episode. “Parents with troubled kids are too busy working three jobs to look after them. And the gun yahoos have everyone so worked up about Obama taking away their guns that every house has a readily available arsenal.”