Rumors began swirling this week that Naya Rivera, a cast member on the hit show Glee, had been fired from the Fox’s popular musical series. The reports coming from set of the show differ in what exactly happened; some allege that the 27 year old actress, who has been on the series since the very first episode, had been feuding with costar Lea Michele, reportedly over Michele’s unprofessional behavior on set. Others say that the actress had serious disagreements with the producers of the series. Not much is known for certain; even whether or not the actress has been let go from the series, now in its fifth season. While US Weekly insists she has been given the boot, her representatives have stated that news of her firing is unequivocally false. True or not, the Rivera’s portrayal of Santana Lopez, the viciously feisty but soulful cheerleader, has been a consistent high point of the series even when the show had long passed the point of diminishing returns. She managed to take a tiny part and turn it into the show’s most compelling character, always consistently cutting through the show’s tendency for schmaltz and melodrama to deliver either genuine hilarity or true, raw emotion – a welcome rarity on a show that came to rely on sappy over-dramatics as it went on. If the actress truly has taken her curtain call, here are some of her most satisfying performances that fans of the show will surely not soon forget in the wake of her possible firing.
Rivera worked her way up from having single throwaway lines to building an actual character throughout the first season through the sheer power of her undeniable performance; she made every line pop, forcing the show to give her character more and more. By the time the show’s later years rolled around, she was one of the de facto leads. Along the same lines, her vocal chops were teased out slowly as well. Fans may have first realized the power of the actress’s vocal chops when she finally got her own solo riffs in songs like Like a Virgin. Santana’s first solo, however, did not come until season two, delivering the sass she had cultivated so well on Amy Winehouse’s Valerie.
By midway through the second season, Rivera’s comic timing and sharp delivery had established her as the funniest person on Glee, even edging out Jane Lynch’s iconic Sue Sylvester. It was precisely because the character of Santana had been so biting and funny that when her emotions finally emerged, they hit like a speeding train. When characters cry or get overdramatic in every episode – like most of the characters on Glee – it has no real emotional punch because those characters are always emotional. So nothing seems all that serious; the audience cannot care all that much about Rachel Berry constant histrionics because she sobs like that every week. Santana Lopez held it all inside, which made the moments when the girl who tried to act like nothing bothered her actually had to face her feelings deeply affective. Rivera was certainly one of the show’s finest actresses, and her ability to emote with genuine, subtle pain – not the over-baked kind usually done on Glee – made her all the more special. She could go from razor-sharp hilarious and ice cold to aching and raw. The episode Sexy may be the finest showcase of that ability, harmonizing on Landslide and delivering palpable, heartbreaking emotion with just glances. Her locker-side confession of love to Brittany is perhaps the show’s most affective emotional scene – again, expressly because Santana never talked about her feelings. The actress’s finest hour may have been after her character was outed to the school. Rivera conveys the flood of emotions, hurt, terrified, angry, and paranoid through her acting and singing in the mashup of Rumor Has It and Someone Like You.
Of course, Santana Lopez wasn’t all seriousness. On the contrary, she was mostly hysterical barbs and saucy flintiness. Rivera showcases all of that – the tongue-in-cheek ability to play a joke and the sultry wink-wink sexiness – in Santa Baby, a number that inexplicably did not actually make it to the air.
Even when Glee had soured, Rivera remained the show’s one sweet spot. Not to mention the remarkableness of having a strong young woman who was also Latina and a lesbian – several very underrepresented groups were given the spotlight on primetime television with Rivera’s consistently excellent performance. Even in the wake of her possible firing, her best songs will remain with fans for years to come.
Opinion by Alex Warheit