Rachel Barbara Berry is a fictional character from the Fox musical comedy-drama series Glee. The character is portrayed by actress Lea Michele, and has appeared in Glee from its pilot episode, first broadcast on May 19, 2009. Rachel was developed by Glee creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. She is the glee club star of the fictional William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, where the show is set. Her storylines have seen her suffer peer alienation due to her Broadway ambitions, and develop romantic feelings for football players Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) and Noah Puckerman (Mark Salling) as well as Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff), a member of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline.
Michele was cast after Murphy spent three months observing actors on Broadway, and created the role specifically for her. She has deemed Rachel strong and driven but misunderstood, explaining that Glee follows Rachel's journey to become more of a team player. Michele was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy at the 2010 Golden Globe Awards for her performance in the role. Rachel has received mostly positive reviews from critics, with Maureen Ryan of The Chicago Tribune praising Michele for making the character "more than a humorless stereotype", but Raymund Flandez of The Wall Street Journal describing her as "insufferable". Several songs performed by Michele as Rachel have been released as singles, available for digital download, and also feature on the show's soundtrack albums.
In casting Glee, series creator Ryan Murphy sought out actors who could identify with the rush of starring in theatrical roles. Instead of using traditional network casting calls, he spent three months on Broadway, where he found Lea Michele, who starred in Spring Awakening. The role of Rachel was written specifically for Michele. She took the role because of Rachel's characterization, explaining: "Not only is she a singer, but she has so much heart – I think it's what we need on TV. A show that is filled with heart and love that is funny. It sends an amazing message to kids about the arts and being who you are." Michele described the first thirteen episodes of the series as: "Rachel's journey of finding herself within the Glee club", explaining that: "She's learning how to be a team player and work within this group. She's a very strong, driven girl, who's sometimes a little misunderstood."
Michele bases Rachel on herself when she was younger, and also draws inspiration from the film Election, and the Gossip Girl character Blair Waldorf. She has explained: "[Blair] is shady, but you still love her. She's still vulnerable. That's what I try to do with Rachel. Rachel will never be popular because her looks aren't considered beautiful, and when I was in high school it was the same for me. I didn't get a nose job, and every single girl around me did. Therefore, I was out. I was not cool. What's so great about Glee is that it shows you how that kind of stuff hurts, but it doesn't matter: You can still be who you want to be. And in four years, high school will be over and all of that crap won't matter anyway."
Rachel is a Jewish sophomore student and the daughter of an inter-racial same-sex couple. She is also a vegan. She joins the glee club hoping that fame will increase her popularity and help her find a boyfriend. She is bullied by members of the school cheerleading and football teams, but is pleased when quarterback Finn Hudson joins the club, developing a crush on him. The two share a kiss in the episode "Showmance", although he tells her to forget it happened and goes back to his girlfriend, cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron). Rachel quits the glee club when director Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) assigns a solo performance she wanted for herself to another student (Tina Cohen-Chang). She is awarded the lead role in the school musical, Cabaret, by Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Sandy Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), who are conspiring to bring the glee club down. Rachel later rejoins the glee club when she realizes she would rather be in a group where she has friends. She has a brief relationship with Puck (Mark Salling), a member of the glee club and football player who used to bully her. Rachel ultimately breaks up with him over her feelings for Finn. The club attends their first major competition, where Rachel gives an impromptu solo performance of "Don't Rain on My Parade" and they win by unanimous decision.
Rachel begins dating Finn, who decides he needs to take time out for himself and breaks up with her. He changes his mind soon after, but Rachel has already begun dating Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff), the lead singer of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline. The glee club members suspect that Jesse is using Rachel, and threaten to expel her from the group unless she breaks up with him. Rachel pretends that they have separated, but continues her relationship with Jesse. Jesse pressures Rachel to have sex with him, but she decides she is not ready. He then transfers to McKinley High so that he and Rachel can be together openly. Rachel attempts to increase her popularity by creating a music video in which Jesse, Finn, and Puck all play her boyfriends, each unaware the role has been triple-cast. As a result, Jesse breaks up with her. When Rachel loses her voice due to tonsillitis, she fears she will never sing again. Finn sings "Jessie's Girl" to her in front of the rest of the glee club, and introduces her to his friend, Sean (Zack Weinstein), who is paralyzed from the chest down, to give Rachel some perspective on her condition. When Jesse returns from vacation with Vocal Adrenaline, Rachel tells him that her dream is to find her birth mother. It transpires that Vocal Adrenaline coach Shelby Corcoran (Idina Menzel) is Rachel's mother, and had asked Jesse to befriend Rachel so that she might reconnect with her. When Rachel learns Shelby is her mother, they both confess to not feeling an immediate attachment, and sing a duet together before parting ways. Jesse returns to Vocal Adrenaline, and joins the rival club in throwing eggs at Rachel, humiliating her. When Rachel worries that the club have no chance of winning Regionals, Finn encourages her to be more optimistic. She kisses him in response, and Finn later tells her that he loves her. At Regionals, Rachel asks Shelby to leave Vocal Adrenaline and teach at McKinley High. Shelby declines, explaining that she wants to start a family. She goes on to adopt Quinn's newborn daughter, Beth. New Directions lose to Vocal Adrenaline, but the club are awarded another year together, rather than being disbanded. Rachel is shown holding hands with Finn; it is implied they have begun a relationship.
Several songs performed by Michele as Rachel have been released as singles, available for digital download, also featuring on the soundtracks Glee: The Music, Volume 1 and Glee: The Music, Volume 2. Rachel has received positive reviews from critics. The role saw Michele nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy at the 2010 Golden Globe Awards. Robert A. George of the New York Post has deemed Rachel: "the only female [in Glee] who doesn’t come across as manipulative or vapidly helpless", while the Chicago Tribunes Maureen Ryan has opined: "Lea Michele not only has an amazing voice but manages to make her character, spoiled diva Rachel Berry, more than a humorless stereotype." The Los Angeles Timess Denise Martin commented on the episode "The Rhodes Not Taken": "if there's any justice in the world, Lea Michele will win a Golden Globe and an Emmy for playing Rachel".
Following the episode "Hairography" in which Rachel is badly made-over by Kurt, Mike Hale of the New York Times noted a popular theme amongst critics for negatively highlighting the way Glee treats its female characters. He wrote that while he understood this stance, he generally disagreed with it as the show treats male characters equally poorly, but opined: "it was a bit much when Finn looked at Rachel in her catsuit and frizzy hair and said she looked like a 'sad clown hooker.' Come on. She looked fantastic." Zap2it's Korbi Ghosh has deemed Rachel's high point on the show romancing of Finn and Puck, commenting: "when we saw Rachel fall for them, she was actually relatable. Likable even. The type-A, uber-talented, self-involved know-it-all who's usually alienating her classmates let her guard down to expose a vulnerable side. And, as a bonus, we got some super solid musical performances from those awkward courtships."
Conversely, Ghosh assessed her low point as being her romancing of Will, writing: "Sure, Schue's got it going on, what with the rapping, the break dancing, the boy band'ing and the lindy hopping too. But Rachel's eye-on-the-prize, I'll-get-what-I-want attitude coupled with her inappropriate crush on the teacher just made her creepier than usual. Infiltrating his home, cooking and cleaning for him right under his crazy wife's nose. Come on, Berry, you're better than that..." Raymund Flandez for The Wall Street Journal commented on the episode "Preggers": "Rachel has become insufferable. The disagreements with Mr. Schue about her own development as a bonafide triple-threat have branded her as an overbearing prima donna to the rest of Glee." Eric Goldman for IGN agreed: "It's hard not to be annoyed by Rachel". James Poniewozik of Time has suggested that Rachel's negative character traits may actually be an asset, commenting on her performance of "Don't Rain on My Parade" in the episode "Sectionals": "The number reminded me how much I like what the show's done with Rachel: she's a lead character, yet the show allows her to be annoying—but at the same time, her dedication makes her likeable. And as we see here, as much of a pill as she can be, her ability to whip out a performance she's been working on since age four is an asset."