Sunday, May 30, 2004

The One That Got Away

In compiling my reactions to May TV, I’ll start in the same place I started when I got home at one a.m.: Friends.
Before I get into it, some personal background to show you where I’m coming from:
First, I take series finales very seriously. The more I loved a series, the more critically I judge the finale. Wrapping up a long running, constantly evolving piece of art (which a television series is, to me) with satisfying closure is incredibly difficult, as evidenced by the sparse number of finales truly worthy of their series. With all the expectations that build up over the run of a show, it’s no wonder that ninety-nine percent of the finales disappoint on some level.
Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few that I would give the thumbs up to, and even those were somewhat disappointing (I wasn’t alive or wasn’t watching live-action shows when such classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Newhart and M*A*S*H signed off). I remember liking the Cheers finale, though at the time I had seen only a handful of episodes, so I wasn’t fully invested in the characters. I’m one of the few people that really liked the Seinfeld finale. It wasn’t perfect, and perhaps it deviated too much from the brilliant format of the series, but thematically and tonally it was just right.
The only other sendoff I can think of right now that worked for me (prior to this season) is that of Dawson’s Creek. I’d only watched it sporadically since the third season, but the conclusion was, much to my surprise and embarrassment, emotionally wrenching and satisfying. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
This summer, Futurama had a surprisingly poignant farewell (if you even knew it was on) with a strong sense of closure considering the writers didn’t know if it would indeed mark the end of their underrated series.
In February, I had mixed feelings about the Sex and the City goodbye. It was well written and well acted and it struck the right emotional chord, but it wasn’t an episode of Sex and the City. The final two episodes completely neglected the most important element of the show: the friendship of the four women
Second, you should know how I feel about Friends. I’ve been there for them (and they for me) since the first episode I watched, which was their fourth (and the first not airing opposite My-So-Called-Life). While each one of the Friends was at some point during the show’s run my favorite (and my least favorite), the series was always one of my favorites. Even when I felt frustrated with the quality of the show or the direction the characters were going in, I was obsessed. A few years ago, when Entertainment Weekly’s Friends Episode Guide arrived in the mail, it helped me appreciate the many brilliant story arcs even more. I own all the seasons released on DVD so far, and will probably keep on buying them, despite the fact that I think the show started going downhill after everyone found out about Monica and Chandler (with an all-too-brief renaissance at the front of the eighth season when Rachel got pregnant). The characters all seemed to become either parodies of or nothing like themselves. I grew tired of Monica and Chandler stories (and they were rarely paired with anyone else, seriously limiting the mixing and matching possibilities) and felt icky through the whole Joey & Rachel fiasco (like the characters and the writers, I like to pretend it never happened). Yet, as the hype machine started rolling and the final episodes began airing, I found myself caring more than I thought I did. Although it sprung up a little too suddenly, the rekindling of the Ross and Rachel romance really got me (I think this is where the final season was hindered by the abbreviated number of episodes). And knowing how the creative team always conjured up great season finales, I psyched myself up for a very special farewell.
I was on an airplane on May Sixth, and didn’t get to watch “The Last One” until May Twenty-Fifth. I had been eagerly anticipating it throughout my European vacation (even suffering a TiVo-anxiety dream related to it). Needless to say, I was disappointed. It’s not that it was a horrible episode or an affront to the show I loved (it wasn’t Roseanne). It just wasn’t anything special. Joey and Phoebe had nothing to do (which I guess would be in keeping with the show’s format, something I look for in a finale). Another thing I like in a series finale is a sense of history, of moments from throughout the run. Friends had this in spades, but every one of the references (the chick and the duck, the foosball table, the “break” comment) felt shoehorned in.
As if the series hadn’t had enough births over the years, it seems like we’ve heard about nothing but Monica and Chandler wanting a baby since… I think since Rachel had her baby, so that whole part of the finale felt tedious (maybe people who don’t hate M&C weren’t as bored). Leaving the Ross and Rachel “story,” which didn’t have much tension, though I was moved in the end and sad to say goodbye to the lot of them.
I’m not sure how I would’ve improved the send off, except to suggest to Marta Kaufman and David Crane to heed their own words. On every DVD commentary, they talk about how their best episodes are the ones where they get all six of the Friends together in a room. While an hour of that might not provide enough scope for a series finale, a little more of it would’ve helped (just as with Sex and the City). I will give them this, though: the final scene was just about right.
That’s all for now. Is it bad that by the time I finished the epic prologue, I realized I didn’t have all that much to say about the actual show? Stay tuned for my thoughts on the finales of Frasier, Angel, Alias, 24, The West Wing, The Gilmore Girls and The Sopranos.


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