Every time a TV series I like ends I usually get a little introspective. I think it is because it is one of the ways I put context to the random chapters of my life. Maybe that sounds kind of pathetic in a way, but I don’t think of the TV shows as defining a certain period of my life, but instead it helps me remember where I was during certain time periods.
I will always associate E.R with my high school years. Mortal Kombat Conquest and the WCW/WWF wars remind me of my freshman year of college. Thinking about The Shield take me back to the couple of years after my buddies graduated from LVC and up to three of them lived at my mom’s house with me at any one time.
Of course binge watching has kind of made it a little harder to really associate a TV show with a time period, especially with a show like The Wire where I never saw an episode until several years after the series finale. Even though I can remember vaguely where and when I was when I binge watched that show, I still think that there is something about watching a show live and being part of that final episode that helps cement in the memories. It becomes more of an event than when that final episode is the fourth one you’ve watched that day and the 30th of the past two weeks.
This past week Mad Men had its final episode as did The Tonight Show with David Letterman. Several other shows have also signed off for good over the last several months that are all special to me in one way or another. I thought I’d give a few thoughts on each of these shows.
I may be ordering these in order of how good their final episode was. Although with some of these shows being very different thematically, it is like comparing apples and oranges. While I wasn’t in love with the entire episode, I really thought that final scene with Don and the commercial HE TOTALLY CREATED, really put it over the top for me. I like that most of the main character had a profound final moment or two that really epitomized them. Pete is Mad Men’s Prezbo from the Wire. God you fucking hated him at the beginning, but as he got older he lost a lot of the smarmy shit that made you hate him. What was left, wasn’t a great person necessarily, but he was good enough and had found some sense of fairness or honor in how he carried himself.
Peggy is continuing her climb or march forward in both her career and now also her personal life. There is no guarantee that her and Stan will be in love forever, but you can see she is starting to ease into the idea of having a normal balance of life and work. Joan has always seemed to be just a step beyond her current station. She was always a little bit better than whatever job she held, even if many didn’t want to try and recognize that. Her starting a business without the help of pretty much anyone is just another example of her trying to rise above the limitations that others would put on her.
Betty is totally Betty. Going out on her own terms and possibly rewriting her life’s story to make it sound like her end was the culmination of something more dignified and noble than it probably really was. While sad, her final chapter and final scene were really honest for that character. I don’t care about the kids that much so whatever. Harry, meh, he was kind of a shitty shitty person who kind of was a reverse pete Campbell as the show went on. Trudy Campbell is hot and cute and lovely and I want to marry her. That is apropos of nothing, but had to be said.
Now lets talk about Don. His final arch isn’t’ really that much of a game changer if you ask me. It has him first hooking up with some random broad in which he plays a savior role even if she doesn’t want or need a protector or benefactor. The he gets everything he wants at work and proceeds to give the new agency the bird. He then goes on a pilgrimage with out any clear goal or motivation in mind. He experiences people living a very different type of life than his own, confronts a personal demon or two, and appears to find some modicum of peace.
He has done this to varying degrees before, and always returns home, which for him is advertising. He gets away with all of this because he is supremely talented. And you can’t tell me that this storyline for Don wouldn’t work as the ending of any other season in which you know he will be back at his old job at the start of the next season. that is why I think it is obvious that he wrote the Buy The World A Coke ad. The smile on his face in that final scene wasn’t one of fulfillment and satisfaction. It was more a smirk from suddenly realizing that what he is experiencing would make a great Ad. Plus he was smiling cause he knew it would be good enough to get back into his old job.
That’s not to say that we should view the ad in the context of a Don creating it as being disingenuous. I think he honestly believes a lot of what he says in his advertising pitches, at least for a period of time. after all it is hard to sell something you don’t believe in. still I see Don carrying on in advertising for the next 30 years till he takes up an almost Yoda like role similar to Burt Cooper. He may have a wife or two more during that time, but I think as he goes on he will start to curtail more and more of his more lascivious activities. It’s not that he doesn’t still have the same desires, it is just he doesn’t crave them to the same extent and isn’t controlled by them like he once use to. Now he might look at his hot secretary and think, “If only I was 15 years younger. Or just had more energy.” I think he will become wistful as hell, and once he has some grandchildren he will turn into the loving parent to them he should have always been to his kids.
So where does Mad Men fit into that whole speech at the beginning about the passage of time? I’m not sure. I think I missed the first 3 or 4 seasons of the show, and only started watching after binge watching those seasons and picking up with live episodes in season 5. The entire time I watched it I found it hard to explain why I liked it so much. I just felt like it was just about the most well done show you could do that was still very grounded in reality and didn’t feature a lot of true life or death drama. That being said, I think I’m probably going to think of it as the show that filled that “This is the best show on TV right now” gap after Breaking Bad went off the air.
I will admit that I didn’t watch the final episode. I have no idea why. I guess it is because I was super tired that night and figured I’d watch the highlights or download the whole thing later. I still haven’t but I heard it was great. With him retiring, it puts Conan Obrien in the position of the patriarch of the late night family now. I don’t think I could have imagined that 15 years ago when I think I first saw Conan, but it is well deserved.
Letterman for me will always remind me of the summer before my first year of high school. My best friend / next door neighbor and I would watch TV Nation and then Letterman just about every other night during that time period. I don’t think I always found Dave to be the funniest, but I honestly thought he was the coolest even if that wasn’t the aura he was trying to project. He just made me think of someone who was completely comfortable with themselves and let the audience come to him instead of trying to chase the audience and ratings. He would rather do something he knew was truly funny but might not draw in new viewers as opposed to do a lesser bit that was guaranteed to get him ratings.
Maybe I am being overly generous with my analysis, and ignoring major gaps of time and the evolution of his show, but this is what Dave is to me.
This show is one of the few shows that is more recent that didn’t involve any binge watching. When they first announced a show about a gangster in A.C. in the roaring 20s that was backed by Martin Scorsese, I was hooked immediately with out needing to see an episode. The show was so fantastic and in another time would have garnered much more attention if it hadn’t been going up against so many other heavy hitters.
This show will remind me of that period just after I got tired of poker. I still liked stories with gambling as a backdrop but didn’t need it to be the main focus. I think I went on and on about how great the final turn in the final scene was in another post so I think I’ll skip to the next show.
I don’t know what the cut off should be for when these shows ended, but since it was less than a year ago, and is on my mind at this moment, I’ll give it a shout out. When I first started watching this show (binge watch) I didn’t think it was going to have much depth. It seemed more like a vehicle for crude jokes and Tits and Ass than it did a vehicle for character depth and real emotion. Although the crude jokes and naked women were a staple throughout the entire run, and is something that I love in a show, there were enough moments of real heart sprinkled among the 7 seasons that it became one of the few shows I actively tried to get other people to watch.
The time period this takes me back to was one just three or four years ago when my friends first started to enter into the baby making/having periods of their lives. The main character on the show is a bit of a man child who can’t grow up (despite having a teenage daughter), so I kind of could relate to that when I compared myself to my buddies who were going in a different direction in their lives. Plus one of my buddies in the position spent a long weekend in HBG and watched a few episodes with me, and it was probably the last time I got to hang out with him one on one since the business of family life has kind of pulled him away.
I really feel like Justified was the more low key version of the show that Sons of Anarchy tried to be but without all the attempts at symbolism. It has a confident main protagonist that acted more based on his own sense morality than by what society felt he should do. He wasn’t above violence but didn’t seek it out. He was a big talker who was clearly more intelligent than his foes, although he didn’t use that intelligence to intimidate, and instead could do that just by being a real bad ass in the truest sense of the word. He had an eccentric group of allies and enemies. The show was often funny, but didn’t do thinks just for the humor, but instead let the jokes come organically. There were plenty of impactful deaths, but they were never cheap, always earned. Greatest of all was the exquisite dialogue, that never came across hackneyed.
Although Sons of Anarchy was suppose to fill that post Shield void between me and a few of my LVC buddies, it was Justified that stood the test of time and remained a great show the whole way through. Unlike the shield, where the two figure heads of the show (Shane and Vic) ruined each others lives, and those of people around them, Boyd and Raylan ended with a decisive victory for the one over the other. that victory took many years to happen, but was originally dictated by the choices the two of them made early on, with Boyd staying in Harlan and pursuing a life of crime while Raylan took the tougher road out of the county and into a life in law enforcement.
Parks and Rec
Parks and Rec reminds me of 30 roc as a show I will look back on and think, Holy shit, why wasn’t that show a bigger deal to me. It was a great comedy, one of the all time greats, and I was really into it especially as it came to an end over the last two seasons. But I just was at a place in my life where I was more focused on dramas, and didn’t really take the time to appreciate the comedies. That might be a common thing though, where comedies are only appreciated once several years have passed and it has been show to be able to stand the test of time.
Sons of Anarchy
I have talked about this show so many times it would probably be reductive to try and sum it all up here. I will say that the first few seasons were great, and that while I will try to always appreciate it for that fact, I’m probably going to remember this show as the first series I ever really hate watched. Even when it was bad, it was still much much better than a lot of shows. But, the later seasons were also much much worse than the first few seasons. The last episode was kind of painful, especially with all the blatant Jesus symbolism. I think it would have been more subtle if during the final episode he had a scene where he asked the other gang members to refer to him as J C for the rest of the episode and to ignore the blood pouring from his palms.