is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in last weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:
Breaking Bad’s finale this week lived up
to the hype, blazing out on an extended 75 minutes of violence,
betrayals, one-upmanship. And class. The show may come down as one of
the greatest drama series ever shown on television, rivaling (the sadly
not shown in the Philippines) The Wire.
There’s something special about final episodes. In a way, it
captures what great shows are all about. Unlike lesser shows, they don’t
need to feel weepy and self-congratulatory, trying to sweep away past
disappointments and mistakes. Rather, great finales tend to do what
great shows have always done: give more of the same consistently.
My all-time favorite finale was of Frasier, probably the greatest sitcom ever in the history of television. Well, next to the Simpsons (because it is) and Arrested Development (because the show proclaims itself to be so). Despite the absence of Bulldog, Frasier ended on an incredible high. Anyone moved by Judy Dench’s rendering of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” in Skyfall
cannot help choking to Kelsey Grammer saying, with 11 seasons behind
him: “that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made
weak by time and fate, but strong in will; to strive, to seek, to find,
and not to yield.”
Speaking of Frasier, the Cheers closer was also memorable.
The 90+ minute episode felt like it should: one last round of drinks.
Always welcome but you know it’s time to go. One could only wish that
Semisonic’s “Closing Time” played in the background, all the more as its
brilliant line “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s
end” would’ve been the perfect set-up for perhaps TV’s most successful
spin-off: the abovementioned Frasier.
Compared to that, the final episode of Friends was bit of a
letdown. Attempting closure through too many touch feely moments robbed
it of what should have been the shows signature: its unmatched ability
to mix warmth with sarcasm. The high point was when the friends decided
to have coffee one last time together. As they walked away from the
apartment (going, as all fans know, to Central Perk), Matthew Perry,
with marvelous timing, asked: “uh, where?”
Speaking of letdowns, I’d say the same goes for St. Elsewhere and Newhart.
Both giving the viewers the idea that their entire seasons were merely
mental constructs: of Dr. Westphall’s autistic child for St. Elsewhere and Bob Newhart’s psychiatrist character in The Bob Newhart Show for Newhart.
On the other hand, The Cosby Show’s finale was sublime. After so
many seasons with kids running around the house, Bill Cosby and his wife
now have the house to themselves, their adult children off somewhere.
Cosby takes his wife’s hand and they dance, dancing all the way up to
the set’s edge. And beyond. Eventually walking off behind the studio,
past cameramen, producers, and the audience.
I have to include my favorite homicidal place in the world: Midsomer. As
I wrote in 2009, I’ve always been amazed that this English county
“apparently has around 20 murders a year, with the past decade seeing a
total of more than 200 murders, all premeditated. This does not include
the assortment of accidental deaths and suicides. This is amazing when
you consider that New York averages eight murders a year for every
100,000 individuals. To give an even better idea of the murder rate of
Midsomer county, one published account noted that the likelihood of
being murdered in London is .007% (per 100,000 people) whereas Midsomer
is a shocking 27.4%. To paraphrase a line from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,
it’s like Bosnia on a bad day. The body count is simply staggering --
for a place that is not a war zone, it racked up three kills a week for
the past 12 years.”
For a moment, there were concerns that DCI Barnaby would be the 250+
victim of Midsomer. However, true to its theme of being a “celebration
of the ordinary” (despite the incredibly high body count), it all came
to a close after dinner with family and friends. Barnaby announced his
cousin to be Midsomer’s next Detective Chief Inspector. Who then
promptly gets a call of a murder somewhere (naturally), and he and DI
Jones goes out, leaving a somewhat wistful John Nettles (and a relieved
Jane Wymark) behind.
It’s oft been discussed that television (and the movies) reflect the
world’s zeitgeist. Hence, the disaster movies of the 1970s. Or ’80’s Wall Street. It could explain the endings for St. Elsewhere and Newhart,
both happening within two years of each other (1988 and 1990,
respectively), plausibly an echoing of the prevailing nihilism of the
time. The same could be said of The Sopranos finale, what with
its ambiguity, an ending simply cutting to black. Uncertainty in outcome
and purpose? And even uncertainty perhaps in the meaning of everything.
In any event, there’s one thing I am certain of: I do not want the Simpsons to say goodbye.