wake up!

5/22/06

Every May sees the finale of your favorite shows, but it feels like I’ve been saying goodbye to a bevy of them lately. I’ve already bemoaned the short-lived wonders of Heist, Eyes, In Justice and Arrested Development (among others) but the last few weeks, two of my favorite shows ever have shuffled off this mortal cathode ray coil: “The West Wing” and “Alias.”

Series Finales are very hard to pull off; the best ones in history came from eleventh-hour bursts of inspiration, like “M*A*S*H” and especially “Newhart” (where Bob Newhart wakes up in his apartment next to Suzanne Pleshette and says “I had the weirdest dream…”). Usually, however, they’re self-indulgent, plodding and sad in the wrong ways.

“West Wing” was an offender in this case: it seemed like a lot of busy work, very little plot, and people looking at empty rooms with wistful smiles. I liked watching it because I love the characters, but they did not “dance with who brung ’em,” given the repartee associated with Aaron Sorkin’s creation.

“Alias” fared much better tonight, if only (as I have) completely suspended all disbelief and stopped groaning at some point in Season 3. Here’s the thing about “Alias” – as crazy as it was, it was always human. Even in tonight’s finale, as Sydney was kicking someone’s ass in a maximum security Italian prison, she was on the earpiece to her dad Jack, who was back in Venice rocking her child to sleep on the kitchen counter.

I will miss Marshall, Lena Olin, Carl Lumbly, and even the wooden Vaughn. Most of all, I think a Series Achievement Emmy should go to Jennifer Garner, who kept that show afloat with stunning intensity and wonderful acting that belies her genetically perfect/bizarre face. The casting in that show, clear down to minutae like Sark and the “Sloane Clone” (Joel Grey) was always spot-on perfect, and Michael Giacchino’s score was consistently brilliant.

My soft spot, in both “Alias” and “West Wing” goes to Allison Janney (C.J.) and Ron Rifkin (Arvin Sloane) because they’re both friends with Tessa’s crowd, and they’re both some of the nicest people on earth. Ron even played with Lucy in the front yard a few weeks ago!

with Allison Janney and my hair, 2002

The bigger point is this: it was always cool to talk about how both “West Wing” and “Alias” weren’t as good as they used to be; “the show lost focus when Sorkin left,” “Season 2 was the only good one on Alias,” all that crap. For me, that meant that those two shows were merely 20 times better than anything else, rather than the usual 40.

Coming up with a good TV series pitch is hard. Coming up with a pilot is very hard. Coming up with one good season of a show is very, very hard. And getting a show to stay on the air for five years with millions of viewers weekly is damn near impossible, but these two shows did it, and usually did it with magic.

I’ve been to a lot of theater lately, and I’ve sat through a number of movies and plays, and what has struck me is how disrespectful certain artists are with my fucking time. In a play, you’ve got what – an hour or two? – to say anything you want, and you’ve chosen to say nothing? I saw a showcase full of short plays the other night, and I was FLABBERGASTED that each writer had five minutes and did almost NOTHING with it.

Life is too fucking short, and you’ve got me captive. I’m there, in my seat, I’ve paid money, I drove, I’ve gotten a babysitter, I’m yours. Tell me something. TELL ME ANYTHING. You’ve had weeks of preparation and a lifetime of experiences. GIVE ME ONE OF THEM!

In medicine, the Hippocratic oath begins, as everyone knows, “First, do no harm.” I would like to demand a Hippocratic oath for entertainment: “First, do not bore.”

People may have had their problems with “West Wing” and “Alias,” but things MOVED from Point A to Point B, usually with a flurry of activity and a soupcon of intrigue. They may have been silly, they may have gone over-the-top, but they NEVER bored.

If there’s one thing I try to do with your time each weekday, it’s NOT TO BORE YOU. When the day comes that I have truly nothing to offer, I will close up shop, no questions asked. Everything I’ve done in my artistic life has been in the service of avoiding boredom for both you and me. I don’t always bat a thousand, but I’m still swinging; in “The Pink House,” I tried too hard, in our TV specs, we got it right.

Either way, I’d like to issue a declaration to my generation, to those writing novels and movies and television shows: wachet auf! Arouse yourself from your solipsistic slumber and make some art that MOVES! Write something where a protagonist goes from A to B! No more looking out the kitchen window at a swingset, no more using the word “azure,” no more stories where the lead never gets out of the bathtub! STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND SAY SOMETHING!

0 thoughts on “wake up!

  1. ken

    I TiVo’d the Alias finale (haven’t seen it yet so thanks for not spoiling it) but gave up on WW a year or two ago. What I am happiest about when this time of the year comes around is that I no longer have new TV shows to watch (at least one a night). Of course Entourage and Rescue Me are two of my faves and they’re just getting started but there’s just a lot less compelling programming in the summer and that’s good for my health.

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  2. lee

    How are they EVER going to end the sopranos?? I’m having an anxiety attack just thinking about it!

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  3. Anne

    Hear, hear.
    I feel this way about movies these days. Hubby and I get out so rarely, when we do, it makes me want to scream that we’ve paid $20 plus snack money to see something that’s all sound and FX signifying nothing* but profit for the studio; or lots of pseudo-profound staring and muttering with some sex thrown in.
    (*Exception to this rant granted for all Star Wars movies)

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  4. Sean

    I would say that it’s a great rallying cry to those creating art, but a lousy idea to put in the heads of the lay audience member. The fact is that modern audiences are a hundred times more disrespectful of the artists making things than artists are of their audiences.
    I’ve said that if your play is longer than two hours, maybe you should figure out exactly what you’re saying and maybe write *two* plays. It is the nice thing about TV, it’s like haiku, you’ve got a strict design for how to make the art.
    But I’d say, and I know you agree with me (but this still needs to be said) that there are expressions that require attention, that require some responsibility from its audience in order to make them complete. And it’s dangerous to offer up a cry for the average audience member to get behind that says, essentially, “challenge isn’t what I want… TV, be more funny…”

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  5. ducky

    Message to Lucy:
    I didn’t know that you and Ron Rifkin played together! Seriously! This is major. You and Sloane. I had trouble sleeping last night thinking about the way the finale ended for him. But that’s another story. Hopefully, your mom and dad will get you seasons 1-5 on DVD and you can catch up. Ooh! And a pink wig. That would rule. Obviously, you are an extremely cool chick. Just know that if he turns up at your house one day holding a very old-looking sheet of paper with your face on it, and says something about “Page 47” – RUN. For real.

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  6. Piglet

    No sweat on the “try to entertain you” thing. Yours is one of only two blogs ever where I went back and systematically read the archived posts son after I found it. That oughta mean something.
    If there’s an entry that’s going to bore me, like the basketball ones, you’re respectful enough to let me know the subject matter right off the top, so I know to skip it and come back tomorrow.

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  7. GFWD

    Piglet, the basketball posts are pure gold.
    Ian, why do the intelligent shows get kicked off the air, while we’re still having to watch FEAR FACTOR every week?
    Do shows like In Justice and Heist cost that much more? And why do they put so much effort in the shows and then still cancel them so quickly? Who makes the decisions?
    I know that in the mid-to-late 1980’s, my mom made us do some Neilsen (spelling ??) ratings stuff where we had to diligently track our television viewing and rate what we watched. I think we got paid for it, but I never saw a dime. If you liked The Cosby Show and Cheers, you can thank me now.
    Through the magic of TiVo (when I’m not accidentally deleting season finales), we’ve been exposed to more different new shows than most and we get frustrated seeing that some of our favorites are cancelled after just a few shows (Heist) or a half-season run (In Justice).
    What’s the deal, by the way, with JACK & BOBBY? That show rivaled THE WEST WING and had most of the same behind-the-scenes people. I read somewhere that it got picked up again, but it’s been a whole season now and nothing.
    What morons are they polling out there to get a feel for the “pulse” of what this country wants and couldn’t the execs find a focus group that went to college and grad school?
    Finally, what’s the industry buzz on that new show with Josh from The West Wing and Chandler from Friends? Studio something or other?
    How frickin’ tall is Allison Janney, by the way? I thought she was like 6’2″, but you and Tessa are taller and almost as tall, respectively. If so, I see Lucy playing for Coach Hatchell one day.

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  8. DFB's&T's

    Why are all the “intelligent” shows being cancelled? Maybe it is because they keep being called intelligent although most folks (does it make me “unintelligent”?) think they suck.
    Plus, before anyone starts naming certain shows as “intelligent”, ask yourself whether you spent any time plopped on a sofa debating why Mischa Barton got killed?
    In all seriousness, the answer as always is money. Although Fear Factor has been cancelled, it takes about $2 to produce such a show and it beats the “intelligent” shows in ratings. There is an article on Foxnews.com today regarding the ZILLIONS of dollars that Idol has made and its content is produced on a 68 IQ Level. Who was it that said: “It ain’t show-friends, it’s show business.”?
    As for Sopranos . . it sucks. If anyone had told you a few years ago that an entire season of Sopranos would focus on Tony’s coma-induced daydreams of being a traveling salesman and Vito’s soul-searching regarding his homosexuality, you’d have slapped them. I mean, really, can we get back to . . . oh, I dont know . . . violent Italians please?! If Entourage sucks this year, you can just go ahead and kill me.

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  9. CL

    C.J. was a great character.
    I still hope to see “The Pink House” someday…but it seems like at least a lot came out of the experience, anyway.

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  10. oliver

    I want to see the “making of” documentary about “The Pink House.” Call it “Heart of Pinkness” or something.
    While I absolutely agree with everything you said, Ian, that’s boring, so let point to a few gaping holes in your pathetic one-note excuse for an artistic philosophy. What about Coppola and drawn-out voyages up the jungle river? What about Herzog, dammit?! Quintessentially a movie makes you be there, and it’s not just by saying “you’re there.” Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words, but maybe sometimes it takes a thousand beats to transmit its message. I have a hunch is that your philosophy caters to something like a sweet tooth, and we among the US masses have just come to crave nothing else, in part because there’s too much in our diets.

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  11. oliver

    CJ is an awesome character BTW. I fell in love with her the first or second season (after which I stopped watching).

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  12. Sean M.

    I, too, am a member of the Both Shows Lost Their Mojo a Couple of Years Back Club, but I did tune in for the finale of The West Wing and agree with everything you said about it. A couple of thoughts though…
    1. I also watched (yet again) the first episode that they showed prior to the finale. Is there a better series premiere in the history of television? Brilliant all around.
    2. During the finale, when the new president is being sworn in, I could have sworn there was a close up shot or Aaron Sorkin as a member of the crowd on the stage. Did anyone else catch this or am I crazy?

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  13. GFWD

    Sean M., I think it was Sorkin. I base it not so much on his look, as I don’t know what he looks like, but he was the only non-character or famous person that they lingered on during those pan shots.
    Agree with your assessment of the Pilot episode. I TiVo the reruns and will often skip to the best part of a particular episode (like when Yo Yo Ma plays during Josh’s breakdown or when the President hands Charlie the Paul Revere knife set), but I always watch the entire pilot episode.

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  14. Steph Mineart

    The reason “intelligent” shows are getting cancelled is because Nielsen is finally just this year factoring in DVR views into their ratings equations, and they’re not even doing real representative samples of those. So the millions of technology-minded people who record cutting edge shows like “arrested development” to DVR don’t get counted as ratings and the shows get cancelled. Then they get released on DVD, and those same folks spend a fortune buying the shows, and the networks sit around scratching their heads trying to figure out why.

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  15. Chris M

    Steph:
    I use netflix to watch good tv shows so I can just start from Season 1, Episode 1 and go from there. I also get BBC stuff. My life is too hectic to watch any show consistently and I haven’t got DVR yet. Why no DVR? Maybe I am lazy but actually I think I am terrified about what DVR will do to me — I’ll end up in the back of the limo with Yoko for a week until I kick it.

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  16. KTS

    The series finale of “House” was great! It certainly met the standard of your dreamy “wake up!” call, moving from A to B with unpredictable yet logical shocking twists and turns. Definitely Not Boring. Where’s the Ketamine!

    Reply
  17. Sharon

    I agree with you that Jennifer Garner deserves some kind of award.Maybe she will finally get an well-deserved Emmy.

    Reply

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