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!