Friday, 18 September 2009

Endings ... the TV kind ...

After getting back from the hospital, following my surgery (did I mention I had surgery yet? ha!), at the arse-end of June I ended up watching repeats of Friends - a show which I watched from the beginning when it originally aired, and one of my favourite sitcoms. It's wonderfully acted, is genuinely funny, and the actors being real friends with each other really translates onto the screen.

If it's not your thing, fair do's, but I can't be doing with folk who diss it just because it was popular (insanely popular, even) - anyway, I'm getting off topic here.

Point being, I got back into the show - which had conveniently looped back to the beginning of the series' run a couple of days prior to me finding myself laid-up in bed with not a whole lot to do.

As such, I ended up getting into full-on Friends mode, and with not having much to watch on telly anyway (Big Brother was utterly shit this year from the very beginning, so stuff that), I've been chuntering through the entire run again ... I've missed a few here and there with E4's schedule, and then what-with the previously blogged about censorship of the entirely innocuous on E4, I went back to my own copies and viewed them at my own pace.

Finally - after burying the lead under a mountain of set-up - the point of this blog is ... I finished my re-run-through of Friends the other day, and it got me thinking about the endings of TV shows.

Friends "The Last One"...

It's odd, even re-watching it years later (after having seen it a number of times already), it still feels the same as when I first saw it in 2004. It's like a mad dash to the finish, like when leaving to go on holiday and having to make sure everything is just-so before you leave.

Then the final shot, after the six of them disappear down the corridor blissfully happy, where we pan through the empty apartment - seeing the six door keys laid out - and ending on the picture frame around the eye-hole, with Jefferson Airplane's "Embryonic Journey" (a wonderful acoustic track) playing in the background, you can't help but succumb to the wistfully melancholly feeling of the end of a televisual era. It's just a perfectly pitched way to close a television phenomena.

Fortunately - there's always repeats though, eh?

Six Feet Under "Everyone's Waiting"...

This is a show that was really great in the first season and was situated ideally between serious and blackly comic. Unfortunately it became increasingly stuffed up its own arse with pretensious moments and overly depressing, never-ending plot lines.

However, come the final few episodes it rediscovered it's groove - and the closing montage was the best the show had been in a very, very long time. A truly stand-out ending to a TV show, backed-up by Sia's "Breathe Me" (another wonderful piece of music), we get to see all the major characters at various key moments in their life beyond the end of the show - and, suitably for a show about death, how they all die.

It's honestly touching and powerful, even when just viewed on its own, and is one of the most powerful endings to a TV show since my next example...

Blackadder Goes Forth "Goodbyeee"...

While Blackadder has not had anywhere near as many episodes as either Friends or Six Feet Under over the years, it's how we British often do things - in short supply, but perfectly pitched throughout, and getting out while the going's good.

The ending to the final series of Blackadder - "Goes Forth" - set in the World War One trenches is an incredible finale, and nothing short of absolutely haunting. After the hilarity, daftness, cunning plans and pencils being shoved up one's nose, it is astonishing how the tone shifts so effortlessly into a completely different territory - one that can elicit tears from practically anyone ... and serious pause for thought from everyone.

When I was at university, one of the course I took was about sitcoms - a far more detailed and serious examination of structure and trends, rather than "just watching The Simpson's" (like a number of scoffing know-nothings would tell me whenever the topic came up in conversation) ... bitterness to that snide misunderstanding aside, we covered the final episode of "Goes Forth" on this course.

Every week we would have a screening, which were always filled with plenty of laughter, and a usually raucus banter when the screening was over as we left. This time however, it was very different, and an experience I shall I always remember.

Naturally, we all chuckled heartily at the myriad of jokes and generally japery, and while I would wager all of us had seen the episode before (more than once), our collective reaction to the final moments was quite something.

The characters come together, their faces crushed by a realisation that they're finally being ordered to go "over the top" and engage the enemy, and that - without really saying it to each other - they know they're not going to be coming back. After episodes filled with these same characters taking the piss out of each other, berating one another, and generally being unkind, the sudden shift in their fortunes shows their actual respect for each other deep down, writ large on the screen.

The whistle is blown, the men yell, clamber over the top and then we cut to a slow motion pull-out - the sound fades away, leaving just the gentle-but-sad music to play us out - the men charge, still in ever-increasing slow motion, as explosions burst around them and they become lost in flying debris ... then we dissolve to the peaceful scene of a poppy field accompanied only by the peaceful sound of birdsong.

Just writing about it sends shivers up my spine and gives me pause for thought.

However, back at uni at the screening of this episode, at that very moment you could hear a pin drop among us students. Nobody spoke, nobody began packing their bags early (as was so often the case during more frivilous fare), and after the final shot faded out and the screen was turned off, we all sat there for a moment in total silence - all of us stunned and shocked - then still without a word being uttered, we quietly got our bags and filtered out of the room as you might a funeral wake.

I'll never forget that experience - such a stark shift in reaction written so tangibly across everyone's faces and actions - all brought on by a piece of TV perfection. One of the best moments of television ever committed to tape.


I've been meaning to blog about that Blackadder screening for a while, but have never had the cause to until now, just getting into the mindset of TV show endings that leave a real impression...

Pause for thought, most definitely.

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