May 8, 2006Feature
The Bitter-ish End
Farewell, Sydney Bristow and President Bartlet
This month is going to be a hard one. Sure, the sun is finally out and the birds are singing; it's the time of year to frolic and climb trees and eat salad. Things should be good. May sweeps is upon us, with the build-up of season finales, followed by the possibility, at least, of a good cliffhanger or two. But this year is a sad one in the realm of my TV; for two of my favorite shows, there will be no cliffhangers or even the promise of something better next season. Alias and The West Wing are ending after five and seven years, respectively. And now? I don't know what to do with myself.
The thing is, sooner or later, cancellation happens. Unless you're The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live — the Styrofoam of the TV landfill — nothing goes on forever, and it's probably better that way. However, not all endings are created equal. There's the "it's been a long ride, so let's all get together and cry" Friends model, which was so hyped that my mother asked me every week from February on whether the show was ending that Thursday. Then there's the "It's been half a season, and critics love it but nobody watches" Freaks and Geeks model, followed by the "Is that show still on?" Law and Order fade-away model. Sometimes, shows simply slip away into the ether, unnoticed and unmemorialized until they return as huge cult sellers on DVD ten years later. It's a broad spectrum, but cancellation is sort of the great equalizer of TV: eventually, no matter how good you are, you're going to get cancelled.
It must be said that, both being a little long in the tooth, neither The West Wing nor Alias is up for legitimate burn-out status, and nobody but the faithful few is probably going for the "end of an era" angle. In fact, I'm sorry to announce — just in case we weren't all on the same page, here — that The West Wing is a classic fade-away show. There was a time when it seemed like everybody in America hung on Sorkin's every bantery word, and that time ended about the time he jumped ship and took Rob Lowe's pretty face with him. NBC let things continue for another three seasons, and... well, here we are, with a few old White House friends stopping by to say hello, and a reasonably quiet going into the good night of DVD-hood.
If The West Wing has gracefully accepted its fate, Alias is trying the opposite approach, and fighting it tooth and nail in hopes of becoming some kind of candidate for minor burn-out status. Things have never been the same for Alias, ratings-wise, since the appearance of a certain blonde Australo-British American senator's daughter and her fifteen pounds of eyeliner. There have been some tepid periods (early fourth season, due to ABC's meddling with the episode order) and some downright awful episodes ("Surprise! Sydney has a sister!"; also the Tiny Helicopter of Doooooom). However, the fifth season has been gaining steady speed: Jennifer Garner is back to fighting weight, Lena Olin is gracing us with her treacherous presence, and Sloane is caught in a web of corruption and general badness exacerbated by his silly green glasses. The final episodes are poised to deliver some real punch in terms of storyline continuity, suspense, and a few final plot twists before the (bound-to-be-ridiculous-and-yet-heartbreaking) ending. Whether a strong home stretch can redeem the mushy storytelling of the last three seasons remains to be seen, but at least Alias plans to go down swinging.
|There is one other, less-talked-about category of finales: the show that makes us wonder, "Will I miss this show, or am I just so glad it's over that I don't even care?"|
Once a show is over for good, there is one final life-or-death question to be answered: what will we do when it's over? I've been planning life after Alias since before the end of the show was announced; around the same time the fifth season began, I started auditioning shows to take its place. It's sad, I know. I'm parading a younger, sexier show around in front of my regular Wednesday-night appointment, and it feels a little dirty. But I need to be prepared for the days when it's just me and Gilmore Girls, and the yen for some non-Stars Hollow intrigue overtakes me. The search for a replacement is what brought me to Grey's Anatomy and Veronica Mars — out of the current TV landscape, These are the current frontrunners — and I have to admit that I haven't found anybody to replace the fun of Sydney one-lining her way through alias after short-dressed alias, or the satisfaction of Jack being the scariest dad on television. Maybe I never will. And I'll get over it and find another show, and some day it will end, whether I'm ready or not. But thank goodness for one thing: TV is transient, but DVDs lasts forever.
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