Monday, May 22, 2006

Eight years later

Last week I watched the series finales of two shows. I'd once watched both of them regularly, but lost touch with them over the years. Will & Grace and That 70's Show were never favorites of mine, and I found them somewhat uneven over the years, but they had some good seasons. They were both solid hits for their networks, drawing in a satisfying group of viewers every week, so I was curious how they would handle their final send-offs.

That 70's Show was surprisingly effective. I remember watching this show mainly for the silly circle jokes, the tough love and acerbic wisdom of father Red Foreman, and the on-and-off relationship between best friends tomboy Donna and sweet dweeb Eric. All of these had fitting resolution in the finale. We got a few final circle jokes, a montage of Red's "put my foot in your ass" comments over the years, and a final reconciliation between Eric and Donna, who had separated when Topher Grace left the show at the end of the previous season.

There were some truly nice moments, such as the New Year's Eve speech from Kitty, Eric's mom, as she told her various friends and family all the things she'd appreciate and miss about them had the family chosen to move to Florida. Her comments felt real and unforced, Donna's tears in reaction from the heart. Ashton Kutcher returned to the show for the final episode as well, injecting some energy and vitality into his final appearance as Kelso, one of TV's most endearing idiots.

I've read a couple criticisms of the finale, saying that it boiled down to little more than a clip show, but I disagree. The two other brief montages, that of Donna-and-Eric moments throughout the years, as well as a series of shots of people falling off the water tower, weren't just space fillers. They reminded me of the easy humor and sweetness I liked about this show. That's just what I'll miss.

In contrast, the finale of Will and Grace felt a little off to me. The show always seemed to teeter between hilarity and over-the-top shrillness (much like Karen's voice). The final episode had some funny bits, mostly one-liners (the show's specialty), but so much of the humor felt self-referential, inside jokes that broke the fourth wall, not funny on their own merits. But perhaps that's the ultimate tribute to the fans--ending the show with scenes that only true Will and Grace aficionados will be able to appreciate.

One of the things I appreciated about W & G in the past was their boldness in creating a difficult relationship between Will and Grace. These were people who loved each other to a fault, told the truth about each other and had arguments and rifts. Even though it may have made viewers uncomfortable, there was an emotional honesty and a closeness between them that was enviable.

In the finale, however, that honesty came to a breaking point and their friendship ended when Grace returned to Leo, the father of her child. The two friends reunited briefly only to lose touch for many years, until their children met in college and married. The writers made some discussion of destiny, as if fate had made them friends for so long only so their children could meet and be married. That felt cheap to me. These two characters, with such a strong connection and friendship that survived so much, deserved more than to serve as stepping stones to their children's eventual happiness.

The Will & Grace finale ended on a more somber note than I'd have expected. It may have seemed like closure to some, but I found it sad to see Will and Grace chatting on the phone before meeting Karen and Jack at the bar. They seemed to have lost their spark and vitality. Things seemed to be ending for them rather than beginning--not exactly what I want from a series finale.

In my head, I like to think of the characters living on, having lives that are rich and full, even if I'll never get to see them. Even when your friends are no longer part of your life, you still want the best for them. TV friends are no different.


At 9:25 AM, Blogger Abbey said...

How funny...we have the complete opposite reaction...

I did NOT enjoy the That 70's Show didn't feel like it had any flow...just random moments thrown together to make things "tie up" - very loosely, I might add.

As for Will and Grace, it was a nice goodbye. Yes, they did break down the 4th wall...but it helped say goodbye. (Think Cliff/Bill and Claire/Phylicia dancing off the set at the end of The Cosby Show.)

I enjoyed Karen and Jack's song at the was obviously Sean and Megan singing. It feels good when you see the real selves as they mourn their "dying" characters. Think Friends...they could barely keep it together for the final scene.

And I understand that the destiny angle could seem unfair, but I thought it was handled well. Will and Grace had an obsessive relationship that could not have lasted in "the real world." For it to continue in a healthy way, they needed to be bound differently ... and what better way than to have their children get married.

While the phone call at the end was sad, it was also a reflection of the opening of the Pilot. And, as I've always heard, the really great movies (tv shows, etc) end and begin almost exactly the same.

And with that in mind... How funny...we had a completely opposite reaction. : )

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Joobie said...

I don't think our reactions were completely opposite. ;) I agree that That 70's Show didn't have that great of a 'flow', but I liked the moments that they did throw together.

As for W & G, your reaction kinda confirms what I was thinking - that it was a finale made for the fans. You've always liked Will & Grace more than I did, so you probably have a better idea of what will give the characters closure and happiness. Your comment about them being "bound differently" is something I could understand, even if I don't completely agree with.

And as for the Will/Karen song, I loved it. I absolutely didn't mind that break in the fourth wall. It was more Jack's comment to Karen "we're just supporting players on the Will & Grace show" that rubbed me the wrong way.

Still, to each her own!


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