How To Ruin An Entire Series

So last night, after nine seasons of waiting and wondering, we finally learned how Ted Mosby met the mother of his children. Her name was Tracy, and what little we saw of their relationship drove home the point that she was truly perfect for him. They had two kids, finally tied the knot. And then she died. That’s right. TV’s version of a mythical rom-com ended with the girl of Ted’s dreams coughing in a hospital bed. And why? So he could end up with Robin. Robin whose season long wedding weekend to Barney ended in divorce after which she revealed herself to be a pretty lousy friend. But Ted still ended up at her window with that damned blue French horn. So in short, people, this was one big long con, and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. And it’s not just because this finale was such a colossal misfire. It’s because fans have been robbed of that one bit of comfort that comes when a beloved series signs off. Because who can enjoy the reruns now?

Consider this. Some people like to reference Seinfeld as having the most disappointing series finale of all time. I’ll confess that I wasn’t blown away when I first saw it, but over the years, it’s kind of grown on me. Even if it hasn’t worked that same kind of magic on you, that final episode in no way diminishes the series as a whole, and you can go back and re-watch the adventures of Jerry and the gang and still enjoy nearly every single second of it.

HIMYM? Not going to happen. How can anyone watch Ted and Robin’s sweet courtship and logical break-up or Barney’s final play that was his proposal to Robin, or this entire final season building up to the Barney/Robin wedding and take any pleasure in any of it? This is a betrayal of St. Elsewhere-ian proportions, and the fact that Bays and Thomas might get to do it all over again is criminal. Legendary? Sure. But for all the wrong reasons, Bro.

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HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: So Robin’s the bride…

…and I could care less. Thought Marshall and Lily’s baby is cute, but unless they turn things around next season, I’m over this show.

2011: The Highs and the Lows

It’s a little late (and we’re doing it a little differently), but let’s take stock of the year that just was in television.

BEST EPISODE (COMEDY): Community – “Remedial Chaos Theory”

If any episode of this past season should be taught in screenwriting classes the world over, this is the one. It’s essentially an exercise in utilizing the same established groups of characters in variations on the same situation and revealing their truths while crafting moments of comedy, romance, action, and horror (maybe its’s just me, but Pierce’s troll doll gift is the stuff of nightmares, and if I were Troy, I would also try to swallow it, thus destroying my larynx). Community is a unique show that operates on its own beautiful wavelength. The current hiatus is troubling, but I have to believe that a group of writers and actors who know their characters so well that they can tell an audience all that needs to be known in 3-minute vignettes when other shows can’t accomplish this feat in a season’s worth of work will, like the Phoenix, rise again.

BEST EPISODE (DRAMA): Mildred Pierce – “Part 5”

Okay. So lots of people thought it was slow moving (translation: boring), but I loved this mini-series. Kate Winslet’s Mildred met every challenge life put in her path, except for the terror that was her own ungrateful daughter. The final episode drove this point home. Mildred is successful as is the horrid Veda, now a classical singer. But Mildred, desperate to share in this importance and thus justify every choice she’s ever made, looks up and marries her wayward lover (Guy Pearce’s Monty), buys his house, and proceeds to shower Veda with gifts that even Mildred can’t afford. Losing her grasp on her hard-earned fortune, maybe Mildred can finally take comfort in Veda’s acceptance and gratitude. This hope is dashed when she finds her demon spawn naked in bed with Monty. Yes, Mildred reconnects with her ex, and there is the suggestion that she’ll start over baking the pies that first brought her prominence. But Veda is gone, and the sight of Mildred cursing her daughter and simultaneously chasing Veda’s departing car completes the tragedy of a woman whose mind for business is undercut by the misguided desires of her heart.

BEST SOAP OPERA: One Life to Live

Facing cancellation alongside sister soap All My Children, OLTL made every effort to go out with its head held high. If you missed this fantastic ensemble breathing life into romantic, gut-wrenching, and even humorous scripts, shame on you! But for those who watched, we saw the truth of Rex’s paternity finally revealed, a double wedding undone by an assortment of DNA tests, the reemergence of Tess (and her surprisingly exciting relationship with Ford), Shane’s bullying, Gigi’s “death” (which gave the ailing Clint a new heart), Destiny’s teenage pregnancy, and matriarch Viki finally coming to terms with her alters. But nothing tops the “Two Todds.” While some of the plastic surgery and brainwashing hi-jinks were a little zany (even for a soap), no performances matched those of Roger Howarth, Trevor St. John, Kassie DePaiva, Florencia Lozano, and Kristen Alderson. That these creative people and so many more will continue to work is a given. That it won’t always be together, playing these characters, is a crime.

WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR: The cancellations of All My Children and One Life to Live

Words more eloquent than mine have already described how the unceremonious dismissal of these two long-running classics in favor of two lifestyle shows equals the loss of beloved friends for so many. The hope for a new life online via Prospect Park is also seemingly dashed. In this day and age, there are always ways to go back and revisit favorite storylines and discover those one might have missed. But as of right now, the promise of new adventures in Pine Valley and Llanview is gone. And as the end of General Hospital doesn’t seem that far behind, it is simply a sad, sad state of affairs for the soap fan.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

This pick narrowly beats HBO’s Bobby Fischer doc, which was a compelling study of an obsessive, self-destructive genius. But this study of the tragic fate of mother Diane Schuler, her daughter, her nieces, and a car of strangers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time stayed with me for days after viewing. What happened? The evidence said that Aunt Diane was drunk, was high, and drove her vehicle into oncoming traffic the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway. But what led this devoted mother and aunt to such a fate? Schuler’s surviving sister-in-law and husband grasp at straws to explain the horror, but there is no absolving explanation. And the film tells us that such is life. Nightmares become real, and we will never understand. All that we have are the words of forensics’ expert Werner Spitz to Diane’s family: “I sincerely hope that you find peace with this.”

BEST SHOW TO SURVIVE THE LOSS OF A MAJOR CHARACTER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

The departure of Christopher Meloni’s Stabler left a void that seemed impossible to fill (and after avoiding it for so long, now I guess I have to start watching True Blood). Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish, enjoyable as they are, do not have the same chemistry with Mariska Harigtay’s Olivia (although she and Pino have their moments). That being said, SVU has featured a host of compelling mysteries and powerful guest turns (the T.R. Knight episode was far-fetched, but Treat Williams was amazing in the show’s indictment of the long-term injuries suffered by NFL players). Dan Lauria’s turn as a sexually abusive coach might have aired before Jerry Sandusky was synonymous with Satan, but syndication will link the two events in viewers’ collective memories. And in the Russian mail-order bride episode, series regular Dann Florek arguably did his best work of the entire series. So while USA’s endless marathons cannot help but make one wistful for the days of “El and Liv,” the show is more than holding its own with its new cast members and consistently intriguing stories.

WORST SHOW TO SURVIVE THE LOSS OF A MAJOR CHARACTER: The Office

Steve Carell’s departure signaled a turning point in the world of Dunder Mifflin, but I was optimistic that the show would find a way to reinvent itself in the wake of Michael Scott’s goodbye. Many a sitcom has done it before. Sadly, The Office is floundering. James Spader’s Robert California adds little to the action. But the bigger problem is Ed Helms’ Andy as boss. Andy had carved out a niche as a lovable dork when simply one of the many desk jockeys. Now, as Michael’s successor, the character has been stuffed into the mold of the former manager. Several strong Jim subplots along with Darryl caught between the office proper and the warehouse are not enough to lift the series in the face of Andy’s loss of identity and the pointless sabotaging of his relationship with Erin. I’m still watching but rarely enjoying what was once appointment television.

WORST SERIES FINALE EVEREntourage

I was never a diehard fan of this show (but then again, was anybody?). Still, I enjoyed the some of the early episodes (loved Drama and Turtle finding Nirvana – translation the kiddie table at a Bat Mitzvah to feed their munchies). But the series was long past what you might define as a prime (remember when it became the Jamie-Lynn Sigler half-hour during her real life romance with Jerry Ferrara?). So the show limped towards the finish line. But you know how it is; you’ve watched a show and its characters over the years, so you want to see how it all ends. But Vince’s sudden engagement? A reconciliation between Ari and his suddenly named wife that was supposed to read as some supreme sacrifice on his part? And Sloan in that red dress waiting to fly away with E? Stupid, stupid, and lame (let’s hope the movie gets lost in production limbo; probably won’t happen, but a girl can pray).

WORST COLLECTION OF SO MUCH TALENT IN ONE PLACE: I Hate My Teenage Daughter

Tony Award winner Katie Finneran? Emmy Award Winner Jamie Pressly? Chad Coleman from The Wire? And Eric Sheffer Stevens, one of the highlights of the last few months of As the World Turns? All on one of the lamest new shows of the season? Someone get these people a better creative team behind them and craft something worthy of our screens!

BEST WTF MOMENTS: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire is an imperfect show with a too large cast. Now that cast has been trimmed. But damn! The murder of Angela Darmody and her female lover was shocking and tragic (there goes my hopes for Angela and Richard Harrow becoming the great love story of the series). The revelation that Jimmy’s twisted mother, Gillian, had her way with her son before he ran off to WWI? Makes sense given their relationship and something we all thought would happen. But that it already had puts their entire relationship in a light demanding a second viewing. But nothing topped Jimmy’s murder at Nucky’s hands, especially when it seemed like Jimmy was in a position to survive to Season Three. From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense. There was no other way out for Jimmy, and now Nucky is a complete gangster. But does the show rebound from the loss of arguably its most compelling character, arguably the true lead of the first two seasons? Time will tell.

BEST CHARACTER: Leslie Knope – Parks and Recreation

The figurative First Lady of Pawnee organized an amazing Harvest Festival, fought the flu, decided to run for City Council, and most importantly fell in love with Ben. But whatever Leslie is doing, she does it well. The ability to be right almost all of the time would not endear Leslie to the other characters and the audience in the hands of a lesser actress. But at the heart of Amy Poehler’s performance is  optimism, wisdom, and kindness. Always efficient and never aggravating, Leslie is currently the funniest and most likable woman on TV.

WORST COUPLE: Barney and Robin – How I Met Your Mother

Back in Season Five, they finally made if official, but the writers quickly lost interest in what was and could have continued to be a nice contrast to Ted’s romantic dreams and Marshall and Lily’s super sweet marriage. Last season’s finale hinted at a second exploration of the duo. But so far we’ve only seen either Robin or Barney wanting to reconnect when the other is not ready, new partners, a secret hookup, and a pregnancy scare. In other words, every rom-com cliche you can imagine when that’s never what the couple was. Robin is likely Barney’s mystery bride from the flash forward in the most recent series premiere, but let’s hope the getting there starts to show much, much more originality.

MOST AWKWARD MOMENT IN SPORTS: Joe Paterno is Fired

I am not about to equate the loss of a job with the horrific abuse inflicted by the afore-mentioned Sandusky. Still, all sports channels and most major news outlets devoting their air time to what once seemed inconceivable, the dismissal of a legend, made for riveting TV. There is no more classic and familiar and tragic story than a supposed hero who is revealed for the scared little man he always was. His blind eyes wrought pain on so many who are only now getting a voice. Yet, who cannot help but feel something at Paterno’s downfall whether it’s shock or schadenfreude or simply sorrow. And I stayed awake until well after midnight, as I’m sure many of you did, watching the fallout.

MOST AWESOME MOMENT IN SPORTS: The Cardinals Win It All

As a Mets’ fan, I have no business celebrating this victory (although I was gleeful when St. Louis sent the Phillies home earlier than anticipated). Not that I have some great love for the Rangers either, but I was behind them at the start of the World Series, which shaped up to be the competition that ratings are made of. Then, as it so often happens, we had Game Six. The Rangers seemed on their way to the title. Then the Cards took control of the game. Then Texas was back on top. Then St. Louis tied the thing up. After many an extra inning, St. Louis emerged victorious. Now I was far from the Russian fans turning on Drago in Rocky IV, but at the start of Game Seven, any fan worth their salt had to feel that the Cardinals and their fans deserved this win. And they got it. You won’t see me rooting for them when baseball resumes, but game respects game, and for one night Pujols, La Russa, and the rest earned my applause.

Emmy Thoughts

Emmy Nominations announced today, boys and girls. Here are the top five reasons why I am happy and frustrated all at once:

  1. Mad Men’s writing nod for the best episode of anything of 2010: I’ve already discussed on this blog why “The Suitcase” was the most compelling hour of television offered last year. What was essentially a Don/Peggy duet is in no way hindered by a viewer unfamiliar to the complicated relationship of our two leads. It helps to know the whole story behind the screams, the laughs, the tears, the poor punches (Duck does make an appearance), and the ultimate love on display between the unraveling genius and the protegé who is more than possibly even he ever imagined. Naturally the experience is only enhanced if you know the entire backstory, but so sublime are the performances from Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss and so skilled the words making their way from page to screen, a glimpse into what makes any “most important” connection between two people work, that I cannot see how it will be denied the trophy (but of course, this is the Emmys, people).
  2. Parks and Recreation a contender for Outstanding Comedy Series: Guess the Emmys will never got on board with Community (their loss), but Parks and Recreation definitely made moves to find its own identity on NBC’s Thursday night lineup. April and Andy’s wedding, the permanent additions of Ben and Chris, Ron Swanson’s turkey burger, and Leslie at something of a professional and/or personal crossroads at the season’s conclusion added up to a show that I will be rooting for even if I think it has zero chance of claiming a title it held for more weeks than not.
  3. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series?: Where the fuck are the Boardwalk Empire boys? Michaels Pitt and Shannon (especially Shannon) mesmerized with characters who defied expectations. At one point, Pitt’s Jimmy seemed doomed to fall into a self-loathing addiction reminiscent of Christopher Moltisanti, but he got his head together to partner with his long-estranged birth father, and he is poised to go after father figure Nucky in Season Two. And Van Alden? Van Alden?! Only the most twisted character in a world of gangsters and murders. And he’s the law! Should have both been recognized.
  4. Everybody from Mildred Pierce but…: I didn’t get a chance to properly praise HBO’s compelling mini-series, but let me express how pleased I am to see most of the stellar cast and the brilliant writing rewarded with nominations. Evan Rachel Wood is worthy for her turn as the older Veda, a budding singer who betrays her titular mother in the worst way imaginable. But Morgan Turner’s performance as the younger Veda showed the audience how and why Veda could and would go to such monstrous lengths. I adore Kate Winslet (and she will win the Emmy), but this was the highlight of an awesome collection of episodes.
  5. Where’s Jason Segel?: How I Met Your Mother has been better, but props where props are due. Jason Segel acted the shit out of  Marshall’s fear of trying to have a baby/becoming a dad, the loss of his own father, a radical change in career paths, and the news of Lily’s pregnancy in the season finale. Should have been nominated, wasn’t, so while I’m looking forward to the telecast, you can see why I’m far from pleased with today’s announcement.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Fingers Crossed

I love the promise of a season finale. The food poisoning (hi, Dave Foley!) and kind of aimless Ted plot aside, there’s still a lot to take in. Marshall and Lily are pregnant. You kind of saw that coming as Marshall finally got a break in a pretty awful year. So at long last a little Eriksen is on the horizon. On the other hand, we are absolutely no closer to learning the identity of Ted’s future wife. She’s at the wedding, sure. But after a season premiere that seemed to promise the answer we’ve all been waiting for, the wedding was as frustrating a psych as the blonde who received Zoey’s orchid. Still, I’ll take what I can get. The wedding is Barney’s. But is Robin the bride?

Barney already kind of sort of admitted that he’s already met the right girl prior to his night on the town with Jerry. But that offhanded remark was replaced with the wistful realization that Barney loved and likely still loves Robin. And she feels exactly the same. Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders were about as romantic as they’ve ever been in that scene. Now I know that the episode stressed out with the old, in with the new and not returning to the past just because it’s familiar. And Nora reappeared. But as Robin watched her walk away, initially happy for Barney and then all kinds of confused and sad because she wants to be the challenge that he accepts, I think we basically saw one of the main arcs of Season 7. Barney is going to court Nora. Hell, maybe Barney’s even choosing a tie for their wedding. But even if it’s at the absolute last minute, Barney and Robin will realize that they are meant to be together. Has to be. Better be. I’m choosing to be optimistic. Because if I’m being honest, the batch of episodes featuring Barney and Robin as a couple are some of my favorite of the entire series. I want more of the same. Oh, and if we meet the mother, that’ll just be the icing on the cake.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Buh-Bye, Zoey

For much of the HIMYM season, I have not been a fan of Zoey (although her ex is a different story.) So while I wasn’t sad to see the character (probably) gone for good, I have to say that when she charged the stage with Ted’s recorded praise for the Arcadian, Zoey finally made an impression.

Using Ted’s words against him in front of his bosses and jeopardizing both Ted’s and Barney’s jobs was all kinds of evil. Yet, Ted cared for Zoey, she cared for him, and his friends liked her (at least they said they did). So how could Zoey, whose marriage, limiting as it was, recently fell apart and who found new love and a surrogate family, throw everything away for a building? I know, I know. She grew up there. But she placed the Arcadian above the actual people in her life. And I felt incredibly sad for her in that instant. In the end, Zoey lost it all. Also kind of tragic. She never really fit in with Ted and the gang, but I think I would follow Jennifer Morrison in a similar role (in a different setting) with great fascination.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Role-Playing

So what did you think? When Lithgow’s Jerry first appeared, I applauded his chemistry with NPH and the years-in-the-making confrontation between Jerry and Barney. But I was not a fan of the B plot. Tonight’s episode was, for the most part, better overall. It didn’t pack the emotional punch of “Legendaddy,” and there was still a weak link in the chain. But a lot of it was near perfect.

“Crazy Jerry” gave Lithgow a chance to really cut loose before revealing that Jerry was merely acting so he could hang with his son, which gave way to Barney’s memories of what really happened (I particularly liked Jerry challenging the mannequin to a fight). Then came a series of touching father-son scenes: in handcuffs, running from the cops, fleeing the city with one of Jerry’s driving students. You know. Typical rites of passage. But it was sweet when Jerry produced the button he’d given Barney so long ago, and don’t forget the hint that Barney’s already met the right girl to settle down with (please, please, please let it be Robin!).

Speaking of Ms. Scherbatsky, remember that weak link I was talking about? Exhibit A. Robin and Ted “dating” again for Jerry’s benefit had potential, but then Michael Trucco showed up. Nothing against him; Samuel Anders was awesome. But first we saw Robin and Don then Barney and Nora and now Robin and… this guy. Just get them back together already! And Ted really had nothing to do except rock those hideous red cowboy boots.

Lily and Marshall, on the other hand, were on fire. Marshall the faux playwright discussing the “bourgeois” and “ennui” was matched by Lily going all Miranda Priestly and berating her Tony Award-winning husband for essentially loafing while she works 90 hours a week. Good stuff (and of course Lily got the five phone numbers first, but Marshall enjoyed himself, albeit quickly).

All and all, not a bad night for HIMYM. The confusion over club names was funny, but it went on way too long. Barney announcing that he and his friends had a band before the gang played the theme song? That was rich. They hit the joke and moved on. Kind of like I hope the show would with some of these detours on the way to Barney and Robin, Part Two.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: How Barney Met His Father

At long last, Barney Stinson met his long lost dad (played by the awesome John Lithgow). Let’s get the weak bit out of the way first. Intermingled with some great scenes between Lithgow and the equally awesome NPH, we saw the other friends calling each other out for all those little things they should know as adults but somehow fail to understand. And come on! Would someone as smart as Robin not know that the North Pole is a real place (or that Jack Kennedy and John Kennedy were the same person)? Would architect/college professor Ted really not know how to pronounce chameleon? Kind of liked the gang calling Lily out on her lack of aim, but the only aspect of the plot that slightly worked was Marshall begging his friends to stop cutting him breaks because of his own father’s passing (the possum was the sight gag, but I loved Barney and Ted struggling to agree that The Phantom Menace was the best of the Star Wars series). Other than that, the subplot sagged.

Back to the A story, while it was pretty obvious that Barney’s version (name drop!) of his drink with Jerry was what Barney wanted his dad to be, Lithgow played the faux father well. But Barney’s dad is no legen-wait for it-dary ladies man but rather a driving instructor from White Plains. So Barney vows to never speak to his father again, which led to another fabulous Marshall moment (he really can’t speak to his father again; side note: don’t you think Jason Segel should get an Emmy nomination for this season’s worth of work?). Barney agrees to dinner with Jerry and his family, and what started off amusing (Barney getting into it with his newly discovered little brother, JJ), turns heavy when Barney realizes the kid got the suburban dad that he was denied. The scene at the basketball hoop? Foreshadowed and excellent. You knew Jerry would pull out a screwdriver to fill in Barney’s gap, but damn if it still worked as did Barney giving the hoop to Ted. And that’s really the story of this season. It takes awhile to get there, but more episodes than not end with a painfully poignant moment. Pretty sure we’ll see Lithgow again. Just surround the next stage of the reunion with a better B plot.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: When Ray and Neil Taught Eric It’s Not About the Number of Lines

When last we met our heroes, Marshall received the devastating news of his father’s sudden passing. With the gang in tow, Marshall made his way to Minnesota to lay his father the rest. What followed worked for three reasons:

  1. Everyone has a role to play: Robin as “vice girl” with her Mary Poppins on an acid trip bag of tricks helps everyone make it through the day (how did she get that Crocodile Dundee DVD?), but Lily also did her part by driving Marshall’s mother to eat and sleep, and Ted and Barney were all about finding a viral clip to put a smile on their Bro’s face. Silly to be sure, but a completely accurate depiction of how we help our loved ones through tragedy.
  2. Only Small Actors: You’ve probably heard about the Twitter fight between NPH and Young and the Restless star Eric Braeden when the latter would not reprise his role as Robin’s dad because the role was “not substantial enough” (I’m on Team Neil all the way). So Ray Wise stepped in at the last moment to play Scherbatsky Sr. And he rocked it. We only saw him on the other end of a phone call, putting down Robin’s life choices before remembering to wish her a happy birthday. But in under a minute of screen time, he created a character, a history, and did more to suggest the twisted dynamic between Robin and her dad than Braeden did during his previous stint. Guess the part was substantial enough for Wise.
  3. Barney for the Win: Finally we came to Marshall blasting God for taking his father from him without so much as comforting last words (or so he thought), and Jason Segel was fantastic. But the camera kept cutting to Barney, his eyes brimming with tears. Without any words, Harris played his love for his friend, the sorrow of not knowing his own father, and the desire to make that connection even at the risk of Marshall’s pain. Just beautifully done, and in the end Barney takes the step to meet his dad at long last. And with hardly any dialogue! Take that, Victor Newman!

Great episode on all fronts.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: With the good comes the bad

I wouldn’t say that tonight’s How I Met Your Mother was a classic. We met Barney’s doppelgänger in the form of Lily and Marshall’s fertility doctor, Robin came into contact with the odious Sandy Rivers at her new job (and we got a montage of Robin’s humiliations over the years), and Ted… well he pretty much stayed on the sidelines for this one. But that last scene, Marshall rushing out of MacLaren’s to share his good news with Lily (his boys can swim) only to be confronted with the fact that his father has suddenly died… wow. Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan were heartbreaking, and while the episode itself came and went, the image of Lily and Marshall holding each other, crying, might be one of the most moving moments of the entire series.