Tonight is the last episode of the world’s longest running live television show, Warratte Iitomo! (or It’s Okay to Laugh!), which has been hosted for its entire 32 years by the ubiquitous, on Japanese TV anyway, Tamori. You don’t need to know that much about the show: it’s a daily variety show with a revolving cast. What’s important for this blog is that it reminds me of one of my stranger television hobbies: watching the final episodes of television shows, even ones I don’t watch regularly.
My only rule is that I must have seen either enough episodes of a series to actually enjoy it and be sad it’s ending or enough to get annoyed by it and wish it good riddance (kind of like Jack at the end of Titanic). As a result, I’ve seen final episodes of many of US television’s most famous shows, and a couple of its most obscure: M.A.S.H; China Beach; Little House on the Prairie, which is complicated by Little House: A New Beginning and the fact it ended in a two hour movie, complete with explosions; Good Times; All in the Family; Mary Tyler Moore and its inferior ripoff Ally McBeal (which inexplicably aired here in Japan); Beverly HIlls 90210; Thirtysomething; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (which I had to track down on a trip to the USA); the underrated, badly named Space: Above and Beyond; The X-Files, Millennium; Fringe; Lost; Red Dwarf (complicated by having been continued later); Babylon 5; everything with Star Trek in the title; Battlestar Galactica (twice); and Breaking Bad, even though I’d only seen two episodes.
One of the things I enjoy is seeing how maudlin or insane the writers decide to get and how, more often than not, the endings are crap. My old standard for crap used to be St. Elsewhere (spoiler: it was all a little boy’s dream). My new standard is Battlestar Galactica, the new version, (spoiler: Huh? What? Oh come on! What bullshit is this? Really?) Even the ending of Lost, as bad as it was, was more disappointing than stupid.
Part of the problem with endings, especially of TV shows, is that the shows usually start with a great premise and then, because of the nature of television, are forced to twist and mangle the characters and the story lines well beyond the premise and all hopes of resolution. Babylon 5 had a great conclusion after four years, but then, unfortunately was renewed for a fifth, and the ending is a quiet let down. Lost and Battlestar Galactica were clearly being made up as they went along, for better and for worse.
The best endings find an inevitable twist that makes you go “Of course. It couldn’t end any other way”. Dinosaurs had a great ending because, well, look at what happened to the dinosaurs. Star Trek: Voyager was a bit neat for my taste, but didn’t try to be too clever; Space: Above and Beyond, had a kind of bitter-sweet ending that left many characters’ fates in limbo–but not in an annoying Lost kind of way–and left me and a couple of my friends sad. Newhart, though, remains the best ending ever because it was the twist we didn’t know we wanted.
The worst endings, though, answer questions in ways that are too obvious or offer an annoying twist that distracts from everything that went before. For example, I could point out that my other odd television hobby is watching episodes where popular characters die, even if I don’t watch the show, but then not elaborate. Or, I could do the ALF ending, and just stop without resolving anything.