Sunday, July 21, 2013

End of a Favorite TV Show, and Technology

This one is only 7 months late…(and there are lots of spoilers, if you’ve not watched these shows; I’ve started and stopped the spoilers.)

Ok, I’m not afraid to admit it, I watch TV.  For years and years, I didn’t—seems that the TV shows of the late 80’s through mid-2000’s, with a few exceptions, really didn’t capture my interest long enough to keep watching.

That changed with “The Sopranos”* and “Six Feet Under”.  I had basic cable when they came out.  Went to visit a friend in San Diego who had HBO, and he was totally –hooked- on both.  We watched both on his TiVo, and I came back home and wanted one IMMEDIATELY.  I called the cable company and they hemmed and hawed and by golly, I hung up on them (literally) and called DirecTV (then pretty new) and have been a DirecTV subscriber ever since.

Begin Spoilers:

Sometimes, TV shows end in unsatisfying and mediocre ways.  Unlike most everybody else, I loved the ending of St. Elsewhere (one of my favorites from days gone by); the whole thing was a dream in the brain of an autistic Donnie Westphal, and the hospital was a snow globe.  (That series, btw, featured a truly elegant and well-acted two-part episode, “Time Heals”, that is one of my very favorite episodes of any series). 

Star Trek had some unsatisfying endings.  The original season—didn’t.  It was cancelled so abruptly by NBC that there was no final episode.  That actually worked to advantage later, since the characters and story just continued—and we caught back up with them via animated series, movies, etc.  Deep Space Nine’s ending was ok, Voyager’s seemed abrupt but appropriate (and one of my two-parter favorites; Admiral Janeway leaves a not-so-swell future to come back to present-day and bring Voyager home early.  In the process, she fights Klingons, Starfleet Command, and her own friends/family, time-travels, then defeats the Borg AND gets the ship home.  Not bad, Kathryn…I’m sure it was the coffee that did it).  Enterprise’s ending was AWFUL—it was seen as history through the eyes of TNG???  Yuck.  TNG had a great ending; though you knew it was going on in the movies, the series ended on a high note.

Eureka ended leaving them wanting just a little more—but did a great job of wrapping up the loose ends, with a twist, and had a little nod to the past about which I (and most fans) had forgotten. 

Probably one of the best series-enders was the venerable Mary Tyler Moore Show, featuring the cast in one big hilarious group hug. Loved it.

But then, there’s The Bob Newhart Show, in which case Bob the innkeeper wakes up—it’s all been a dream, he’s in bed with Suzanne Pleshette in Chicago, because he’s really Dr. Bob Hartley, a Chicago psychologist, and he’s dreamed the whole Vermont Innkeeper story.  A classic parody.

The Sopranos had a great ending—a twist, nothing resolved; it was great.  Tony and Carm and the family in the local diner.  End.  No resolution of anything. Wow.

Six Feet Under as a series slipped in its last couple of seasons, but the series finale was great and true to its beginnings.  The youngest family member, Claire, finally leaves to strike out on her own—and as she’s doing it, we flash-forward to see the deaths of every single character (seeing the death of characters was a huge motif of the show), ending with—hers.  Hard to describe, but the final sequence was great.

Which brings us to the subject of this column:

I’ve been watching the current ideation of Merlin, which sought to re-introduce the Arthurian legends to a more modern audience.  It ran for 5 years on BBC One and SyFy, with the American version (much like Downton Abbey, another of my favourites) 6 months behind the British.

If you’re not familiar and don’t plan to watch it, Merlin has a 17 year old Merlin travelling to Camelot to get away from his ruined home; in process, he’s taken in by kindly Gaius, the Court Physician, and becomes “servant” to the also-17 Arthur Pendragon.  Uther Pendragon is on the throne and is waging a tireless (and somewhat tiresome) war against Sorcery, which is banished and punishable by death.  Merlin must play a bumbling and foolish servant, when in reality he is the most powerful sorcerer in history.

The creators/writers took many liberties with the legend (see paragraph above…) but followed the outline loosely.  Arthur meets Guinevere—check.  “Gwen” meets Lancelot—check. Gawain joins the merrie band—check.  Percival?  check.  Even Tristan and Isolde make an appearance.  The elements are all there—the red and white dragons, Excalibur (given by the Lady of the Lake), Morgan LeFay, Arthur’s sister and evil Sorceress, Mordred—just all re-arranged a bit to make them a bit more palatable for the 20-something crowd. 

The finale, however, followed the legend a bit more closely.  In the climactic battle of Camlann, Arthur is run through by Mordred, who is in turn killed by the wounded Arthur.  Merlin spirits Arthur away and tries to save him, but alas, Arthur dies.  Merlin sends “The Once and Future King” to rest on Avalon.  When Albion (Britain) is in her day of greatest peril, Arthur will once again rise and lead her to safety as her King.

It’s a very romantic and tragic story.  In the various sources (there is no one true source; L’Morte de Arthur, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, gave us most of the characters—Merlin the powerful magician, Guinevere and Lancelot and the love triangle, Excalibur, et al.), all of them end with the deaths of almost everybody.  Except Merlin—he’s enchanted and hidden in the crystal cave by Nimue, who has stolen all his powers.

I stayed up late to watch last night.

The “bromance” between Arthur and Merlin IS the show—and that concluded in a very satisfying (and tearful, for me) way.  (The last scene with Arthur and Merlin has Merlin trying to drag a chain-mail-clad Arthur to the Lake, to be healed of his (we know mortal) wound.  They fall, and Merlin struggles to keep going.  Arthur knows this is “it”, and tells Merlin, “…just—hold me”.  And that’s where the waterworks started for me). 

(There are a ton of gay overtones in the final episode—Merlin, who has been “closeted” the whole time, “comes out” to Arthur.  At first, Arthur is both disbelieving and unaccepting—but quickly realizes that now he knows the whole of his friend—and still loves him.  In one of his final moments, Arthur tells Merlin, “Just always—be YOU”.  It’s a complete allegory for gay people.).

And, much as the legend suggests, Merlin is waiting for Arthur to rise again, so he can take his place at Arthur’s side.  In the show, Merlin is last seen in modern-day Avalon, an old man walking down the road past the Lake of Avalon.  He pauses—and then keeps walking, waiting.

It was brilliant.  Unexpected twist on a great story, a very satisfying ending.

I was, therefore, shocked at the number of people commenting (in reviews) about how they want a “happy ending”.  There WAS no happy ending!  They did NOT live happily ever after!  At least, not in the legend!  And so, not in the show.  The ending should be bittersweet at best—and it was. 

End Spoilers.

Don’t these people ever, like, I dunno, read books???


Which brings us to technology.

Technology has profoundly altered all our lives.  The genie is out of the bottle, and will not return.  I took a quick trip this week, and was never out of touch thanks to my iPhone 5 (which, I’m sure, we will all laugh and consider hopelessly archaic, and a relic, 5 years from now.  “Hey, remember when we thought the iPhone 5 was the be-all/end-all?  HAHAHAHA!”).  Kept up with the day-to-day activities of my friends, and posted many of my day-to-day activities.

In terms of TV/entertainment, my life has been revolutionized by Roku.  If you don’t have a Roku, get one—they’re cheap and fabulous.  It consolidates all my web services—Netflix, HBOGo, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, Vudu—into one device.  Yes, my TV does all that, too—but not as well as Roku.  Plus, my TV does not allow me to control it via iPhone (!).  I was a skeptic, till I got one.  Give it a try.

Anyway, it has changed the way I watch television.  There were several original Star Trek episodes, for example, that I not only missed during the regular season, I missed during the ONE (1) summer re-run---thus didn’t see until years later when the show was in syndication.  If you weren’t glued to your set, or if you had two conflicting shows, you were just by-golly going to miss something.

Then came the VCR and freedom (is there anyone who doesn’t have a big box of VHS tapes slowly deteriorating somewhere in their house?  In my case, I’d record a bunch of stuff, all on the same tape, with the idea of watching later—and never doing it.  So I’ve got hours of unwatched video (make that “never to be watched video”) and no VCR.

Then TiVo!  Holee crap!  Much better—with limited storage, though.  You couldn’t keep a whole season of anything.

But now, with all these services—I can just wait and watch the entire season (“series” in UK english—in the UK, a “show” is a “programme”, and each individual year is a “series”; Series 1, series 2, series 3 means year 1, year 2, year 3) at the same time.

Which is what I did with Merlin—I watched the entirety of Series 5 over the course of a few days.  It’s like watching a great, continuous  movie—with no commercials!  It is now my preferred method of watching shows—I’m even sort-of leaving the DVR behind and just watching entire shows on the Roku.  I can also pick up shows I’ve never watched (24, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead).

What wonders will the future bring?


Do you have a favorite TV show ending?  Write me a comment and tell me about it!


  1. In the hands of my 89-year-old mother, the Roku is a curse. Her grandchildren got it for her three years ago so that she could watch the Braves on MLB.

    Hardly a day goes by that I'm not on the phone with her trouble-shooting problems with the Roku. Next year I'm going to get her DirecTV and the subscription to MLB Extra Innings. To heck with cable. The only reason we've kept her on cable is for her internet service (you can't get their internet service without being subscribed to their TV service). At this point, the only reason she needs internet service is for the Roku or to check the Braves score on the computer when the Roku isn't working.

    1. Yes, I shudder to think of Dad with a Roku...

  2. I loved the St Elsewhere ending. My family and I talk about it often. I also liked the MTM and Newhart endings. Newhart and St Elsewhere had totally unexpected endings, which is why they are so memorable after all these years!

    1. Do you remember the "Time Heals" two-parter I mentioned? It was wonderful.