EPISODE 809 THE ONE WHERE EVERYTHING ENDS
Because the torture is just exquisite.
POP CULTURE SPIRIT WOW
Hi and welcome to Pop Culture Spirit Wow, where I write stuff about cultural stuff going on and hopefully you like it! Happy Pride!
This week I tried a little experiment, posting an additional post entitled “Theater Wow” about an incredible theater experience I had last week.
Some friends have been encouraging me to start some kind of blog or newsletter where I write about nothing but theater, which I’m sort of kicking around as a possibility. So consider this a dry run!
(And to those who liked what they read enough to sign up, thanks so much! I hope you like what you see!)
Because this week is the Tonys, I may very well do another little Theater Wow. I’ve actually got an interview lined up with someone nominated for a Tony, in fact; I’m not sure he’ll have time to do it this week, given the wonderfully crazy state of his life. But stay tuned…I am here for you.
For now, let’s get into it!
THE WOWND UP
This week in the world of Wow, a school district in Utah banned the Bible in grade and middle schools after someone raised concerns that the violence and vulgarity in the text violates the district’s book policies. The twist is that the issue was raised by someone frustrated with the banning of books like Gender Queer or The Hate U Give—i.e. material by and about queer and BIPOC people—saying that the material is too adult for young people (despite having been written for them). And that parent thought, Hey, two can play that crazy game. They or someone else has apparently also asked that the Book of Mormon be removed. To which I would like to offer a hearty LOL.
Meanwhile back in 2004 was this show TV Lost that exploded onto TV screens around the world and became this insane phenomenon that no one could stop talking about and catapulted showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof to mega-stardom themselves. Cut to: a new book coming out Tuesday which details a lot of bad behavior on their part behind the scenes. Some of it, which Lindelof himself admitted in interviews for the book, amounts to him being put in charge of a show having no real managerial experience. Which, huh, is exactly one of the things that the Writers Guild is striking about, because writers have actually only gotten to have less managerial experience since. Go figure.
And in the New York Times, journalist Madison Malone Kircher shared what readers say they have on their Notes apps, and my God is it amazing: a description of a snail that can grow back its own head (um, WHAT); a list of nonsensical sounding words someone kept hearing at a conference; and a selection of songs to be played at one reader’s funeral.
Actually the whole article is this beautiful glimpse into being human. You gotta read it.
For those interested in more on the censorship issue, I actually covered an event where Maia Kobabe, who wrote Gender Queer, and other queer comics writers talked about the surreal experience of having their books banned, and how shocking it is to have people make up all kinds of stuff about your books. I also got the chance to talk to Kobabe. I was really amazed by eir hopefulness in the midst of it all.
THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO WATCH AND I FEEL LIKE THIS
I don’t know if you noticed it or not but every show that everyone has been talking about ended last week. The Marvelous Maisel, Ted Lasso, Barry, Succession, The Flash. Yellowjackets ended its second season, too.
There’s a very Hollywood reason for this – May 31 was the last day of Emmy eligibility. Gotta get in those big ticket performances, baby!
But I also found myself wondering, has there ever been a greater week of finales ever in the history of television?
So I checked. I looked up Rolling Stone’s top 100 TV shows of all time, then googled the date of each show’s finale. Then I put them in chronological order, and it was weirdly satisfying, What, stop looking at me like that.
My main takeaway: the winter and spring of 2015 was SO HARD. Within 4 months, Parks & Rec, Justified, Mad Men and Community all finished their runs. Three years earlier, Battlestar Galactica, Scrubs and Lost concluded within a few months of each other; I can actually remember that being a big deal.
But in all of US television history, there is only one week that has anything like the significance of what we have just been through, and that is the week of May 6th-13th, 2004. In just 7 days, NBC lost two of its greatest shows of all time, Friends and then Frasier. It was a big, big deal. I think many people would point to that moment as when NBC’s whole Must See TV Thursday idea ended.
I think you could argue that that moment was more important culturally than now, not only because lacking the world of “platforms” and niche programming and “Hey, we just decided to pull Willow off our platform because whatev,” those shows cast much bigger shadows, and did it for a lot longer. The Flash went 9 seasons, but of the others Maisel only went 5, Barry and Succession 4, and Ted Lasso just 3.
Is this worth noting? Just a weird coincidence? Something to keep me off the streets? I don’t really know. It definitely seems like a big deal to me right now, when I’m like, Hey hey, time for—oh, shoot, well, no matter, there’s still—wait, damn it what is my life now?
Looking at that list of finales has brought up so many shows I want to watch, rewatch and/or finish. Like, Modern Family: I loved you. I was with you almost until the end. But then there was Pandemic and I lost the will to watch others experience normal joy. (We went into lockdown one month before Modern Family ended.)
I loved every single season of Orange is the New Black. Why haven’t I watched the end? And hey, how have I not caught up with Atlanta? Or rewatched Friday Night Lights and The Americans? (Keri Russell is so killing it in the Diplomat. Get into that.) Maybe I could even watch The Golden Girls?
(I feel your judgment and I own it.)
Also, time really must be a flat circle because a lot of the dates just did not make sense to me. How did Friends go SIX YEARS past Seinfeld? I thought they were on together.
Or how did the Office and Breaking Bad end the same year? They exist in completely different universes of time for me.
And how has it been twenty years since Sex and the City ended the first time? I never watched it, but to me it still feels recent.
HE WAS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME
Speaking of finales: Ted Lasso.
The finale appears like it’s going to end in the same way that it began. Ted is on a plane, this time headed to Kansas City. He’s just run into the same British wanker who wants an “us-ie” and says he’s made a terrible choice. The only thing that proves to be different is that Coach Beard leaves the plane to stay with Jane and the team.
All good. Ted is on his way.
But then we get an extended sequence in which we seem to watch everything that happens after Ted leaves. Trent gets Beard and Ted’s notes on his book. Roy takes over the team, with Nate and Beard as his assistants and the repaired Believe sign on the wall. Roy also goes to see Dr. Sharon. Keeley’s new PR company gets going, and she and Rebecca start a women’s soccer club. Nate is happy. Jamie bonds with his dad. Higgins has a family barbecue with the team. Mae and the guys buy shares in the team. Sam is finally invited to join the African national team. Trent’s book comes out, and it’s clearly a big hit. Beard ends up getting married to Jane at Stonehenge—so brilliant, that—and we see lots of the players with their partners.
But then we unexpectedly cut to Ted waking up on the plane, and it’s like Wait, I guess that was all a dream? Ted’s hopes for his team and friends, maybe?
But some elements of that sequence, like Trent looking at Ted’s notes on the book, or Mae buying shares, or Sam on the African team, absolutely do not feel like dreams. In fact, revealing that Sam’s presence with the African team is just a dream kind of undermines the whole point of showing that.
And that Stonehenge sequence is also strange, because Ted is not in it. Why would you present a dream of Ted’s best friend’s wedding and not have Ted in it? It’s weird—like, Paul McCartney isn’t wearing socks on the cover of Abbey Road weird.
And not for nothing—in the first episode of Ted Lasso, what is the one thing in London that Ted says he’d love to see?
We go from there to Ted taking a cab to where his ex-wife Michelle and son Henry live. And it’s a happy reunion, but also odd. Where is Dr. Jacob, the supposed medical professional who has absolutely no sense of ethical boundaries and also hates soccer?
In the final scene, we see Ted coaching his system with his son and his son’s teammates. Which is cute. But after watching Henry run off, Ted turns just a hair and LOOKS RIGHT INTO THE CAMERA.
And I think what we’re supposed to take is Ted & actor Jason Sudeikis both expressing their wonder and gratitude. But it’s ODD. Some of my friends have said they thought he looked sad or in pain.
And that is how the show ends. Except maybe it ended for Ted at the end of the last episode when he showed up at Rebecca’s, because what the hell is all this.
There’s another element of the finale that also haunts me: Ted says so little in the episode. Sure, he’s got his coaching moments and a couple others. But there’s that scene with Rebecca where she’s trying to get him to stay. And he listens, but then says pretty much nothing. Same with him and Nate in their reunion, or he and Beard taking in the wild team Sound of Music send-off.
By the way, did anyone else wonder at the intensity of the team’s happiness when he says it’s perfect? Like, what is going on in this scene?
Ted is just a kind of witness to everything going on around him, and giving space to others, as though out of respect.
I guess that fits with the end turn to camera. A quiet gratitude. But, if you think about it, it also fits with someone who is dead. Or a human manifestation of the Spirit of Hope. Or a Highlander.
And so my quest to discover the truth begins.
MY ANNA KENDRICK PRIDE, PART 1
I’ve decided to watch all of Anna Kendrick’s musical movies over Pride month: Camp, the Pitch Perfects, The Last Five Years and Into the Woods.
I started over the weekend with The Last Five Years. It may not have been my strongest choice. This musical by Jason Robert Brown has a wild time-conceit: the male character played by Jeremy Jordan is moving through the story from when they meet until they broke up; meanwhile Kendrick is starting from the break up and moving through time to the past.
Among other things, this means that the two of them are almost never singing together, or with anyone else, actually. They sing to each other, often in each other’s presence, but while they do the other person is almost always just smiling or reacting in some way. IT IS VERY STRANGE. Like, so strange it could have happened in the finale of Ted Lasso.
The film also asks Kendrick to spend most of the story in a state of anger/desperation, which is not what you normally expect from her. Other than this one wonderful sequence she never really gets to have fun, and that is just yikes.
It’s all about the dancing, isn’t it?
This week I’m going to watch Camp. If you want, watch it yourself and we can compare notes next week.
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE
My niece Meggan graduated from high school this week. The photos she chose for the school’s group presentation were just epic. If you need a laugh, this is for you.
See you next week (or maybe sooner…!)