Your Buddy, Your Pally, Your Season Finale (the epic conclusion)
After the extended dramatic arc of Michael, Pam and Ryan manning their own (ill-fated) company, followed by the dance/breather episode, I wondered what tone the finale would bring.
The answer: “Company Picnic,” which maintained the breezy atmosphere implied by the title, while also delivering on the heartbreaking reunion of Michael and erstwhile girlfriend Holly (Amy Ryan! Hooray!).
While their possible obliviousness to a rekindling of romance made for some awkwardly sweet moments, the finale saved the real stress for the last couple minutes, when Pam and Jim learned (silently, since apparently hospital waiting rooms don’t allow body mics) that Pam’s pregnant.
It’s the mark of a good show when you react to characters as if they were friends. I found myself silently responding to this news much as I would if real friends announced a baby on the way – shock, concern, annoyance, and finally, acceptance – and even pride.
Will this totally destroy “The Office,” as it clearly will all of my friendships when my married buddies start having babies and whatnot? (I kid, I kid…but still, please wait a few years, dear friends.) For now, I don’t care. Because John Krasinski’s shocked, amazed, and borderline-tears reaction was enough to sway me that Pam being pregnant might be a good thing – or at least decent fodder for jokes next year.
As long as “30 Rock” stays on the goofy side, I’m happy. When they resort to the (now) time-honored gag of “power going to Liz Lemon’s head,” I’m downright gleeful.
As in previous episodes where Liz has tasted power (“Suck it monkeys, I’m going corporate!”), the finale saw Liz finally getting some (not entirely deserved) recognition for her romance-advisor sketch, boldly handing out relationship advice despite a complete lack of understanding on the subject (while becoming a sought-after talk-show guest and book-writer – which would NEVER happen in real life, of course). The show is never better than when Tina Fey wants to make fun of herself.
Now that the show doesn’t have to fight for renewal, maybe next year the guest-star level will lower, and the Hornberger/Toofer level will rise.
If anything, the writer’s strike that allowed the producers to actually plot out the entire season for a change has actually robbed “24” of the lunatic spontaneity that often makes the show so much fun. This year’s chance to reassess its season midway through (evident when Jack dropped his self-righteous streak about torturing and the African-Warlord master-plot villain was pretty quickly discarded) meant losing a chance at some of the out-of-nowhere twists (“Let’s have Jack execute his boss!”; “Let’s nuke Valencia!”) that earn ‘24’’s unpredictable reputation.
While Jack’s post-poisoning deterioration has led to the closest thing to a character-arc he’s had in a while – facing his own mortality more or less alone – it’s also shown how bad the writers are at building tension in the long term. From the moment he was gassed, we also knew of an “experimental treatment” that required a family member. So we’ve pretty much been twiddling our thumbs waiting for trouble-magnet Kim Bauer to show up again. And once Tony was revealed to have gone bad (again), we’ve been sitting around waiting for the inevitable last-episode confrontation between Jack and Tony.
And while we wait around for these foregone conclusions (the peril of real-time – not every moment is going to be exciting, or even half-interesting), we have to sit through more “intrigue” at the White House, and more glowering by a vaguely-defined group of shadowy businessmen. Because this is all ‘24’ can ever think to pad an episode with.
But the season finale was pretty solid by ‘24’ standards, heavy on action, double-crosses, annoying White House drama, and the always-effective “What’s It All Mean?” moment for Jack. It also made some important callbacks to previous seasons (Tony’s revenge-plot was meant to draw out the dangling-plot-thread consortium behind season 5), while developing new cues for next year (Tony’s alive, in custody, and furious; FBI agent Renee missed the point of Jack’s semi-regretful “Make the choices you can live with” speech, deciding to torture bad white businessman anyway; and Kim’s somehow still alive).
So like ‘House’ before it, ‘24’ ends with exciting possibilities for the next year, and hopes that they’ll finally crack that always-elusive “Making the most of real-time storytelling” conundrum.
“How I Met Your Mother”
‘HIMYM’ is dense in continuity and mythology – it’s the ‘Lost’ of sitcoms. From episode one, we’ve been given clues about how Ted’s search for the Lady In Question ultimately pans out. But over the last few episodes, we’ve been tossed some visual cues to let us know the story was seriously moving forward, both blatant and cryptic (we’ve always known the yellow umbrella and the goat play a part – but how?!).
The finale illuminated those mysteries without making the connections too blatant (it takes a little mental legwork to see how future-Ted’s labyrinthine storytelling links together), while also clarifying what this season (and really, the series so far) has been about: Ted’s maturation into the person who would eventually meet The Mother.
All the “big” events of this season – Ted’s break-up with fiancée Stella, his firing and subsequent attempt to start his own business, even his attack by the goat he’s been ominously hinting at since season 1 – in their own ways, directed him into a teaching position at Columbia. Which is where, the narration reveals, he will ultimately meet his future love (which also means next year will have a class full of red herrings the show can tease us with).
And lest you think this is all about Ted, the finale also made major moves on the Robin-Barney front, as both kinda-sorta confronted their feelings for each other – but since neither one is exactly an expert (or even a “Ted”) in this area, they manipulate each other at a rapid pace before finally deciding to ignore all that “relationship-status” nonsense and just make out for a while. (What I just wrote doesn’t sound like it, but it was a really sweet moment in keeping with a rather unconventional romance.)
This is the first year ‘How I Met Your Mother’ didn’t have to struggle for a renewal, and I think the producers knew that. Like the ‘Lost’ team, they’re aware of the timeframe they’re working with, using it to their fullest advantage to tell a meaningful story. And for that, I applaud them.
It’s nice to know TV doesn’t always have to break my heart. After smacking me around early this year by cancelling “Pushing Daisies,” the networks have decided to go easy on me by renewing “Dollhouse,” “Better Off Ted” AND “Chuck” (another quality-disposable show I don’t mention much). Though apparently it would’ve killed ABC to renew “The Unusuals” and make it a clean sweep for me.