*Sounding a Note of Finality

For almost a year now, I’ve been watching all four series of thirtysomething on DVD.  That it should have taken me this long has been due solely to the lack of celerity with which they’ve been released; if it had been up to me, I most definitely would have been gulping them down like a starving woman. However, I’ve recently had the melancholy experience of watching the final episode, something that I had been putting off. This was, first, because I just didn’t want to finish, for the second time in my life, watching thirtysomething; and, too, because, even for a final episode, this particular one is depressing. Watching the last instalment of a television show almost always leads to me feeling a certain amount of dejection, even if I don’t especially like the show in question.

My first experience in this vein that I can recall was in relation to The Restless Years, back in 1982. It’s not as if I watched The Years religiously; as far as I was concerned, it didn’t come close to, for example, The Young Doctors in interestingness. The Restless Years was one of those non-high-concept soap operas that is just about a bunch of people; not a bunch of people all living in one apartment or in one suburb, or going to one high school, or working together in the high-stakes world of fashion design. With the exception of The Young and the Restless, I’ve tended to find that variety of soap opera more difficult to get my teeth into than the one in which the characters have more common ground. Without Internet consultation, I couldn’t even tell you if The Restless Years was set in Sydney or Melbourne.

Therefore, I was a Johnny come lately with The Years, and the show is now, and was then, a blur of only a few characters: a young man who was supposed to be blind, and so had a fixed expression in his eyes and talked loudly; another young man who was unable to read or write; a girl who always seemed just to have arrived home from high school; John Hamblin, ex of Play School, as some kind of high-powered ad man; and Kerri-Anne Kennerley starting out on the show as a dowdy, repressed brunette but ending up with her Good Morning Australia hair and also a sex life. Nonetheless, I recollect having been unreasonably gloomy to see that sunset behind the closing credits for the final time, in a way I usually was only if the featured daily music video on Simon Townsend’s Wonderworld was some filthy dirge by the Moody Blues.

I recall also having found the final episode of thirtysomething a downer when I first watched it, back in 1991. This was, in the first place, because the show, by that point having been tossed from Channel Ten to Channel Seven, was screening at about midnight. (It might have been less depressing to have watched it in the United States, where there was, I believe, still a lot of enthusiasm for the program.) Watching a final episode of anything makes a person feel especially down in the dumps when the given show has been shoved out of prime time, and so has the same pathetic air as a broken doll in a community service announcement that is lying in the ashes after a house fire. This was certainly one of the factors that made watching the last episode of The Secret Life of Us a sombre affair; it screened so late that it felt as though the closing credits should be followed by a cock crow. However, I would say that the most dismal thing about Secret Life’s final episode was the extent to which so very many of the original cast had departed. By the time the show at long last came to a close, it was essentially a spin-off program about Kelly, like the makers of Rhoda or Phyllis trying to pretend that either of these was actually The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

That, at least, was not a failing of the final episode of thirtysomething, given that all the main cast of characters who were still alive were present and accounted for. And, as I say, part of my feeling gloomy after having watched it was simply that it was all over: there would be no more opening packages from Amazon and scouring the thirtysomething box sets for the ever-decreasing number of extras (not even any commentaries for season four!). Yes, this was balanced with some relief at having again made it through certain episodes that either embraced innovation in a manner I didn’t care for, or generally went off on crazy tangents (for example, the one in which Hope discovers memorabilia belonging to people who had lived in her house during World War II and then has flights of fancy about their existences, which leads to a hateful melding of the forties and the eighties, resembling the unholy result of combining Yanks with Moonlighting; or the episode that veers into Michael seeing his life as though it were part of a nineteen sixties sitcom called The Mike Van Dyke Show; or, my least favourite episode in the whole history of the show, in which Elliot boringly wrestles with questions concerning his connection to the Catholic faith), but my sorrow far outweighed any relief, given that those thirtysomething DVDs had been helping to keep me going for almost twelve months now.

Naturally, I’ve spent the past twenty years feeling resentful that Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick didn’t see fit to present us with a season five. Apparently, they were planning to at one stage, and also to split up Michael and the hag-ridingy Hope, the witnessing of which probably would have made for the greatest day of my entire life. However, Herskovitz and Zwick didn’t give us a season five, meaning that many, many issues were not addressed to my satisfaction, such as the fact that the relationship between Ellyn and her new husband, graphic novelist Billy Sidel, was clearly not going to endure once their powerful physical attraction was on the wane. You would imagine the decision not to continue was made before season four went into production, but in the From thirtysomething to Forever documentary that accompanies the season one DVD, the actors talk as though it was news to them. Melanie Mayron read about it in the newspaper, and it seems that a waiter informed Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig while they were having breakfast.

This lack of knowledge on the thespians’ parts seems peculiar, given that by the last few episodes the characters are suddenly, and suspiciously, flung to the four winds. Elliot and Nancy are living in Los Angeles, with a freshly ponytailed Elliot chasing his dream of being a director; Melissa is apparently about to go and live in Los Angeles too, after having unfeasibly befriended the lively female star of a situation comedy; and Michael and Hope are about to go and live in Washington, thanks to Michael being through with the world of advertising and his Satan-like employer, Miles Drentell, a man so memorably given to closely clipped beards and bizarre gnomic utterances. This would then mean that, Gary having passed on, the only members of the gang left in Philadelphia would be Ellyn and Billy, which is a heartrending thing to contemplate. Of course, though, had the show’s creators decided to present us with season five, presumably none of the above would have happened. So, not only would there have been a season five, there would have been a season four that didn’t have most of the characters suddenly haring off to California.

I’ve never forgotten a conversation I had with a friend after I heard that the fifth season of Six Feet Under would be its last. I, attempting to look on the bright side, was spouting the usual truisms about how it was probably best for the show to end then, and so not risk going past the point where it stopped being as good as it had been, but my friend said that, no, she would just like to have kept watching those characters until she was about a hundred years old. This notion has intrigued me ever since: I wonder if it’s possible in the case of a television program that actually wins awards for its makers to push through so that they get past the point of it waning, and then keep it going until the cast, and viewers, start to die of old age.

On this sentimental note, as it’s the last issue of The Scrivener’s Fancy for 2010, I would like to wish everyone who is reading this and observing Christmas a very happy 25 December. I would also strongly advise that you buy the big rolls of wrapping paper, not the folded sheets, as this is a very economical thing to do; I’ve been using the same roll since about 2005.

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