Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorable endings on TV

Since the "Lost" finale, I've been thinking about memorable TV show finales. Apparently I'm not alone. I googled "memorable TV show endings" and found links to lots of critics and bloggers weighing in on the same topic.

The freshest commentary on memorable endings that I found was on the NPR "Day to Day" web site and its related blog—that's probably because the show ends today and for the last few days they've been discussing endings there. One segment, A Critic's Favorite Final Episodes, discusses three memorable endings: from "Six Feet Under," "The Sopranos," and "Seinfeld." A related blog post, Final Episodes by Jason DeRose, provides footage to the last moments of the shows discussed. Again, "Six Feet Under" is listed among the favorites.

I also would list "Six Feet Under" among my favorite TV show endings—those brilliant last six minutes helped me forgive the screenwriters for the preposterous/maudlin storylines from its last two seasons. (However, if you watch it via the link above, you're probably not going to find it very affecting unless you've watched the show and are familiar with the characters and the fact that each one of the 63 shows in the series began with a death). After I saw it the first time, I rewound it and watched it over and over—the daughter driving through the California desert while each of the main characters lives' are summed up in moments of film was wrenchingly beautiful to me.

I applaud those writers/screenwriters who can create an ending that's innovative, especially when it offers a fitting conclusion and isn't just there to shock or dismay its viewers. Among the latter, I'd include "Twin Peaks," when Agent Cooper becomes Bob; the "Colbys," where Fallon is stranded on a highway and abducted by aliens; and "The Prisoner," where he lifts a mask off a man's face to find himself, and then he drives away... unless he's driving towards the same fate over and over.

In the fresh, creatively appropriate category I'd include "Seinfeld," "St. Elsewhere," and "Newhart" (which I admit I never watched except for those much-acclaimed last few minutes).

Of course, perhaps my list would be longer if I had premium cable—I've never watched "The Sopranos" and am currently, slowly making my way through "The Wire" on DVD via Netflix—and if I watched any kind of TV on a regular basis.

In a future post, I hope to look at both cliched and memorable endings—and beginnings—of fictional works.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lost ending

Back in October, I wrote a post about how the TV show "Lost" would end. I had no predictions, given that I was not a steadfast fan (I mostly quit watching after the second season), but I was excited about how the writers were going to finish the tangled mess it had become. I fiercely hoped the writers wouldn't pull a dumb, soap opera-ish deus ex machina ending, or use one of those moldy old "then they woke up" hat tricks overused by desperate writers in the past.

I watched the last hour of the final show the other night and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how it ended or what it meant. My spouse, who has watched every show, sometimes twice, wasn't exactly sure either, so I can't attribute my ignorance entirely to my lack of "Lost" knowledge.

Of course the writers wanted to leave viewers talking and wondering, I'll give them that. But I'm not even sure that they knew what it meant or that the multiple conclusions were consistent with each person's island story line and alternative reality. Were they in purgatory all along or only in their alternative realities, or was the last couple of seasons Jack's fantasy as he lay dying?

Yet I must say I admire the nested framework they succeeded in creating, how the final shot of Jack dying in the bamboo forest is a near-perfect reversal of Jack waking up in the bamboo forest after the plane crash from the first episode. Someone has posted a video comparing the two endings, the final running forward and the first running in reverse, which I'll embed below.

The writers have said that they meant to finish the show in this way all along. It's a neat trick, whether it really means anything or rightly concludes the show.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Celebrity writers

CBS Sunday Morning had a Mo Rocca segment today on comedians and actors who perform dramatic readings of celebrity writing in a New York theater show called Celebrity Autobiography.

The writing used in the show is so bad you wonder how it managed to get published. The autobiographies were all ego, no eloquence. How could it be this bad with ghost writers and editors in on it?

The worst writing that was presented, hands down (pun intended) was from "Touch Me," a collection of poetry from Suzanne Somers (analyzed among other celebrity poets in a 2008 Huffington Post article). Here's an excerpt:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Suppressing my inner-Andy Rooney

In my last post, I tried to get all philosophical about the ridiculous cost of private colleges, and how this is going to push out more creative poor kids. Or something like that.

But what I really wanted to do was to launch into an Andy Rooney-esque kvetch about the high cost of things these days, which would have sequed into a "back in the good old days" essay on how I only paid $5000 for a year at Johnston College in the late 1970s (and thought that was way too much back then).

The constraints of this blog, physically and thematically, kept me from veering in that direction. I generally keep my writing to under 8 inches of text onscreen, and I try to incorporate some idea about writing or creativity in each post since that's what my blog's description says I do. (How do kids pay for college these days? Not really on topic.)

Sometimes those constraints work to my benefit, much like how the particular form of a poem—a sonnet, a sestina—can free a poet to dig into a stockpile of memories in response to the metrics or rhyme.

Yet at the same time I often leave out tales from my personal life, or details of my thoughts at a particular time—which I suppose is what a typical blog is supposed to be.

To be honest, much of my life these days has nothing to do with writing or creativity. I am too-busy being a mother, an editor, a volunteer. I am driving a lot on narrow/winding or busy roads getting somewhere and then, later, somewhere else. So it's ironic that I focus here on creativity when many recent days have passed in which I didn't get to do a single creative thing or write anything more than an email or a check.

I could say more here about my frustration at not getting to write, but the world really doesn't need another Andy Rooney and I don't want to waste my precious free time on writing about not writing.

I'll write about Johnston College in another post...

Friday, May 7, 2010

In which I riff on college costs and creativity

Just finished the Smithsonian magazine article on Wayne B. Wheeler, the forgotten man behind Prohibition. Though the story was full of interesting facts—like the strange political alliances that formed between progressives and southern racists—the fact that grabbed me most was this:

Wheeler had put himself through Oberlin College by working as a waiter, janitor, teacher and salesman.

There’s no way that someone could pay their way through Oberlin on a janitor’s salary anymore. I’m keenly aware of this since my teenage son just finished going through the college admissions process. He was accepted at several prestigious private colleges but decided in the end that he couldn’t take on $60-70K of student loan debt (this with $20k/year scholarships and his dad and I chipping in and/or borrowing several thousand dollars ourselves), so he’s going to an in-state university.

That’s because the tuition at Oberlin and similar-sized private colleges is $40K/year; throw in room and board and you’re looking at more than 50 grand a year—$200,000 for an undergraduate education.

I don’t see how anyone who wants to be a writer or an artist—and doesn’t come from a wealthy family—could ever consider going to a private college these days. Which means that lower-income would-be writers are probably flooding larger state universities, and that small colleges are probably going to be depleted of the artsy, middle-class refugees I hung out with in college.

What’s the problem with this scenario? It’s not just the idea that the rich will be rubbing elbows with the rich only at the smaller colleges—I imagine it’s always been like that in the Ivies. But some of the smaller colleges were noted for their quirky, idealistic student bodies and I imagine that with more homogeneity of class, the quirkiness will be smoothed over, the idealism will give way to pragmatism. Last year, Reed College started to reject worthy students simply for economic reasons.

If you are going into massive student loan debt, I bet it's less likely you'll be studying classical Greek or even (the old standby of the indecisive) English Literature. And Creative Writing? Forget about it.

Maybe the state universities will become creatively richer as a result, but I really doubt it. Most of my son's friends are planning to major in Engineering. Thank goodness he's going in Undecided, wanting to study Psychology or English or something, just wanting to read and talk with people and absorb everything, doodling and writing jokes on the side. Maybe he'll end up in a major that's also the name of a job, but for now he has the luxury of creating and learning whatever strikes his fancy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Know your audience

I loved A Wrinkle in Time when I read it in elementary school—I still list it among my favorite books of all time. To read about an awkward, adolescent heroine with braces and low self-esteem who saves her brother, and possibly the fate of the entire universe, was deeply gratifying. It's one of the things that got me through early adolescence.

I shared it this winter with E-girl, my tween-aged daughter, reading aloud a chapter a night and she, too, loved it (though she said "Eww-www!" whenever Calvin touched Meg or complimented such things as her "dreamboat eyes.")

So we finished the book and, she being intent on reading book series in an unbroken stream once started, went on to the next book in the quartet, A Wind in the Door, which we read with less enthusiasm, plowing through all the tedious discussions of (what turned out to be fictitious) farandolae, hoping that Meg would re-emerge as the spunky heroine.

And she did, at least enough for us to go on to the third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet. But here's where we stopped, only a few pages in—something my series-insistent child hardly ever allows. The book begins back in the family kitchen (a nice homey setting that children crave hearing about). But this time, Meg is grown-up, pregnant and married to Calvin, who has gone off to an important conference in England, leaving Meg to arrange flowers and contemplate her pregnancy. Worse, everyone else in the family seems to have a job or task of high importance while Meg - is - just - pregnant.

Maybe, later in the book, Meg will once again be heroic and important on a universal scale, but we just couldn't keep reading. The pages felt like lead in my hand. Meg had become boring.

What was Madeline L'Engle thinking? Maybe she just wanted Meg to be happy, or to show awkward girl readers that they might also become pretty and loved. Or maybe she wanted girl readers to know that the simple acts of life are important, too, and get them used to the idea that being a housewife was more like their real fate than the possibility of conquering wide-scale evil or saving the earth from destruction.

But I can't imagine many girl readers (or any boy readers) who had thrilled at Meg's adventures on other planets and within nano-universes equally thrilled at Meg's domesticity. We wanted her wrinkling through space and time ready to battle evil for those she loved—not for her to grow up and be ordinary.