My weekly TV column is up at Torontoist.
Plague Inc. You ever get frustrated with a game because it’s got a great idea and then simply doesn’t go deep enough with it? Plague Inc. is one of those games. Take the old Pandemic II skeleton, put more options into it, really have fun with it. And in some ways Plague Inc does that because they put in a lot of new game modes – Neurax Worm and Necroa Virus are both interesting, fun ideas for a plague game to tinker with. But the problem with this game is that in most of the modes, there is exactly one way to realistically win: lurk in the background for a long time with as little visibility as possible until the entire world is infected, and then turn on fatal symptoms immediately. In short, the only way to win the disease game is to make sure your game doesn’t play anything like diseases actually do. And that’s kind of boring.
The latest episode of Game of Thrones. Depending on which showrunner you’re interviewing this week, you’ll get a different answer about whether Jaime raped Cersei or whether she was into it. (HINT: the first one is the one who’s right. You are entitled to slap anybody across the face for advancing the “she was into it” argument.) But of all the changes the show has made from the books, this one is by far the worst so far. I vaguely suspect it was done to humanize Cersei because Cersei is so awful that in order for anybody to feel sympathetic towards her something really awful has to happen, but here’s the problem: nobody needs to feel sympathetic towards Cersei. She is a villain, and that’s fine, and her villainy actually comes from a perfectly reasonable place (her anger at her relative lack of power as a woman, even as a noble). Choosing to have her be raped is a cheap plot point, and although Game of Thrones is usually a well-written show I don’t think it has the narrative room by half to dwell on the ramifications of the sexual assault in a way that would make it worth including in the narrative. (For the record, Sons of Anarchy did it very well in the second season and should probably be considered the model for “if you must do a sexual assault storyline, this is how.”) Just a terrible idea on so many levels.
The end of Superior Spider-Man. Maybe “sucked” is too strong here because this was not a bad comic especially – but after a superhero comic run as refreshing and solidly entertaining as Superior was, it definitely limped to the finish. Otto’s heroic sacrifice was a wet fart of an ending for his character arc, the most blatant “we’re doing a retcon of this entire storyline because we have to, okay” that I’ve seen in some time. Ditto Peter’s return, which was just… bad, a deus ex machina without the machina bit, expressly rewriting what had gone before in the comic – and you have to figure it’s because the movie’s coming out in a month and we need the status quo back for the movie. Slott is still writing good stuff here, overall, and the last issue is reasonably entertaining and it’s nice to see Peter in the costume again, but that doesn’t really change the fact that a remarkably good comic dropped to “basically acceptable” right at the end.
WARNING: there will pretty obviously be spoilers in this here post.
Twitter exploded last night at the finale of How I Met Your Mother, as TV critic after TV critic I follow just lost their shit at it (and everybody who didn’t watch it, thanks terribly for the “did you know I didn’t watch this show you watched” comments, those are always productive). I read thinkpieces which both simultaneously praised the show for its relatively realistic attitude towards relationships and complained about Barney and Robin ultimately divorcing in the finale because the final season had gone to such lengths to sell Barney and Robin’s relationship, which seems sorta self-contradictory as arguments go but then again all those people get paid like full-time salaries to criticize TV and I maybe get beer money in a good month. (There is totally a pecking order for TV critics, with the top level being “get paid to write a New York Times bestseller about the history of a famous TV show.”) And of course there was much bitterness at the show’s endgame of ultimately re-uniting Ted and Robin following The Mother’s early death, which I did not get because people have been complaining for years now that the show focused too much on Ted and Robin for a show ostensibly about Ted telling his kids how he met their mother, which the show blatantly addressed.
As for me? I liked it well enough. I didn’t love it, but I think at this point television watchers have, if anything, fetishized series sticking the “perfect landing.” But how many shows have managed the perfect landing? Not a hell of a lot. Buffy didn’t do it (that ending is clunky as hell). Battlestar Galactica and Lost famously did not do so, and if they were mixed bags, Alias was an outright failure. Frasier just sort of trickled to an end, as did Friends and The West Wing. The Office had a lovely, sentimental finale, but it capped a very mediocre final season. The Sopranos had a showy ending that left many people unsatisfied; The Wire simply said “fuck the ending” and went with the high-quality drama version of “war, war never changes” for its ending, which kind of seems like cheating if you ask me, no matter how good the series is. And then you have the forced-ending march of shows like Angel, NewsRadio, Enlightened, Deadwood and Futurama (twice) (most of which were more successful than any of the aforementioned). Honestly, the number of TV series finales that are just about perfect can probably be counted on both hands: Friday Night Lights, M*A*S*H, Six Feet Under, Star Trek: The Next Generation and 30 Rock is my shortlist. (Okay, yeah, and The Wire, too, I’m willing to let it cheat.)
But you know what? That’s fine. TV series aren’t novels. They are sprawling, epic productions, involving literally dozens or even hundreds of creative minds working intensively together for years. The cunning, perfect ending is almost literally impossible, not least because typically this means a satisfying conclusion for every major character, which is something most of the major Great Writers of History didn’t bother doing in many of their major works, but also because TV shows by design are group efforts, and group efforts are messy.
But so what? That doesn’t mean these endings are bad – because they’re not. Out of every single series finale I just mentioned, there’s only one I outright disliked (Alias). All of the others have their good points, whether it’s Buffy’s exhausted but finally-optimistic smile at the end of her show, or The West Wing‘s final line from President Bartlet providing its own sense of continuity and “the ship sails on,” or BSG‘s final scene between Starbuck and Apollo.
And so it is with How I Met Your Mother, a show that like most shows had its mix of successes and failures, but had more successes than failures, and which creatively re-invigorated itself at least twice during a nine year run, and which said a lot of true things about the process of growing up and how friends become family and how friends drift apart, and was cleverly written on a number of levels, and which cemented the stardom of several of its leads (Neil Patrick Harris is probably not our widely beloved NPH without How I Met Your Mother). I liked the series finale well enough; I thought it provided the right level of romance in two ways, and stayed true to its characters. And that’s enough for me. The chase of perfection should never be abandoned, but if you get a reasonably satisfying ending, then I’m good.
- Blossom ran for five seasons, from 1991 to 1995. It was originally planned to run seven seasons, but after Perfect Strangers ran for eight seasons, the Gods of Television decided that there should not be a second “average at best, let’s be honest” sitcom that would run longer than I Love Lucy, Leave It To Beaver, Barney Miller, Taxi and Sanford and Son. The producers wisely obeyed the Gods of Television, who awarded the producers of Blossom with manna and honey.
- “Opinionation” is actually a scientific term meaning “I think so, but I am not willing to stake my professional credibility on that belief.”
- Michael Stoyanov, who played Blossom’s older brother Tony, has no connections whatsoever to the Spetsnaz and it would ludicrous to suggest that. Ludicrous.
- “Blossom Russo” is an anagram of “Our Moss Slobs” and maybe this means something.
- There were 114 episodes of Blossom. Of these, 173 were “very special” episodes dealing with real social issues in a comedic yet respectful way. This discrepancy has never been fully explained. A mathematician, Henry Snord, who attempted to study this mathematical quandary committed suicide in 2002. His suicide note is simply the phrase “…but Six?” repeated eleven times, with his handwriting growing looser and less defined with each repetition.
- Joey Lawrence was forced to stop saying “whoa!” in 1998 following an honor-duel with Keanu Reeves.