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Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

MAY 26, 1998:  Auf Wiedersehen, ... adieu. When the phone rang at 8:12pm last Thursday night at home, I went ahead and answered it, knowing the poor soul on the other end obviously didn't have a clue most of the free world was watching NBC's Seinfeld. (It was Raoul, the music editor, calling.)

There, I said the name of That Show after avoiding it entirely in last week's column. And yes, I confess to having watched the ending even though I was playing on the computer, too. I think that episode would have been just fine as a finale, minus the hype. With the attendant hype, it was almost unbearable and anti-climactic. But try telling that to a die-hard Seinfelder.

Coach sent me a piece of e-mail grousing about NBC's ER finale. Y'all know Coach, and if you don't, keep flipping the pages to the sports column. I used to edit Coach's sports column and he and I got to be pretty good friends, even though he'd chafe at the way I edited his expletives. He was always good-natured about it, though, even the time I accidently put his Top Twenty teams out of order. I suspect Coach loves TV as much as he loves sports, which is more than life itself.

I was very, very disappointed in the ER finale. The network hype was completely misleading about the show. It was just another episode to me... and not a very good one at that, read his note. I had just watched a video encore of the episode and could not agree with him.

ER's season finale was exemplary. Just another few days in the emergency room of Chicago's County General Hospital, and it didn't depend on any weddings or court appearances or guest stars to carry it. It wasn't dragged out from a previous week and it was its usual length. It didn't force you to wait until fall for the conclusion. It didn't send the cast to exotic places, set up a summer movie, or get shown in Times Square. It was poignant but not treacly, and dramatic without being hysterical. The taut script was seamless and the camera-work and editing above par; when the family shot by the depressed father was being transferred to hospital gurneys for emergency treatment, the editing made it fall together in a way that genuinely enhanced the somber mood. It was a perfect closing episode.

This is not to dismiss Coach's disappointment in ER's finale; his e-mail sparked flurries of messages that caused our computers to beep back and forth for several hours. I groused back to Coach about all the damn "finales" for shows that don't need "finales." Well, Coach replied, it seems more and more shows have ongoing plotlines. Ten years ago this was, except for a soap, non-existent. So it kind of creates a need for, as you say, "closure."

Huh. Maybe so. Or maybe it's just that the trend to give even the most marginal TV comedy "closure" at season's end has diminished watching season finales for me. Granted that any program ending its run deserves to go out with a bang, the very word "closure" still gives me the willies. It's such an annoyingly Nineties concept. People especially crime victims being interviewed for television love to talk about "closure." Many times they mean "revenge" but "closure" sounds a lot nicer.

Since when does a comedy need "closure" at the end of the season? Besides the obvious answer -- "ratings" -- doesn't this create a superficial sense of entitlement, a false comfort over a trumped-up loss?

Time and reruns will be the real litmus test for a show like Seinfeld. Not so much in the next year or so, but in five or 10 years. Many television shows have proved themselves resilient for reasons that escape most of us why else would Leave It to Beaver and Saved by the Bell be regulars on afternoon TV? Are topical humor and subjects a comedy show's own worst enemy because they deflate with time? Ever looked at a 10-year-old Saturday Night Liveand wondered what they were talking about or not laughed at a skit because it wasn't funny anymore?

In a subsequent e-mail, Coach said his favorite show is the NBA Play-Offs and thanks god for Monday Night Football, calling Monday a "bad night" on television. Well! Good thing we're not married or barbed wire would be decorating our home. How can anyone not delight in the cheesy antics of the FOX's Melrose Place crowd? And more and more, I watch Ally McBeal for its cast, as Peter MacNicol and Lisa Nicole Carson have really taken my attention. And yes, I also confess to listening to Songs From Ally McBeal at home more than once. Coach and I obviously have no future. That's probably reassuring to his girlfriend.

Coach and I also agree that The X-Files had a solid finale, but then, any episode that features the three Lone Gunmen is a favorite of mine. Remember, The X-Files film opens June 19. Weezer and I have been making plans for this event for months, literally. Maybe we can plan a movie double-date with Coach and his girlfriend.

Are you really sorry to see Seinfeld go? I wrote Coach after quizzing him at length about shows he watched. His answer was simple, terse, and appropriate for the "no hugging, no learning" show about nothing. Nah, he replied.


Did your favorite show go out with a bang or a whimper? Write to TVEye@auschron.com and let me know.


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