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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Bracing for a great series to produce its final episode can be like watching an egg-on-a-spoon race: you tense up, hoping your player doesn’t drop it at the last moment.
James Poniewozik of Time Magazine

No, I am not going to quit writing these articles.  Nor am I being canceled, like so many of the shows on this site.  Besides, I’m having too much fun.  But it’s time for another general article on television, and this time, I’m going to focus on how various series end their runs, both voluntary and not, and the different ways different shows take their leave.

(FAIR WARNING:  Spoilers abound ahead about lots of shows, and how they finished.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

In 1983, CBS aired the highest-rated entertainment series episode in history.  Reaching over 120 million viewers in the US, the final episode of the long-running M*A*S*H earned an unprecedented 77 share, meaning that 77% of all televisions on at the time in the entire country were tuned to the finale.  It was called Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, and thanks to the modern splintering of television viewership and the explosion of cable networks, such numbers will likely never be seen again by entertainment programs.

Fans of M*A*S*H had fallen in love with the misfits of the 4077th Military Hospital, to the point where the television series lasted longer than the actual Korean War during which it was set.  So the emotional goodbye to the characters was fitting, and such an ending was needed for both cast, crew, and the public at large, if only because they’d affected our lives in so many ways.  But we can use the title of this landmark episode as our guide to all the other finales of shows, both long and short, and of how the idea of a finale is approached.

GOODBYE

Most of the time, this site deals in short-run television, and those shows which have had their dreams of a long and successful existence ended far too soon.  Often cut down in mid-stride, most series fall into this category (considering that only a third of any freshman crop of shows ever reaches a second season anyway).  Some shows have tried to avoid this problem by creating cliff-hanger endings, hoping that by causing wonder amongst viewers about what might happen if the show is brought back for another season, it would live to tell more tales.

the second season "prequel"

Producers and cast read the ratings, and although hopes are always for the best, bad news can still be disheartening.  The producers of ABC’s Sledge Hammer! were so certain their series was destined to be cancelled, they ended their scheduled final episode with all the regulars inside a building… which they promptly blew up with an atomic bomb!  Figuring there was no reason for survivors, they went out (literally) with a bang… only to be the subject of a surprise renewal a few weeks later, and a HUGE hole to write themselves out of.  The best part?  They did so, simply with a caption before the first shot of the next season’s premiere, telling viewers the following season takes place “five years before that nuclear explosion.”  And so they continued.

Most shows simply have business as usual, only because word of ending production comes down from their bosses in the midst of normal filming, with no notice of finality.  Even if there’s hope of renewal, some shows design their seasons around an arc for their characters, so shows might end… or they might continue.  John Rogers (producer/creator of my fave show Leverage) deliberately hates cliffhanger endings (and has stated so on many occasions), so he’s purposely made each season have a type of ending, but with enough openness to allow for the adventures to continue (and fortunately for me, it will start its FIFTH season next year).

To leap, or not to leap...

FAREWELL

Some shows have not been renewed when they finish production for the year, and have to plan out a final episode not knowing whether it will be a season-ender or possibly a series finale.  Quantum Leap has a notorious last episode, entitled Mirror Image.  After an unusual encounter with many familiar faces, time-traveler Sam Beckett must choose if he should return home, or continue with his leaps through time.  Ultimately, he chooses to continue (as well he should, because the series may have continued as well), but there’s a final on-screen message, saying that Sam never returned home.  This may have been added after filming but before the episode aired, when the production company learned Quantum Leap was not going to return for another season… but fans reacted strongly to the news of a less-than-happy ending for their hero.  To this day, some wish for a more proper “wrap-up” to the series.

Fellow genre show Eureka still has one more season to go on SyFy Channel, which will air in Spring of 2012, but the show has already been cancelled officially and all episodes have been filmed.  Word didn’t come down until the final week of shooting, however, and once again fans were outraged (especially when it was learned that the final season was to end on a cliffhanger).  Under pressure from fans (and with the encouragement of cast and crew), SyFy quickly ponied up the money for a final resolution episode, so the residents of Eureka could end their five-season journey properly.  Of course, it won’t hurt that SyFy will promote this episode like crazy, but having some semblance of closure is better than the open-ended alternative.

On the other end of the spectrum is a show where all involved can read the writing on the wall, and know the end is near.  I’ve already talked about Wonderfalls on this site, and the fall from network grace they felt during production.  Even though the series was cancelled early, the producers were allocated a filmed 13 episodes, and treated them as a mini-series with a beginning, middle, and end.  Even though you have to get the DVD set to see them all, at least those in charge gave all of the fans their own gift, and the characters a way to reach the end of a journey.

And yet, the desires of business sometimes mean another journey has to start.  Many shows (including the beloved M*A*S*H mentioned above) have reworked themselves into sequel series, with a change of location or setting.  Most of these have been less than successful, simply because audiences were satisfied with the ending given, and it tarnishes the emotion of the departure if characters are simply back in a new form the following fall.  So shows like AfterM*A*S*H and Archie Bunker’s Place (the direct sequel to All in the Family) still show up, for business reasons if nothing else.

AMEN

“There are two ways to wrap up a canceled or ending TV show.  There’s the oft employed looking back at an empty room and closing the door option.  Then there’s the ‘WTF! Let’s stab their eyeballs with crazy!’ approach.”
–Greg Welsh of Cracked.com

There are lots of shows that have done their goodbyes the right way.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show (a contemporary of M*A*S*H) literally did the “closing the door” option, with the characters all leaving the WJM-TV newsroom for one last time, and shutting off the lights for good.  Friday Night Lights gave their series a proper send-off this past season, appropriately ending with a final triumphant football game and closure to the journey of their main characters.  And three of the four modern Star Trek series all had satisfying endings for their respective crews (movie sequels notwithstanding).

Star Trek: The Next Generation did the “look into our characters future” trick as an effective last episode.  But in that fourth series, Star Trek: Enterprise, we see a much less effective way to leave.  The main people behind the long runs of the other shows in the franchise came back and, for the finale, they wrote a self-professed “love letter to the fans”… and messed it up completely, since it focused on characters from the other series  instead of the Enterprise crew.  Those who stuck with Star Trek: Enterprise to the end actually preferred the final season, once “the powers that be” let the new producers make the show they wanted.  But those same powers returning for the finale left a bad taste in the mouth of many, and resulted in a much less than triumphant ending for the show–to the point that the ongoing novel series had to retroactively construct a better ending, allowing a beloved character to continue after his on-screen death!

Of course, at least this kind of misfire is understandable.  But the concept of “Amen” for a series finale leads to making these episodes somewhat incomprehensible, or at least misguided.  On modern favorites like The Sopranos, Lost, and the Battlestar: Galactica reboot, the endings were more open to interpretation rather than being a truly final moment for these shows.  Some fans of The Sopranos were so confused by the “instant blackout” ending that they called their cable providers, thinking their service had cut out just at the pivotal final moment… but there was no actual “moment”.  Lost was confusing enough at times, so perhaps they can be forgiven for their choices, and at least they followed form for their ending.  But for a SF series primarily based in space, Battlestar: Galactica ended with a stroll by two characters (one likely imaginary) through what looked to be Central Park in New York City, baffling more than a few with their choice and leaving viewers scratching their heads.

"doing nothing" in jail

Then there’s Seinfeld, and an ending that was so underwhelming that the actors all later reunited on a different show to provide better closure.  On the original Seinfeld ending, our four main characters were sent to jail for doing nothing (violating a “Good Samaritan” law by not offering assistance when needed).  Of course, Seinfeld was sold on the idea of it being a series “about nothing”, so this ending was likely a great laugh in the writers’ room.  But that’s not how the viewers felt about those characters, and so the denouement was not a good one.

The co-creator of the show (along with Jerry Seinfeld) was Larry David, who went on to create and star in Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Knowing the troubled reputation of the Seinfeld finale, he wrote a Curb episode involving a Seinfeld reunion (and featuring the four main actors and some of the recurring ones).  While this was not an ending per se, it did seem to help give a better moment for the fans.

“Series finales are a tricky business — what works for one show might be disastrous for another.  See, we viewers are a loyal bunch. We get emotionally invested in our favorite characters, who we’ve probably spent more time with than our own friends and families.  Not only do we want them to have a fitting send-off, with plenty of laughter and tears, just like the network promos promise, but we want closure, or at least the closest thing to closure you can get with people who don’t actually exist.”
–Kat Giantis of MSN Entertainment

Of course, the ultimate finish (as far as pure TV enjoyment was concerned) was the delightful (and surprising) way that Newhart ended.  A veteran of many years of television comedy, Bob Newhart’s second successful series (about a quirky Vermont inn) was just as strange as usual (if not more so).  But near the end of the finale, Bob’s character is hit in the head by a golf ball, and he blacks out… only to wake up in the familiar bedroom of his previous series, The Bob Newhart Show.  He then awakens his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette, reprising her role from the earlier show a decade ago) in one of their typical bedroom scenes, and tells her of this very strange dream he’s had about running an inn in Vermont!  It was a great ending that was true to a series, and yet allowed those who loved Bob Newhart and followed him through both shows a great, unexpected present.

"The Bob Newhart Show" and "Newhart", old and new

Finally, I did say I wasn’t going to end these articles, and I mean that.  But real life, and holiday celebrations, means I’m taking a couple of weeks off from here (although there may be a repost or two of my faves, or at least something brief to make it through two weeks).  Consider it a brief hiatus, or rerun season, or just that bit of anticipation knowing a new season of articles is coming.  I’ll be back here soon with new words about old shows, and putting the fun train back on track.  In the meantime, I hope everyone gets lots of goodies (I know I’m getting a bunch of new DVDs for the site, and two have already arrived), so watch, enjoy, and have fun… and come back here soon!

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always!

–Tim R.

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The ongoing holiday week, and the end of the year, present an opportunity for a general article again.  This time I’ve found a reason to celebrate, and to say goodbye to some dear shows.  While normally I cover short-lived series, this week gives me a chance to delve into those familiar, long-running programs and beloved characters.  All they have to do is figure out how to leave….

Five quotes:

“…you tense up, hoping your player doesn’t drop it at the last moment.”

Figuring there was no reason for survivors, they went out (literally) with a bang…

…they wrote a self-professed “love letter to the fans”… and messed it up completely…

“Then there’s the ‘WTF! Let’s stab their eyeballs with crazy!’ approach.”

“…or at least the closest thing to closure you can get with people who don’t actually exist.”

For the end of the year, an article about going out in style…. and those who didn’t, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

For those of you who know me, or who have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that two of my favorite shows are The Middleman (which I wrote about here) and Doctor Who (which my good friend Jeremy tackled on this site previously).  So it was with great surprise recently that I discovered a “professional” version of “fan fiction” (another article for anyone interested) written by the creator of The Middleman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach. 

He wrote the following as a gift to fans of The Middleman this Christmas, and he has graciously allowed me to repost it here.  Read, enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday season… and if you’re interested in some of his other projects, then by all means, please check out his own website, The Grillo-Marxuach Design Bureau, full of his work on shows like Lost (and all the way back to Dark Skies), and comics like The Middleman and The Flash.  Happy holidays, and may they be filled with wonder and fun….

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
8:00 a.m.

“Fudgety-Bow-Wow, Dubbie!”

The Big Green Cheese’s language was extra-salty today, but Wendy Watson couldn’t muster the gumption for a witty rejoinder for two distinct reasons.  Reason number one?  Two adamantine thoughts currently raging like an electrical storm in her brain:

Wendy Watson, Middleman-in-training

Thought number one: an intense calculation of the tangled path of clues and conspiracies that had led her to this present, and precarious situation.  The winding and dangerous intrigue of the past few days included but was not limited to: a. the kidnapping of a genetically-enhanced, superintelligent dolphin from a children’s waterpark in Dubuque, b. the sudden manifestation in a Bhutanese monastery of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness – an alien entity comprised pure hatred expressed as a small pool of malodorous brown bioluminescent ooze and c. the HEYDAR’s discovery of a not inconsiderably large rift in the fabric of space and time emanating from this location.

Thought number two: a certain yearning for her aunt Margarita’s Ropa Vieja, a thick and vinegary Caribbean stew of meat, peppers, and onions whose preparation inevitably filled the house with a. a delicious and savory aroma and b. the irresistible strains of Miguel Bosé’s signature 1980‘s hit single Amante Bandido.

Thought number two always intruded into Wendy’s mind during moments of extreme danger… and may have been the key contributing factor to her trademark serenity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Reason number two for Wendy Watson’s lack of a witty rejoinder?  She was – indeed – experiencing a moment of extreme danger when she heard the voice of her employer: hanging upside-down, her legs magnetically shackled to a shining steel girder over the Coliseum-like lair of yet another egomaniacal-male-chauvinist-pig-supervillain who was probably neither breastfed as a baby nor picked for the football team as a child…

…and beneath her, an army of somewhat comical salt-and-pepper-shaker-shaped robots… all sporting plunger-shaped manipulator arms and lethal gunsticks… all crying out the same word with shrill and excruciating homogeneity:

“EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE! EXTERMINATE!”

The Middleman and Wendy
in
THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY, JIGGERY-POKERY

The Middleman

While The Middleman’s wide stance and arms-akimbo gave him the necessary heroic demeanor as he leaped from a sparkling Tesla coil onto the ramp leading to the current supervillain’s coliseum-like lair, the truth of the matter is that he had very little idea as to what expected him on the other side…

…aside from an appropriately grandiose architectural enclosure, a doomsday device of unfathomably Byzantine construction, a robotic army, and a sidekick in peril.

“What is that thing beneath you, Dubbie?”

In spite of the distracting thoughts and blood rushing to her head, Wendy somehow gathered the strength to turn to her boss and give him the lowdown:

“While you were fighting the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus -”

“You mean defeating the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus,” corrected The Middleman with a tooth-gleaming smile to complement his usual meticulous exactitude.

“- I discovered that Kanimang Kang has gathered the necessary elements to open the Cinderellica!”

“Sweet singing mice!  Not the Cinderellica!” Declared the Middleman – but no sooner had he made his distress clear that a Jumbotron (because, after all, what coliseum could ever be complete without one) flared into light and motion on the far wall of the coliseum…

“My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity!”

“Shoulder of Orion!” Snarled The Middleman, recognizing immediately the face of his arch-nemesis, “it’s Kanimang Kang!”

…and indeed, across the screen blazed the dark-lensed-Shuron-Sidewinder-bespectacled visage of Kanimang Kang: head of the Federated Agents of Tyranny, Betrayal and Oppression’s Yoke, dressed in his signature beige Mao suit and sporting his trademark Ronald Reagan coif.

Manservant Neville, member of F.A.T.B.O.Y.

Behind Kanimang Kang snivelled the gorilla-suit-and-necktie-clad, twin Tommy gun-carrying form of Manservant Neville: the often-believed-to-be-dead-at-birth older evil twin brother and namesake of a business leader once renowned as the greatest new technology visionary in the world!

“Ha-ha!” chortled Manservant Neville, “Middleham’s about to hear a monlogue!”

“Indeed, Manservant Neville,” declaimed Kanimang Kang, “how else will our enemy know what he gave his life to fail to stop.”

Instead of marshaling the final ember of a consciousness about to black out to execute the most epic eye roll in the history of contempt, Wendy simply blurted out the following –

“They are using the hyper-intelligent dolphin to perform the ongoing calculations that keep open the rift in time and space, with which they punched out a window to the planet Necros, through which they teleported the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes, whose combined weapons will blast open the Cinderellica, inside which is trapped the M.P.T.I.T.U. – “

“The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe,” confirmed The Middleman as Wendy drew a tortured breath to finish briefing her employer:

“ – which they will corrupt through exposure to the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness into a weapon of unspeakable power!”

Her last thought before passing out? “Amazing, what a girl can learn while the boss is out defeating a Tesla-powered mechanical octopus.”

“Oh, phooey,” came The Middleman’s response.

“Damn you, sidecar!” Shouted Kanimang Kang – clenched fists shaking with the impotent frustration – his once-magnificent rant now sanctioned with extreme prejudice: double-tapped execution-style in the back of its metaphorical spine by the lethal weapon of brevity.

Having now duly cursed his opponents – and been vexingly deprived of a gordian explication of his nefarious scheme – Kanimang Kang exchanged befuddled looks with his sidekick.  After a vaguely dispirited shrug, Kanimang Kang casually reached over to his control panel and flicked the tin toggle that engaged the nuclear-fusion reactor powering the brobdingnagian clockwork holding shut the gargantuan bellows maintaining the seal on the dauntingly large hatch of the sarcophagus containing the Cinderellica.

“KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG!” cried out The Middleman.

And while the unveiling of the Cinderellica – entombed in all of its transparent, slipper-shaped, crystalline vastness from the Beginning of Time Immemorial beneath what was now Kanimang Kag’s Coliseum-like lair – may sound like so bombastic and operatic-in-magnitude a process as to take hours to complete, in truth, it took a mere fraction of a second.

The shattering of the foot-formed glass crypt by the fire of the thousand gunsticks mounted on the salt-and-pepper shaker cyborgs took no longer.

Neither did the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the dark thoughts and tortured soul of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness.

By the time The Middleman reached for his utility belt, the hybrid life force resulting from the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness had long-ago decided it was better off without the stewardship of Kanimang Kang, Manservant Neville, the legions of F.A.T.B.O.Y. and the salt-and-pepper shakers, and all had been smitten in a series of lightning strikes punctuated by a. eruptions of bimechanical offal (in the case of the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes) and b. far messier eruptions of purely biological offal (in the case of the humans).

By the time The Middleman fired his grappling gun and was halfway through his arc over the ball of light and dread where the salt-and-pepper-shaker dudes had once stood – hoping to make the final, desperate act of his life the simultaneous rescue of his sidekick and dropping of a Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon (so named for it’s Y-shaped form-factor) into the opening maw of the Cinderellica, the fate of the world had already been signed, sealed and delivered.

The Middleman’s final desperate act of self-sacrifice was to have been in vain.

Had he not heard – over the clamor of exploding cyborgs and henchmen – an aural phenomenon he had many years ago vowed to never forget… an echoing, pulsating mechanical howl best described as the animal husbanding of the arooga-horn from a Ford Model-A and a 1930’s Parisian hotel elevator inside one of the vacuum tubes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1963.

AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP!

By the time The Middleman’s swashbuckling trajectory had taken him to the spot where Wendy Watson hanged unconscious – but before he was able to flip the switch arming the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon – both he and his sidekick were in a different place altogether.

Inside the cobalt blue police call box which had inexplicably materialized over the late Kanimang Kang’s Coliseum-like lair and briefly hovered in space before vanishing with a final echoing AROOGA-THUMP!

"bigger on the inside"

MIDDLEMAN H.Q.
MERE MOMENTS LATER

The journey back to Middleman HQ took a mere flick of a fly’s wing, but that was enough time for Wendy – even in her groggy state – to exhaust every possible variation, innuendo and entendre – both double and single – about the “box being bigger on the inside.”

As The Middleman punched his way out through the front door of what was clearly a ship designed to travel through time and relative dimensions in space, all that was left were his ongoing protestations:

“Who are you?  What have you done with him?”

The jolly young chap who followed him out seemed deeply unconcerned with The Middleman’s flaring anger:

“AAAH! Middleman headquarters – I can practically smell the history!”

Wendy Watson – holding up the rear as usual – could not help but check out her savior’s tight, hipstery jeans, the ever-so-rumpled tweed blazer, the peeking collar of his Paul Smith shirt, and – of course – the finely-sculpted mane of hair partially hidden by the viking helmet.

This man looked no different from the legions of cute artist wannabees who served her lattes at the Java Applet coffee house a block away from her surprisingly spacious yet unrealistically affordable loft on a daily basis… yet he had not only just saved her – and the boss’ life… he also seemed strangely familiar.

“But I am him, Clarence – you just have to look a bit closer… or we could just skip the pleasantries and go about saving the planet as you know it.”

The Middleman had already made his decision on that score – he spun on his boots, simultaneously unholstering the B.T.R.S. scanner, which responded to his touch with its signature “BORP!”

sonic screwdrivers are cool

At the same time, their jolly savior reached into his jacket and pulled out a device similar in size to a compact bicycle pump…

… with a little blinky thing on the end, and a room-filling trill.

The two heroes stood off for a moment, each of their signature devices making its own unique and annoying noise – borp/trill-borp/trill-borp/trill – until a numinous cloud appeared in the space between them: a magical apparition of smoke and technology manifesting a series of images…

…a white-haired grand-dad, a coot in a fur coat and a Moe Howard hairdo, a dashing lothario with an aquiline nose and a sweeping crest of hair, a floppy-fedora-wearing hippy wrapped in an impossibly long scarf, a nordic youth with a celery buttoniere, a wide-faced and imperious rake in an impossibly tasteless coat, a heavy-browed gentleman under a Panama hat, a dewy-eyed pre-Raphaelite, a leather-clad geordie straight out of the Red Riding Trilogy, and – finally – a dapper, bespectacled mod.

“Caves of Androzani!” hissed The Middleman as he stood down, “you can turn off the slide show…I get it.”

“I don’t – ” chimed in Wendy Watson – intending her voice to snap, but the courage snatched from her conviction by the undeniable cuteness of the hipster sexgod standing before her…

“- and I would appreciate it if someone – anyone – could tell me what just happened.”

“What just happened,” tattoed the hipster sexgod as he turned to face her, a cute little bowtie framing his Easter Island face and massive yet strangely sensual nose, “is that your Dirk Squarejaw employer is put off that I conveniently stopped him from giving up his life in absolute vain!”

“That is NOT true,” countered The Middleman, “I was just about to -”

“To what?  Try to stop the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe with a mere firecracker?”

Hipster sexgod draped himself on the central console, crossing his legs as he tucked his signature device into his jacket before adding that:

“You G.I. Joes are all the same, thinking that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with the careful application of high explosives.”

“I don’t care if you are the man I knew – you are NOT the man I knew,” retorted The Middleman without any seeming awareness of – or desire to reconcile – the contradiction in his words, as his mind was busy background processing a way to salvage this debacle – “now God knows what Kanimang Kang has brought about!”

“Hey, boss, how about you give skinny-jeans a break… the man did save our lives.”

Before The Middleman could explain himself, a familiar voice filled the room…

“You cheeba-suckers really pinched a loaf in the hay this time!”

Wendy Watson buried her face in her hands.  Though by now she was completely used to Ida’s ongoing accusations of drug addiction, incompetence – and her endless wellspring of euphemisms for defecating on the bed – this was not anyone’s idea of a good first impression.

“Oh great,” croaked Ida with weary familiarity as she bustled by the blue box and the mysterious guest, giving neither a second glance, “it’s you.”

“Hello, Ida,” intoned hipster sexgod with an unsettlingly casual tone, “you remain as sweet as apple cider.”

"THAT was a doctor"

“Oh, shut the front door,” exasperated the cranky android, “you looked a lot better with the capes and the kung-fu and the white hair and the puffy shirts and the crushed velvet smoking jackets and the criminally age-inappropriate companion… now THAT was a doctor.”

Wendy turned to hipster sexgod, “wait a minute – wait – you’re a doctor?”

“I. Am. The Doctor.” Declared hipster sexgod, fixing his bowtie.

“Whats with the viking helmet?” rasped Ida, plugging herself to the HEYDAR.

“I wear a viking helmet now,” shrugged The Doctor.

“Viking helmets are cool,” colluded Wendy Watson.

“Well hang on to your helmet, motherhumpers, ‘cause this world is about to end, no thanks to any of you donnie-pumpers.”

With a flare of a mechanical nostril, Ida activated the many screens of the HEYDAR…

… and all of them depicted horrible scenes of destruction across the planet!

Big Ben in ruins.

The Washington Monument a pile of rubble.

The White House a cinder.

Hoover dam underwater.

The Eiffel Tower melted.

Detroit strangely unchanged.

“Sweet mother of Roland Emmerich!”

"Time Tsunami" Coming in 2018

The Middleman rubbed his temples as The Doctor restrained himself from quipping that he served as an uncredited technical advisor on the august film-maker’s disaster epic Time Tsunami (coming to theaters July of 2018) out of respect for his American friend’s intense distress over the devastation roiling before them.

What else could he do? It was exactly this profound sense of empathy – this uniquely human quality of caring for the lives of others – that kept bringing The Doctor back to Earth to recruit his traveling companions.

“Well, it’s a good thing we have a time machine at our disposal, now, tell me, Ida… just how is Guy Goddard?”

“Don’t get me started,” eye-rolled Ida, “how’s Captain Jack?”

“Don’t get me started,” The Doctor threw up his hands, “I mean, really.”

“This is no time to mince around reminiscing about past exploits,” barked The Middleman, “we have a bad man running around with the M.P.T.I.T.U., how do we stop him?”

“You Americans – so concerned with structure and the proper order of things… I could have sworn you just took a dramatic pause for a commercial break!”

“My boss does have a point,” peace-brokered Wendy Watson, “there is a bad man and an army of salt-shaker-thingys -”

“Daleks,” corrected The Doctor, “the very reason I chose to pop in when I did… right after my sixth regeneration materialized in a puff of improbability inside my TARDIS to warn me that a rift had opened above the battle of Necros – and rather insolently informed me that it was up to me to find out the disposition of the Daleks who were teleported from the fray… and almost gave me a black eye. I was a violent sort back then.”

“Right.  Daleks,” concluded Wendy Watson, trying to disguise that she was completely unmoored by all of this new information.

“We do not have to worry about the Daleks, love… or your arch-nemesis Kanimang Kang,” purred The Doctor as he leaned closer to Wendy Watson’s confusion-and-annoyance-streaked face… a state of mind compounded by her heart’s fluttering in a way she had not felt since young Tyler Ford had been packed off to Greenland a few months ago.

“See,” continued The Doctor, his tone soothing, “they were destroyed when the Vitrioplasmoid Conscience merged with the M.P.T.I.T.U.”

“I never met a deus ex machina I didn’t like,” nodded The Middleman, stroking the five o’clock shadow on his chiseled chin.

“Right there with you, dear boy,” chirped The Doctor.

Ida, in all her glory

“Hey!”

Ida.  About to spoil the party.  She excelled at that.

“Don’t know if this has occurred to you hoolies… but just because the bad guys are all croaked doesn’t mean we still don’t have to figure out a way to destroy a little something that just happens to go by the name ‘The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe’!”

“I’m working on it,” whispered The Doctor as The Middleman stepped up, shaking his finger – one of his trademark contingency plans clockworking its way through the sharp corners of his methodical brain:

“The M.P.T.I.T.U. is not de facto an evil being, it is merely powerful.  Kanimang Kang knew this, which is why he used the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness to corrupt it into a force of unspeakable power.”

“So,” jumped in Wendy Watson, if we can get in there before the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness compels the M.P.T.I.T.U. to destroy the world… but after the Daleks are destroyed…”

“We will only have the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe to contend with – as opposed to the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe AND your arch-nemesis AND all of his minions AND an army of genocidal hybrid life-forms!”

The Doctor was almost giddy – but it was not long-lived…

“But how… howhowhowhow… do we turn the M.P.T.I.T.U. back to the side of good after it has already been exposed to a life form of pure, all-corrupting evil?”

Not quite a Buddha Fish, I don't think...

“Will a Buddha Fish do the trick?” Quizzed The Middleman.

“A Buddha Fish?” The Doctor repeated, his tone mocking as he made a John Cleese-like silly walk straight into The Middleman’s personal space before making a wildly exaggerated show of his turning-away-aggravation:

“A Buddha Fish?  You might as well ask for the thirteenth regeneration of Rassilon!”

The Doctor’s tone then turned to a pensive whisper as he spun his back on Wendy Watson, Ida, and The Middleman – cradling his ample chin in the palm of his hand…

“It might take me some time to figure this one out… perhaps the three of you should come with me aboard the TARDIS and flee the coming devastation… have some adventures…”

…his features then darkened with a brooding romanticism that made Wendy Watson want to jump his bones immediately.

“…and have all of your lives devastated by sheer measure of your contact with me.”

“I have a Buddha Fish in the Middlevault,” offered The Middleman, his broad shoulders pulling back as he broke into a determined stride across the main hub of Middleman H.Q.

“Why don’t I just go ahead and get that,” he added, “and then we can go right on over and save the world.”

“You do NOT have a Buddha Fish!” Exclaimed The Doctor.

“Wah-wah-wah!” Interjected Ida, “you watch that attitude when the Jolly Green Giant’s on a roll!”

“Actually, I do have one, and it’s a funny story how…see, your first… uh… regeneration? Incarnation? Anyway, some other version of you borrows it from me six years from now and then loses it in a simultaneous competitive chess match against sixty-seven Grand Masters of the Clotharian Rebel Fleet… of course, that only turns out to be a distraction tactic to keep their best military strategists busy while Wendy and I stop Extreme Aldwyn from invading the planet…”

High... Maximum... EXTREME Aldwyn

“Extreme Aldwyn? You mean ‘High’ – I mean ‘Maximum Aldwyn’.”

“No, Dubbie, I mean Extreme Aldwyn, he got… uh gets… will have a promotion…”

“I hate that guy!”

“…anyway, six years ago, The Doctor came back and we went on a grand adventure to get back the Buddha Fish from the Clotharian Grand Masters – then in exile and working as towel boys at the pleasure hive of Eroticon 6 – the end result of which was that he, uh – the then-Doctor -”

“The first Doctor,” came the Eleventh Doctor’s definition.

“Right – the first Doctor entrusted the Buddha Fish to me for safekeeping in the Middlevault… only back then, he was a kindly old grandfather-type, as opposed to the beatnik you see before you.”

“Weirdly, that made absolute sense,” said Wendy Watson, her head not spinning at all.

“You know, Dubbie,” The Middleman said in his most “the more you know” tone, “everything that’s happening to us right now is exactly the reason why The Middlelore explicitly forbids this kind of timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety, jiggery-pokery.”

“Timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety jiggery-pokery?”

The Doctor rolled the words in his mouth as if taking them for a test drive, “I’m not sure I like the sound of that…”

“Anyone want to come up with a plan to stop the deaths of billions of people?” Shrieked Ida from her desk.

“Right. I take my TARDIS,” schemed The Doctor, successfully concealing his growing and unnatural dread of the unpleasant, superannuated female android, “land at the exact point in space and time and then find a way to safely deliver the Buddha Fish into the maelstrom of death and destruction – thus ending the M.P.T.I.T.U.’s reign of terror.  Neither one of you can do it, of course, as I’d rather you not come face to face with yourselves in an alternate timeline… but otherwise, this is a cracking good plan!”

“As much as I live to volunteer for the ultimate sacrifice,” began The Middleman –

“ – and he does,” finished Wendy.

“The risk of a time paradox resulting from my meeting myself – even in the recent past – is just too frag-warbling high.”

“Really?” Head-tilted Wendy Watson, “I always wanted to walk up to myself and say ‘I’m YOU… from THE FUTURE!’”

“Sorry dubbie – but if you – or I – were to cause a fabric of space-time-unraveling paradox after all we’ve been through… well, that would just be a flipsy-flopsy.”

“Oh stop beating around the burning bush, ya pansies, I have a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis and a full complement of defensive shielding: let me at ‘em and I’ll save the freakin’ planet, seeing as none of you have the cojones to man-up and take the plunge!”

The Middleman, Wendy Watson and their honored guest all exchanged glances, and then:

“Let’s wax this duck!”

“Allons-y!”

“Oh, brother.”

MIDDLEMAN H.Q.
THREE AND A HALF SECONDS LATER

As The Doctor cut a high-spirited jog to the Middlevault, and Ida slumped at her desk – folding the final origami of this iteration of her existence, knowing that O2STK would immediately send down an identical model – a new Ida with an even more visually assaulting dress and all of her memories – and wondering how she got stuck with this rat-bastard bunch of panty waists for heroes – Wendy Watson quietly buttoned her boss at the mouth of the corridor leading out of the Main Hub.

“What’s a Buddha Fish?”

“Well, Dubbie… The Buddha Fish is a unique organism bred by the High Transuniversal Lamas of Samadhilon 5. It acts like an ichtyo-psychic lens, focusing all the good will of the universe into a single unified grain of consciousness. Any sentient being that comes into contact with the Buddha Fish immediately gives up all ambitions and material concerns in exchange for a life of quiet contemplation without any expectation of outcome.”

“OK. And – uh – who’s the guy in the viking helmet?”

“The Doctor? Oh… he’s the last of Time Lords of Gallifrey.”

“Strangely,” shrugged Wendy Watson, “that makes complete and total sense.”

The Doctor popped his head back into the Main Hub:

“How would you feel about ‘wibbly-wobbly’ instead of ‘higglety-pigglety’?”

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
8:03 A.M.

The details of how Ida was delivered into the glowing jaws of death and architectural carnage by the timely manifestation of the TARDIS are – frankly – tedious and academic.

Suffice it to say that The Doctor arrived just in the nick of – well, he got there the at the exact and appropriate moment.

He then pushed a crotchety old woman out the door to his time ship (because even he knew that – deep down inside – she was not a crotchety old woman, but a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis wrapped up in the burlap-like skin, hideous house dress, and loud costume jewelry of a crotchety old woman… which may have been why he had by then grown so afraid of her… or maybe it was merely that she was just. so. mean.).

All the way down, the crotchety old woman shouted the following words…

“COME GET SOME YA PRIMORDIAL SCUM!”

At the moment the crotchety old woman’s outer layer of skin, combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis, and, lastly, her awful frock, melted in the sweltering heat of the supermassive outer layer of the M.P.T.I.T.U./Vitrioplasmoid Conscience hybrid – revealing the most-exalted form of the Buddha Fish – the erstwhile Kanimang Kang’s lair, as well as all of his plans for world domination, vanished swiftly in a puff of inner peace and kindness toward all beings.

The TARDIS then vanished… its distinctive AROOGA-THUMP noise signifying to all that the plan had come together, the day belonged to the forces of good, and all was right with the world.

THE ILLEGAL SUBLET WENDY WATSON SHARES WITH HER EQUALLY PHOTOGENIC ROOMMATE
10:30 P.M.

The genius brains behind O2STK may have manufactured the latest-generation Middlemobile with an obsidian coat of the Mikheyev/Smirnov/Wolfenstein automotive finish (a type of paint designed to capture runaway solar neutrinos and use their free and clean energy to run the electric engine underneath the hood without polluting the environment)… but they also gave The Middleman’s conveyance the adequately muscular body of a 1967 Pontiac GTO and a speed-responsive sound-and-vibration mechanism that gave the car the appropriate road feel and vulpine thunder of a true American Muscle Car.

The Middlemobile, then, idled noisily outside of Wendy Watson’s loft.

Inside, The Middleman and Wendy Watson congratulated one another on a job well done… though neither of them truly – or entirely – understood how exactly the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon had succeeded in destroying the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe… especially after its melding with the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness had rendered it into an absolutely destructive force of ultimate evil.

But The Middleman never met a Deus Ex Machina he didn’t like… and Wendy Watson was starting to see the wisdom behind his philosophy.

Kanimang Kang – or at least this latest holder of the mantle of Kanimang Kang – was gone. Manservant Neville was once again presumed dead. Most importantly, Kanimang Kang’s Rube Goldberg device of death was no more.

Schlepping the dolphin back to Dubuque had been a chore, but it certainly beat the living meatballs-and-tomato-sauce out of being killed.

As the freight elevator door to the hallway leading to her bizarrely spacious yet annoyingly affordable loft opened, Wendy Watson looked ahead to see the familiar shape of Noser… no doubt once again seeking refuge in the hallway from the depredations of his roommate, Anvil.

“Yo, Wendy Watson.”

Noser’s voice was sweet and welcoming.

“Hey Noser,” replied Wendy Watson, “how you doing?”

“I’m breathing, Wendy Watson, but it’s become a chore.”

“Now that I’ve seen The Doctor, don’t call me anymore.”

Noser smiled as Wendy Watson pushed open the door to her loft.

WENDY WATSON’S BEDROOM/ART SPACE
11:45 P.M.

While the hard work of this – or, really, any – day in the service of O2STK generally insured a good night’s sleep, Wendy Watson found herself unable to summon the sandman, and thus busied herself with a new painting…

…of a man with a distinctive nose, pronounced brow, geometric jaw and a cascade of shiny brown hair. The portrait took shape quickly, the man’s image calling to her with the vivid urgency of a relevant memory; even though nothing in her past indicated the intersection of this man’s life with hers.

The colors followed quickly: the saturated earth tones of his Paul Smith shirt and the dark burgundy bow-tie popping against the warm inner glow of his pale, but not even remotely pasty skin.

Wendy Watson painted furiously but precisely: her every brush stroke capturing the elusive character of a man she had never met but was sure she knew… a moment in a time she was certain had never happened but felt as alive in her mind’s eye as any remembrance…

…and when the painting was done:

“That’s my imaginary friend!”

Lacey.

“What?”

“How do you know what he looks like, dub-dub?”

Wendy Watson swiveled her stool to see her equally photogenic roommate – still in the fatigues and beret she habitually wore to her Occupy Wall Street protest… and, thankfully, bereft of the swelling and redness she often brought home as a result of the sustained pepper spray attacks from the local police.

“What are you doing home?” Asked Wendy Watson.

“Oh,” she shrugged, “it got a little ripe inside the tent again, so we’re all going home to shower in shifts… how do you know what my imaginary friend looks like?”

Wendy Watson swiveled back and forth between Lacey and her newest work of art – head spinning:

“This is your imaginary friend? The guy who showed up in the fireplace of Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D., Ph.D.’s mansion all those times and kept you entertained with wild stories of time travel?”

“Yes, dub-dub, that’s him!”

“Your imaginary friend was a time traveling hipster sexgod?”

“No – it was nothing like that – I mean, yeah, I thought he was cute and all… but he was just an imaginary friend.”

Lacey’s voice took on a faraway tone as she completed her thought:

“I know that now.”

“Wait a minute – now you know that?”

“Oh, dub-dub… it’s not like Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D. Ph.D. didn’t already have me work all of this out with a team of psychotherapists when I was a tween… anyway, the last time I saw my imaginary friend… I was twelve: he promised he would come get me on the day of my graduation from art school…”

“You mean our graduation? And you never told me?”

“Like I said… I’d already worked this whole thing out with a team of mental health professionals.”

“Weird,” replied Wendy Watson, “I just thought I was painting one of the new baristas over at the Java Applet… I think that’s where I saw this guy anyway… he does look so strangely familiar.”

“Yeah,” Lacey replied dreamily, “must be a coincidence… and I have a world that needs to be saved, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shower…”

Lacey turned to walk down the spiral staircase, but not before having a final look at her best friend’s work.

“If you ever do see that guy? And it turns out he isn’t just a cute barista, but a time traveling adventurer from parts unknown?”

“Yeah, Lacey?”

“Tell him I’m over him.”

CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
GRADUATION DAY
TWO YEARS EARLIER

The passage of time had only made Lacey Thornfield’s intelligence and inner strength brighter.

As she walked across the dais to collect her diploma – her cap and gown hand-painted with Guy DeBord slogans – The Doctor knew that she would make for a brilliant companion: the sort of beacon of innocent compassion that he direly needed to remind himself of what was truly important… of the simple truths that a creature of his 953 years could so easily forget.

The TARDIS would keep for a few hours undetected in the scenery shop of the school’s theater building. All The Doctor had to do was wait until she was alone, make eye contact, and the magic would return… off they would go…

…but The Doctor’s thoughts needle-slipped to a halt with the intrusion into his mindscape of a sound he had not even thought about for almost a decade and a half.

A harmonic resonance years-ago dismissed as no longer relevant to his existence.

The Eye of Harmony.

Opening.

Could it be?

The Doctor rushed back into the TARDIS – bounding through corridors and mezzanines, peeling back layer after layer of trans-dimensional architecture to reach a remote and neglected room: a piece of his own mythology he had long since discarded as no longer relevant to his day-to-day existence…

…and there, in the echoing chamber, the Eye glared up at him… and a numinous cloud of smoke and technology manifested over the storm at the center of the black hole that powered his ship.

At the center of the cloud?

A strapping man in an Eisenhower jacket – clear-eyed, full-hearted, and sporting that can’t-lose look so common of heroic human males; all of them always endearingly unaware of the vastness of space and time.

The man in the Eisenhower jacked seemed familiar – maybe from a long-forgotten episode of a past regeneration.

“Do to her what you did to Sarah Jane,” said the man in a flat, affectless mid-western American voice, “ and you will have me to answer to.”

And with that, he was gone.

CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
THEATER ARTS BUILDING
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

Now perched on a scaffold, The Doctor watched Lacey Thornfield – this time through a window high atop the shop.

She bounded across the quad, carefree, with a group of friends – among them a dark-haired beauty with a focused and determined look in her coffee-colored eyes.

The Doctor trained his eyes on Lacey Thornfield’s friend for a moment… and her visage transported him to time he was certain had not yet happened, but which felt as alive in his mind’s eye as any remembrance.

He knew what he had to do.

Bowing his head, The Doctor climbed off the scaffold and returned to the TARDIS.

On the quad below, Lacey Thornfield fell behind her friends, slowing down to a walk for a moment to look up at the theater arts building.

For a moment, she could have sworn she heard the “arooga-thump” that always accompanied the appearance of her childhood imaginary friend… the one her mother paid an army of psychotherapists to dispel back when she was twelve…

…but the sound soon dissipated into nothingness, and Lacey Thornfield looked ahead to see Wendy Watson, beckoning.

Lacey Thornfield broke back into a run and joined her friends in celebration. The future was wide open.

Again, thanks to Javier Grillo-Marxauch for permission to repost his terrific story here.  For those of you who want to know about all the many geek references in this story, here’s a link to an accompanying post detailing all the wonderful, wacky, and just plan fun things contained and referenced within.  I hope you enjoyed this story, and I’ll be back in a week or two with more remembrances of long-forgotten short-run shows here on Friday @ 8/7 Central.  –Tim R.

It’s Christmas time, and with the holiday crunch and places to go, I’ve unfortunately little time to write.  Happily, one of the creators of a show I’ve featured here in the past has graciously allowed me to repost one of his recent writings, a very special Christmas card to those who loved his show, not to mention another series, and to television lovers everywhere — especially those with a sense of outrageous humor and a bit of geek credibility.

Five quotes from his story:

…a doomsday device of unfathomably Byzantine construction, a robotic army, and a sidekick in peril…

“The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe”

“…or we could just skip the pleasantries and go about saving the planet as you know it.”

“I don’t care if you are the man I knew – you are NOT the man I knew.”

“Let’s wax this duck!”

Ahh, it’s such fun to see the universe (almost) end.  Especially at Christmas.  Come join some of my favorite heroes in a wild adventure that only one talented man could write, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

 

Hank:  “Are you saying we’re small time?”
Britt:  “If we grow two sizes we might actually be small-time.”
Hank:  “What if we’re actually big time, and just didn’t realize it?”

–Best friends Hank Dalworth and Britt Pollack in Terriers

Britt and Hank, hanging loose while they can....

In my opinion, one of the best shows to come out of cable television over the last couple years is Terriers, which aired on the FX Network in 2010.  It sadly didn’t last, but for thirteen wonderful episodes it was one of the most unpredictable dramas viewers could possibly experience, with terrific characters and unique storylines that, like the namesake animals of the series title, grabbed ahold of you and never let go.

Terriers is primarily a buddy comedy with dramatic elements, telling the story of two down-but-not-quite-out best friends and their adventures as private investigators (unlicensed, naturally).  Hank Dalworth (Donal Logue) is an ex-cop, drummed out of the force some years back with a dishonorable discharge brought on by his (then) obsessive drinking.  While he’s now on the wagon (barely), he’s still trying to scrape together a livelihood and get back in the good graces of his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn).  She’s already met someone new after their divorce a year ago, but he’s hanging on, to the point where (after falling into some unexpected cash) he puts a down payment on their old house, because he still wants to life that life.

Katie and Britt

His best buddy is Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), a former thief who’s also trying to make a better life after living on the wrong side of the tracks, but his previous skills come in handy when trying to make ends meet with Hank.  Britt has a girlfriend, Katie Nichols (Laura Allen), who wants to settle down and have a baby at some point, but Britt’s fear of commitment and free-wheeling ways don’t mesh with a traditional idea of home and family.  This is especially true when he and Hank stumble upon an old friend who turns up murdered, and a conspiracy much larger than these two small-time buddies ever thought they’d be involved in.

Hank's former partner, Det. Gustafson

They do have a couple of allies, although their “friends” are also knowledgeable enough about both of them to be wary.  Hank’s former police partner Det. Mark Gustafson (Rockmond Dunbar) would love to trust Hank, but sometimes believes the best way to handle his old friend is to lock him up for his own protection, especially with the trouble he keeps finding himself in.  And lawyer Maggie Lefferts (Jamie Denbo) is trying to keep Hank and Britt out of the lock-up and throw a bone to the boys occasionally, hiring them to do some of the legwork she can’t do (because she’s going to give birth any day now, and the boys don’t mind getting roughed up anyway, as long as they give as good as they get).

So, in between odd jobs of retrieving pets caught in a messy custody battle and figuring out how to get a house loan with no “actual” job, Hank and Britt end up on the edges of a major conspiracy.  It seems to involve a rich land speculator named Lindus and his plans for a new economic development, and that leads to a sex scandal, possible carcinogens in the land, and stolen drugs in Mexico (among other things).  Hank and Britt could, at many different junctures, just cut and run, lick their wounds, and save themselves an awful lot of pain and trouble.  But despite their lack of money, lack of judgment, and (occasional) lack of common sense, they share one characteristic with the dogs mentioned in the title:  like Terriers, they’re loyal to a fault, and they will do their very best (and then some) to take care of their friends.

“I’m going to destroy you, Lindus.  I could have walked away from this thing an hour ago eating shit, and Jesus knows I’ve eaten enough in my life.  But you killed my friend, so I’m going to destroy you.  And I just wanted you to know that.”
–Hank Dolworth

So begins a very twisted tale full of unexpected moments of laughter and even more unpredictable plots.  At one point, Hank and Britt end up having to help developer Lindus… by stealing a quarter of a million dollars from him!  (He actually ASKS them to, and is willing to give them a percentage!)  It makes sense in the progression of the plot, but that’s the amazing thing about Terriers.  This happens during the thirteen episodes that you wouldn’t even dream of in most television series, but the plot twists occur organically out of the story and characterizations, so that even the outrageous becomes acceptable, to the point where the viewer can’t really imagine any other way.  And neither can Hank and Britt, as sometimes their best laid plans turn into their next nightmare, and sometimes their nightmares turn into gold anyway.

Tell me again... how are we gonna do this?

Characters designed as heroes are commonplace on television.  Even characters who don’t want to be heroes end up that way.  But in Terriers, we follow Hank and Britt as they try to overcome their worst enemies:  themselves.  And we cheer their successes… but we also understand their defeats.  Few of us could ever be heroes on television, no matter what we wish.  But far too many of us have been burdened with untenable choices, and while they may be a bit magnified as far as the stakes on Terriers, those lives are still far closer to our everyday existence than found on typical cop/lawyer/medical dramas.

Plus, there’s a definite friendship and camaraderie between Hank and Britt, and with all the regulars on the show.  You can tell there’s a part of Gretchen that would still love Hank, if only he’d become the man she knows is inside him.  Katie loves Britt, and accepts his past, but is a bit unsure of what the future holds with a man so reluctant to take the next step.  Det. Gustafson remembers what Hank used to be, and still stands up for him even when Hank himself falls, and lawyer Maggie sees something more in these two than just a handout, and is willing to help where she can.  But while Hank and Britt try to move forward, they won’t be able to without letting go of their pasts.  And the one thing about Terriers is that they never let go.

“Well, we saved her.  Now who’s gonna rescue our asses?”
–Britt, after helping a friend to safety

Hank couldn’t let go of his ex-wife.  Britt couldn’t let go of his single “freedom”.  Neither could toe the line long enough to find a reasonable job, let alone be successful at it.  But when they saw a need to help someone they cared about, they did something.  And if that something led to more, then that trail got followed too, no matter where it led or how far in over-their-heads they got.  Because that’s who they were and what they did.  And whether it led to a Mexican drug cartel, a multi-million dollar conspiracy cover-up, or just making sure a friend’s daughter was safe from trouble, they did it.  And occasionally, they fell into some badly needed cash along the way.

What they didn’t fall into, unfortunately, was ratings.  Anyone who ever actually saw the show seemed to love it.  It was a critical darling, making many reviewers Top 10 lists for the season, and even drawing some early Emmy buzz, especially for Logue as Hank.  But it aired on cable, on the less-watched FX Network, and the early advertising (and the name Terriers) did the show no favors.  Airing at Wednesdays at 10/9 Central and premiering against more high-powered and better-promoted offerings on traditional networks, a great many people never even knew it was on, and others thought it was a show about dogs.  Add to that its adult subject matter and realistic language issues and the family audience was out immediately.  Quite simply, viewers in any quantity just missed it completely.

“I can’t blame an audience. I’ve never in my life watched a TV show in its first season.  I always have to wait several seasons for someone to say, ‘You have to see this.’  That’s how I discovered The Wire and The Shield.  I don’t know the secret to getting people to watch a show in its first season.”
–Creator Ted Griffin

It’s that kind of world these days.  Networks have been so callous with new shows, yanking them off so quickly, that some series don’t even last more than a couple of episodes.  And viewers have had their collective hearts broken enough times that many shows don’t even get sampled, let alone have people find time to watch consistently.  Add to that the troubles of accurately measuring viewers, and the multiple ways for shows to be seen online and time-shifted with DVRs, and viewing numbers simply aren’t what they used to be, and eyeballs aren’t being consistently counted anyway.  Terriers was a perfect storm of ineffective promotion, a minor cable network provider, and a changing audience.  While that doesn’t stop a great series from existing, it does stop one from continuing.

The end? Or a new beginning?

Although stars Donal Logue and real-life best friend Michael Raymond-James embarked on a cross-country promotional tour for the show, the numbers just weren’t there.  The “Never Let Go” attitude was clear from all involved, from Creator to Stars to crew and more.  Fans and critics were passionate about the show, but even if the show had earned twice the ratings, it still would have been the lowest-rated series on the FX Network.  And yet, FX Network tried long and hard to make the series work for them.

Even in cancellation, Terriers was different.  Most shows just fade away, with networks sometimes not even admitting the stoppage of production.  Knowing the small but intense number of people who dearly loved Terriers, FX President John Landgraf took the unprecedented move of having a half-hour press call to announce the demise of the show, and to take questions from critics and other reporters about its end.  While he lamented the cancellation, and called Terriers a credit to the FX Network, even he was a bit baffled about the lack of audience numbers:

“I don’t think there’s anybody to blame.  We wish that there was a perfect intersection between all that is good and all that is successful, but the reality is that there’s a very poor correlation between creative success and commercial success.”
–John Landgraf, President of FX Network

Even the network was heartbroken about the ending of Terriers, let alone all the others involved.  One producer said,  “This is both the most painful and painless cancellation, because you really like the show and hate to see it go, but it was such a great time.”  If you get to watch Terriers, you’ll find that those sentiments weren’t just true for the production of the show, but for the viewing of it as well.  Once you find Terriers, you will have something in common with Hank and Britt.  You’ll never let go.

Give us one more chance. Just one more....

DONAL LOGUE (Hank Dolworth) has starred in many series, including Grounded for Life (which ran 5 years), The Knights of Prosperity, and Life (each of which only ran one short-but-critically-acclaimed season).  He’s also a writer and producer, creating the independent film Tennis, Anyone?, and will be seen in a new ABC pilot (and prospective series) for next season from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry called Hallelujah.

MICHAEL JAMES-RAYMOND (Britt Pollack) is best friends with Donal Logue in real life, which contributed significantly to their on-screen chemistry.  He’s gone from California in Terriers to Louisiana as a recurring member in True Blood (even though he had never even heard of the books upon which it is based when he got the job).

KIMBERLY QUINN (Gretchen Dolworth) has guested on Ned and Stacey, Suddenly Susan, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Without a Trace, and The Secret Life of an American Teenager.  She’s appeared in multiple episodes of Two and a Half Men and House, and has also been seen in numerous commercials over the past decade.

LAURA ALLEN (Katie Nichols) is best known to genre fans as part of the original cast of The 4400, playing Lily Tyler.  She later was a regular on the series Dirt, and has guested on Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy.  She was also featured with an amazing cast in the movie Mona Lisa Smile, playing a student at Wellesley College, which she graduated from in real life.

ROCKMOND DUNBAR (Detective Mark Gustafson) has been in many series, starting as a recurring character on Earth 2 and Girlfriends.  Lead roles in Soul Food and the medical drama Heartland followed, with his role a “C-Note” in Prison Break being his most famous part.  Most recently, he’s remained on the FX Network, joining the cast of Sons of Anarchy.

JAMIE DENBO (Maggie Lefferts) specializes in comedy, and was a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade troupe out of New York.  Her appearances on television include numerous sketches on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, multiple roles in Reno 911! and Children’s Hospital, and recurring parts in Suburgatory, Weeds, and Brothers.  She starred in the short-lived series Happy Hour, and recently sold a script for a movie called Best Buds, which actress Natalie Portman is reportedly going to produce and star in.

Surprisingly for this modern era, Terriers has yet to receive a DVD release, although FX has claimed that the very small original audience is to blame, and that they just can’t make money off the projected sales.  There is hope, however, as the show has recently been made available through Netflix Instant, for those who have access to the service, and episodes are also available for purchase and download at iTunes and Amazon.  Since it was a critical darling, there are many news websites which talk about its short run and unfortunate demise, using it as a case study in poor marketing, unfortunate scheduling, and just plain bad luck (series star Donal Logue injured his shoulder/arm during the pilot, and it is basically unusable during much of the series… but he’s such a good actor and the production worked around it so well, it’s almost unnoticeable unless you’re actively looking for it).

Battered and broken, but still ready to go

“We don’t want to stop making this show…”
–Donal Logue

I don’t want to stop watching, either, and others have felt the same way.  But the thirteen produced episodes do complete a story, and while another season was plotted out to some degree, there’s an ending there if you do choose to find it and watch.  While Terriers is not for youngsters, it is for those viewers who like character-based drama and comedy, and plots you won’t find on any other show.  I find, after going back and reading again what I’ve written above, that it’s difficult to really express how good Terriers actually is, and I can only hope that those with Netflix access can stream the show and discover Hank and Britt, and their constant struggle to find their own versions of happiness.

If I learned nothing else from watching Terriers, it was that the circumstances don’t matter.  Yes, they may bring you down, and the choices people make are sometimes not the easiest or the best.  But when push comes to shove, I’d like to have Hank and Britt on my side.  And even though there may be stumbles every so often, and an occasional fall… I know that they’ll do what they can to be there, loyal to a fault.  Because once you have a friendship like that… you never let go.

Vital Stats

13 hour-long episodes — none unaired
FX Network
First aired episode:  September 8, 2010
Final aired episode:  December 1, 2010
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, Wednesday nights at 10/9.  But hey, so few people found it (Terriers averaged less than a million viewers per episode) that it may as well have aired in the middle of the night.  But it was still worth it.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

I have to admit I’m in the majority on this particular show… as I didn’t watch it the first time around either.  Which is a shame, as it’s both one of the lowest rated series I’ve written about here… and likely one of the best, making numerous critics’ Top 10 Lists.  Of course it had to fail.  But that didn’t stop those who did find it from loving it just the same.

Five quotes:

“If we grow two sizes we might actually be small-time.”

…despite their lack of money, lack of judgment, and (occasional) lack of common sense…

And we cheer their successes… but we also understand their defeats.

While that doesn’t stop a great series from existing, it does stop one from continuing.

“…there’s a very poor correlation between creative success and commercial success.”

I’m happy I did finally discover it, even though it’s barely a year old.  Despite vocal support and critical admiration, some will never understand the difference between a mutt and the Best in Show.  Fortunately, we get both, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

“Most writers don’t know how to write for us.  They either think we’re The Waltons or Father Knows Best.”
–Ronny Cox

Especially during the holidays, life can get a little crazy.  Things to do, people to see, errands to run, and coordinating schedules and trying to be everywhere at once just emphasizes our hurried lifestyles these days.  The more commercialized aspects of gift-giving (and gift shopping) remind us of the harried nature of life.  Of course, for many these days, it’s just adding crazy on top of crazy, in a life already going at a breakneck speed.  Sometimes, a person just has to put a stop to it all, and find a place to slow down and discover a simpler way.

Hollywood is no different, except that the pace there is almost always on fast-forward, and holidays add even more stress and complication to life in the fast lane.  And yet, there’s always a desire for many to find a way to return to a simpler existence, to slow down the rat race and find a different path.  Of course, sometimes people are just forced to deal with the craziness, no matter how simple they want their lives to be.  Two different shows dealt with these ideas, each in their own manner.  But they both came to the same conclusion.

The first was the 1974 CBS series Apple’s Way.  From The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Apple’s Way told the story of George Apple (Ronny Cox), the father of a family of six, who moved his brood from the hectic pace of Los Angeles back to Appleton, Iowa, the small town he grew up in.  Founded by his ancestors (hence the Appleton moniker), it promised a much more relaxed way of life for the architect and his family… if only they could get used to it.

George’s wife Barbara reluctantly went along with this move, although she wasn’t initially sold on the whole idea of uprooting her family and moving to what they considered “the middle of nowhere”.  But she loved George, and knew the surroundings would likely be good for the kids (whether they believed it or not).  So the family packed up and went to live in a converted old grist mill, complete with waterwheel and “old mill pond”  (because, of course, that’s Hollywood’s idea of “small town”, even in the ’70’s).

While George and Barbara got used to the more rustic surroundings, the kids had their own problems.  Accustomed to a life where friends are just around the corner and things to do are more plentiful, the adjustment to rural Iowa from big-city Los Angeles was more than a bit of culture shock.  But slowly, older teen Paul (Vincent Van Patten), sister Cathy (Patti Cohoon), and youngsters Steven (Eric Olson) and Patricia (Frannie Michel for the first thirteen episodes, Kristie McNichol thereafter) learned to love their new existence.  Dealing with their enthusiastic father, however, was still a problem.

“Earl calls him ‘a slightly berserk good Samaritan.’  He can’t help getting into other people’s problems, even when he’s not wanted.”
–Ronny Cox

George was a “true believer”, and had faith in numerous people and causes.  This obstinate refusal to back down over any situation rubbed some the wrong way, and made the family’s assimilation into the community a sometimes prickly proposition.  Whether he was standing up for a losing basketball coach or defending an ancient tree’s existence, his activism in various causes occasionally embarrassed his family, but his devotion usually was worthwhile.

Created by Earl Hamner, the man behind the successful CBS series The Waltons, Apple’s Way was hoped by CBS to be a more modern-day adaptation of the same family-style drama, although the first season of thirteen episodes played a bit more like a fish-out-of-water comedy.  Major retooling was done before its second season, with the actress playing the youngest girl replaced by Kristie McNichol (as she spelled it then).  Of course, McNichol later went on to play in a different modern-day drama, Family, for many years.

The grist mill set was built on the old Columbia back lot, and was later retooled into the house seen in numerous episodes of Fantasy Island.  Ultimately, the facade was torn down, and ironically it was replaced by the Walton homestead, moved to its new location when its previous site was sold off by the studio.  But the simplicity remained, even if just as a memory.

The problem portrayed in Apple’s Way is about trying to fit your old life into your new one.  While change is the one constant in life, change as radical as living a new life in such extremely different surroundings causes much greater problems along the way, and sometimes teaches some very different lessons.  And while there are obviously times when you’re the student, there are other times when you’re the teacher.

“That’s an important reason Aaron’s Way is such an intriguing series concept.  It deals with a family, which has been living in the old world, suddenly being thrust into a modern-day environment.  Obviously, there’s a lot of conflict there.”
–Merlin Olsen

Sarah and Aaron Miller

Just as George Apple had those moments of culture conflict in Apple’s Way, there was another man who faced many of the same challenges, only in reverse.  In the 1988 NBC series Aaron’s Way, patriarch Aaron Miller (Merlin Olsen) led his Pennsylvania Amish family westward to California, and a winery where his son Noah had once lived.  Although Noah had given up his family’s Amish ways, Aaron had kept in contact with him, until the young man’s death in a surfing accident.  At the funeral, Aaron learns that his son had been living with a woman, and that she was pregnant with their offspring… his grandchild.  In order to support what he feels are his son’s obligations, he moves his Amish family to the winery, where there are gentle clashes in society and style.

Aaron’s wife Sarah (Belinda Montgomery) and their kids are just as confused as the family in Apple’s Way was, but in reverse.  Their simple life and unassuming ways clash, sometimes a bit more sharply, with those of the denizens of California and their supposedly “superior” lifestyle.  But soon-to-be-mother Susannah (Kathleen York) is grateful for their presence, no matter what her more cynical parent Connie (Jessica Walter) may feel about Aaron’s family.  And both families have to deal with Susannah’s brother Mickey (Christopher Gartin), who develops a crush on one of the Miller daughters.

Like Apple’s Way, this was a series that tried to turn a successful “period” piece into a more modern-day one.  Merlin Olsen had been a winning addition to Little House on the Prairie, which led to his starring in Father Murphy for two seasons.   In 1988, NBC needed a companion piece to Michael Landon’s new series, Highway to Heaven, and thus believed Olsen would again be a worthy place to start.  Both shows had a more relaxed presence than many of their television counterparts at the time, and Olsen was a good fit for that style of show.

“For all the technical errors, I think the emotional honesty is there.”
–Creator/Executive Producer William Blinn

Unfortunately, not only did the Millers not fit in (nor were they really expected to, as far as the show was concerned), they also didn’t find any love from either viewers or critics.  Comparatively few watched the show, and those former Amish who saw it disliked its portrayal of the religious community, and rightly so.  This was, unfortunately, Hollywood’s version of Amish, which is occasionally composed more with misunderstanding than sympathy and, as such, didn’t ring true despite the best efforts of some involved.  And so, the lengthy journey the Miller family had undertaken to California ended much sooner than had been anticipated.

Ironically, the cancellation likely simplified Merlin Olsen’s real life, as at the time he was also on NBC’s top team of NFL broadcasters.  The former all-Pro lineman-turned-television analyst was traveling to football games each weekend in the fall, while rushing back to film Aaron’s Way during the week.  Juggling scripts and football programs, not to mention airplane flights and promotional appearances for both NBC entities, made for an extremely hectic life, plus kept Olsen away from his own family (with three growing children).  His family was the primary reason he agreed to perform in Aaron’s Way in the first place, as he felt there were no quality shows on that reached a wide range of ages.

“I like the fact that, at a time when there is very little television that we can sit down and watch together as families, this is the kind of show that really asks people to question what is happening in this world and asks people to look at values.  What is right?  It’s the kind of show that can be very productive in terms of doing something positive instead of instilling an urge to violence in our kids and our adults, as well.”
–Merlin Olsen

In both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a germ of an idea that apparently Hollywood liked, even though it didn’t really express it well.  There is virtue in a less hectic life, and a pace where time and conscience allows for values which aren’t always found in the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.  And while it is likely that those involved in green-lighting both series may have admired the sentiment, the presentation wasn’t really consistent with understanding the principles involved.  A simpler life, in a simpler place, doesn’t mean any lack of understanding or knowledge of the ways of the world.  It just means a choice made to savor the moments, to not get caught up in the day-to-day, and to celebrate all those things some people seem to take for granted.  While the simple life isn’t always simple, it is often much better.

(With so many biographies in two large-cast shows, I’ll just list the more well-known personalities here.)

Apple’s Way:

RONNY COX (George Apple) has a long career in television and movies, first making a huge splash in the film Deliverance, and appearing in the original Robocop.  In addition to being mentioned previously on this site for his role on Cop Rock, he’s starred in Sweet Justice and The Agency, as well as featured and recurring roles in Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1, St. Elsewhere, and The Starter Wife.  His first love is singing, and he’s carved out a pretty good career as a folk/country singer, appearing all over the country, and selling numerous CDs of his songs.

FRANCES LEE McCAIN (Barbara Apple) was featured in many movie roles, including as Marty McFly’s (future) grandmother in Back to the Future, and roles in Patch Adams, Stand by Me, Gremlins, and the original version of Footloose.  A stage actress by preference, she’s also appeared on Broadway, making her debut in Woody Allen’s first stage play, Play It Again, Sam.

VINCENT VAN PATTEN (Paul Apple) is, of course, from an acting family.  His father, Dick, is famous for starring in Eight is Enough, and his brothers James and Nels have also appeared in various television shows and movies.  In addition to his acting, Vincent was also a world-ranked tennis professional (as high as 41st in the world at one point), and he’s also written The Picasso Flop, a mystery set in the world of high-stakes poker.

KRISTIE McNICHOL (Patricia Apple, 2nd season) was extremely young when she joined Apple’s Way, but she went on a year later to star in Family (where she earned two Emmys for Best Supporting Actress) and the comedy Empty Nest.  (She also changed the spelling of her name to Kristy, just in case anyone thinks I’ve got it wrong up above… that’s the way it reads in the credits of Apple’s Way).  Tired of the Hollywood scene (shades of George Apple!), she left the acting profession, although she still teaches drama occasionally.

Aaron’s Way:

MERLIN OLSEN (Aaron Miller) was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thanks to his stellar 15-year career with the (then) Los Angeles Rams.  He became one of the top NFL broadcasters soon thereafter and, thanks to his relationship with NBC, he also signed on as Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.  His “gentle giant” demeanor led to a lead role in Father Murphy a few years later, and then the part of Aaron Miller on Aaron’s Way.  He was a spokesman for FTD Florists, and also hosted numerous telethons for the Children’s Miracle Network.  He passed in 2010 at the age of 69.

BELINDA MONTGOMERY (Sarah Miller) has also made these pages for her role years earlier on Man From Atlantis.  In addition to recurring roles on Miami Vice and guest shots on many other television series, she’s best known as the patient mom of Doogie Howser, M.D.  An avid painter, she currently spends much of her time working with her art, some of which has been shown at various studios throughout North America (and available at her website).

KATHLEEN YORK (Susannah Lo Verde) is a woman of many talents, as she starred in Vengeance Unlimited and had recurring roles in The West Wing and Desperate Housewives.  As a writer, she’s sold scripts to many Hollywood studios, including Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox.  As a singer/songwriter, she’s known as Bird York (her nickname), and her music has been featured on multiple CDs and in movies like Crash and TV shows like House and CSI:  NY.

JESSICA WALTER (Connie Lo Verde) has had a long and memorable career on television, known to many as the matriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development.  While her first television role was back in The Naked City in 1962 as a child actress, she later starred in Amy Prentiss (as a rotating part of The NBC Mystery Movie), Bare Essence, and was the voice of Fran in Dinosaurs.  Currently, she appears on TVLand’s new series Retired at 35.

CHRISTOPHER GARTIN (Mickey Lo Verde) was a regular on the sitcom Buddies before becoming a part of another memorable one-season show, M.A.N.T.I.S.  He appeared in Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Desperate Housewives, and The Mentalist.  He’s also appeared in multiple episodes of True Blood, and the Lifetime series Side Order of Life.

Not a lot exists online for either of these shows.  Neither has come out commercially on DVD, although bootlegs can be found.  Apple’s Way did get the full tie-in treatment (as was popular in the ’70’s), including a novelization and even a lunchbox with the characters pictured on the side.  Although Apple’s Way was a small part of its history, interested parties can find much more information about many Screen Gems and Columbia television series filmed on their backlot at The Unofficial Columbia Ranch Site, full of pictures and stories about the many locations built there.  Due to its shorter run, there’s almost nothing out there for Aaron’s Way in detail.  And maybe that’s proper, as the world of the Amish in general isn’t one for publicity in the first place.  The ways of the world, both complex and simple, will continue….

There are so many different people in this world, and just as many different ideas on how life should be lived.  What is right for some isn’t right for others.  While a great number of us find satisfaction in the lives we lead, George Apple and Aaron Miller both sought a new way to seek their own happiness, far different from the lives they used to have.  Culture shock was a given, but they both had an ideal which they tried to achieve, despite the obstacles found in their way.

The ways of the world are sometimes our own obstacles, but they can be overcome.  The worst thing anyone can do is just accept what is, instead of striving for what can be.  Those who chart their own path create their own happiness, and don’t wait for others to provide it.  A simpler life can be a better one, for those who have the courage and the patience to seek it out, and the consistency to live it despite the pressures of modern society.  Like both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a way for each of us, if we can “simply” find it.

Vital Stats

Apple’s Way

28 episodes aired — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  February 10, 1974
Final aired episode:  January 12,1975
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No.  It aired in the “family” slot of Sunday nights at 7:30/6:30 Central, back in the days when networks started the night early and gave the last half hour of prime time back to local stations.

Aaron’s Way

A two-hour premiere and 12 hour-long episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  March 9, 1988
Final aired episode:  May 25, 1988
Aired Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Again, no.  It ran into Growing Pains when it was a Top 10 show on Wednesdays @ 8/7 Central.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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