As an intro with nothing to do with the post, yesterday I started reading The Big U (1984), by Neal Stephenson (one of my favorite authors). It’s his first novel and one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. As with his second novel, Zodiac (1988), his first is a social satire with a distinct technological flavor. Unlike most of his later work, these aren’t science fiction. That began with novel #3, Snow Crash (1992), still one of my favorites.
I mention this because I’m eager to get back to it, but it’s TV Tuesday, and I want to commemorate the ending of not one, not two, (…etc.), but four TV shows that recently aired their last episodes.
Two I was glad to see go, but I am in mourning over one of them.
That would be the ABC family sitcom Black-ish (eight seasons, 2014-2022). It’s the creation of Kenya Barris (see this post from last year). The show was highly regarded throughout its run — it and its actors earning 64 award nominations and winning 28 of them. It spawned two spin-offs, a short-lived prequel, Mixed-ish (two seasons, 2019-2021), and a kids-in-college sitcom, Grown-ish (four seasons so far, 2018-present).
I’m not normally one for family sitcoms, at least not the usual sort of fare, but, as always, I am attracted to stories that take me someplace new. A big part of the draw with Barris is the opportunity to hear voices of color. I was a big fan of another ABC family sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat (six seasons, 2015-2020), for the same reason. And, if I’m honest, Constance Wu.
I also feel something of a geographical connection to Barris. He’s from Inglewood, California (home of the Fabulous Forum), where I lived for 18 years. I get a kick out of seeing the giant donut out the window in the production title at the end of his shows. I bought donuts at that shop many times (mmmmm, donuts).
Black-ish went out strong, on its own terms (rather than being cancelled due to ratings or production issues). They had a long glide path for the show’s final landing. For example, Dre’s mom (played by the delightfully scene-stealing Jenifer Lewis) and dad (Laurence Fishburne!), who’ve been living with the family all this time, buy an RV and hit the open road (this was talk of a spin-off following their adventures).
TV shows with young kids, if they stay on the air long enough, give viewers a chance to see the kids grow up in that fast way that kids do. That was one thing about the Harry Potter movies. It really stands out if one indulges in a Harry Potter marathon — those movies span a period of ten years (2001 to 2011).
Grown-ish, which spent four seasons following the college career of the Johnson’s eldest daughter, Zoey (Yara Shahidi), will be back for a fifth season. Zoey graduated and moved to New York at the end of season four, but her oldest brother, Junior (Marcus Scribner) has enrolled in the same college. The series will obviously follow him now.
I’ll miss Black-ish, it was a good show, well written, well performed, and often with something valuable to say. Grown-ish is a worthy spin-off, and many of the episodes dealt with important social issues. Crucially, they do it without preaching or belittling, but by simply illustrating. Perhaps more importantly, they provide an opportunity to learn what things are like from a different perspective.
All three shows, Black-ish, Mixed-ish, and Grown-ish, are available on Hulu, and I heartily recommend the first and last. The middle one was more of a traditional sitcom that, to my eye, sometimes ventured a little too far into typical sitcom silliness. What’s more, it had a distinctly 80s feel to it that I assume was intentional given it’s a prequel exploring the childhood of Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), the mixed-race wife on Black-ish.
I’m not going to miss Mr. Mayor (2021-2022), the NBC comedy from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. I liked the first season okay, but that may have been influenced by having re-re-watched The Good Place (four seasons, 2016-2020) shortly before Mr. Mayor first aired and being a bit buzzed by how much fun Ted Danson was in that. (I still consider The Good Place one of the best TV shows ever.)
I also consider the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock show 30 Rock (seven seasons, 2006-2013) another one of the best TV shows ever, and I’ve liked other things that Fey (often along with Carlock) has done. For one example, the Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (four seasons, 2015-2019) was pretty good, and I get a big kick out of Jane Krakowski.
But no one bats 1.000, and Mr. Mayor, once the buzz wore off, and despite some interesting guest stars and a few fun appearing as himself/herself Hollywood star cameos, was kind of a stupid show.
I have a problem with what I call Idiot Clown comedy. It typically requires the characters to be beyond stupid and utterly disconnected from reality. I see it as cheap. Writing smart comedy is much harder. The best comedy is the comedy where it’s funny because it’s true. To me, Idiot Clown comedy doesn’t ring true (because no one human can possibly be that lame).
There is also that I’ve never found stupidity funny. To the contrary, I find it tragic. I see our all-too-common unwillingness to exercise our minds the way we exercise our bodies as the source of so much human misery and strife.
The first season seemed to have some wit and sparkle, and I was down with it. Clever writing can redeem Idiot Comedy. But I haven’t been able to get onboard with season two; it’s just seemed very, very lame. I’m never sure if it’s me or them, but the show was cancelled (despite a season two finale cliffhanger), which suggests it wasn’t me.
Speaking of which, the CBS semi-courtroom drama, Bull (six seasons, 2016-2022) also aired its final episode recently. I’ve had hugely mixed feeling about this show since it began, and I’m surprised I stayed with it for six seasons (my, how time passes).
Because of his years on NCIS, I was willing to follow Michael Weatherly from that show to this one. Plus, ever since Perry Mason (both the books and the TV series), I’ve been a big fan of courtroom drama shows, and it was the only current one (that I’m aware of).
But, as courtroom dramas go, it’s not very satisfying. The show is about “trial science” which is the process of gaming the jury — something I find reprehensible and quite contrary to the spirit of the legal process. The show also has a very high bullshit level, I doubt many of the things they do would be allowed (or in some cases, even possible).
Plus, the show is the creation of “Doctor Phil” (Phil McGraw), someone I’ve long found distasteful. On top of that, the show, and Weatherly personally, ran into some sexual harassment issues with Eliza Dushku, which seriously increased my distaste level.
I’ve asked myself why I still watched, but Weatherly turned in a good performance (as did the rest of the cast), and I do so crave courtroom drama.
But I never found it satisfying. Most courtroom drama ultimately is about the truth finally coming out (often at the very last moment). I’m a life-long truth seeker (which may explain my attraction to courtroom drama). But Bull often was about winning, and the actual truth of the matter was never part of the story. The viewer never learns the truth, which I found disturbing. Real life is often like that, but I don’t watch shows for real life, I watch shows to escape real life. (I truly cannot fathom the attraction people have for wallowing in the same human bullshit they wallow in every day of their lives.)
Anyway, I’ve been wanting this series to end for years (sometimes being naturally very loyal is a disadvantage), and it finally has freed me.
This cancellation means there is one less live TV show to keep up with and therefore one less reason to keep my subscription to YouTube TV.
Which, at first, I thought brought it down to only two: NCIS (19 seasons, 2003-present) and The Blacklist (nine seasons, 2013-present). I’ve been wishing for the latter to end because I was so tired of the convoluted over-arching story arc that I’d lost track of what was going on. On the other hand, they killed off the Elizabeth Keen character (Megan Boone), who I never liked, and that made the show better.
NCIS has gone from my favorite TV show to being a show I still watch for some reason (again, that damned loyalty). Recently it’s seemed a bit better. I do miss the inestimable Gibbs (Mark Harmon), but Gary Cole is filling his shoes okay. I don’t find much connection with the younger stars on the show, though.
If these were the only shows I needed YouTube TV for, I might consider dumping my subscription. Netflix carries both, dropping recent seasons shortly after they complete. Back in the day, there were shows I didn’t watch in real time but waited for the DVD season to come out, so it’s a mode I’m comfortable with.
Ever since YouTube TV lost the regional sports network that carried the Minnesota Twins games, I’ve been asking myself why I need it. Turns out the answer is: Doctor Who and South Park but keeping the subscription for just these four shows is starting to feel pricy (and South Park is starting to feel a bit long in the tooth to me).
Lastly, the Netflix show, Grace and Frankie (seven seasons, 2015-2022) wrapped up its run. It resolved various plot arcs and provided a glimpse of the probable futures of the various stars.
The 16-episode last season was issued in two parts, the first four episodes, then a gap of months before the final 12 episodes.
Again, not sure if it was me or them, but I had a hard time getting through those last 12 episodes. They seemed empty and blank somehow, pro forma and by the numbers. It felt as if the writers had lost interest in the show. Some of it I found excruciating.
Which was very disappointing. I had enjoyed the show up to that point. No fault of the actors, who are all marvelous, and it’s been great seeing these old pros do their thing. But the show has always verged on Idiot Clown comedy, and the last episodes seemed nothing but. There was none of the redeeming cleverness or creativity the show had shown before.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the characters never really grew. There is some development in the odd couple pairing of Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), their evolving friendship, but none of the characters really grew themselves.
Frankie, in particular, remained an Idiot Clown of the first order — someone massively disconnected from reality and apparently incapable of self-governance or learning. A supposed hippie Earth mother, she’s narcissistic and almost completely lacking in situational awareness (which, I suppose, may have been the goal, but I always found her hard to take).
[Someday I’ll return to this when I post about Bonhoeffer’s theory of stupidity Synopsis: Bonhoeffer argues that stupid people are more dangerous to a society than criminals, and I think he makes a very good point.]
Some of the writing was inexplicable to me. An example: Bud Bergstein, one of the grown children, is a divorce lawyer who (suddenly) has dreams of being a standup comic. But the character is massively unfunny, both to us viewers and to everyone who knows him. But then he takes a chance at an open mike night and has his audience in stitches (inexplicably because his routine was tired and cliched).
It wasn’t the only time that things happened because the script said so.
It was a very disappointing ending to a show I’d previously rated pretty highly.
And on that note,…
Stay watching, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.