Thursday, February 23, 2006


Byzantium's Shores has an interesting post up that spins out of my post below on the wonderful James Woods episode of ER, and I thought I respond to some points he makes.

A lot of Kelly's post comes down to the fact that he doesn't find ER to be interesting anymore--the stories, characters, arcs, are all uninteresting or, at the most, decent-but-rehashed for him. I disagree, but that's, of course, fine. To each his own and all that jazz. Some of his complaints do seen a bit unfair--he makes it sounds as if the parade of big-name guest starts he lists all took part in variations on a very similar story, when in fact each was unique in its own way--the only connecting tissue being "big-name star playing character with bad illness" which, if you think about it, is a pretty broad canvas on which to write.

Still--he doesn't like the show and think it should be cancelled. Fair enough. But here is my real question. If a show was brilliant, say for five years or so, and then becomes very good should it be put out of its mercy? (note--I understand that Kelly wouldn't place ER under this definition at all--this is a more general question, that I think applies to ER but am curious about in a much more general way). From his post, and I may be wrong, he would say yes. Roger Owen Green, in a comment on that same post of mine below, basically says, again, if I'm not misreading him, the same thing. And I, as is probably pretty clear by now, disagree.

I wrote a post a while back about how awesome it is that Ricky Henderson continues to insist on playing baseball, even if on a minor-league level, because he loves playing and feels he can still contribute. I have never seen the supposed honor in quitting at something simply because you are no longer at peak capacity. I've read so many times about how Seinfeld went on too long, or went just long enough--Kelly makes a similar claim in his post. But was Seinfeld, by any measure, a bad sitcom in its final year? Or even an average one? I'd say, no matter what you thought of the final season, by normal measuring sticks (i.e., if not measuring it against earlier, brilliant, seasons of Seinfeld) it was, at least, pretty good. Not excellent, perhaps, but pretty good. Now, in this case I know the prime drivers of the show--Seinfeld himself and Larry David--wanted out, so, of course, it should have ended. But this notion that any great, well, anything--singer, ballplayer, television show, artist, actor--should quit once they become less than great--even if they are still by any rational measure pretty damn good--baffling.

Very good is a rare enough quality in itself, even if not so rare as excellent or brilliant. To disparage very good, just because it used to be great, is, to me, sad in a way. One last example--The Simpsons. Inarguably brilliant, for a good run of years, at least six or so. Now--very good, if nowhere near the brilliance it one had. And yet so many fans, critics, and others call for its mercy killing, as if the brilliance of those six years or so can somehow be retroactively, in some sci-fi, time-traveling way, harmed by the past several seasons just-plain-good quality. Why? Why should we lose a half hour a week of good, solid (if not brilliant) laughter?

I just don't get it. So here's to the very good who used to be brilliant. May they continue to move, entertain, and amuse us, for as long as they wish and are able to do so.

Until Whenever


Jaquandor said...

I don't think Seinfeld lasted too long, but I think that it really could have had it returned. "Superb" to "Merely really good" is an interesting metric, but it's not really one that you see much, is it? I grant The Simpsons (although I haven't watched a new episode in two years, for reasons having nothing much to do with quality but stuff going on in the household at that time of day on Sunday), but how many other such shows exist?

And I'm not sure about the Rickey Henderson example -- it's cool that he still plays in some tiny league out of pure love of the game, but with series TV shows, that would be the equivalent of Henderson having a roster spot on an MLB team just out of love of the game.

(And at the risk of beating a dead horse, I don't think my critique of ER's "famous actor's illness of the week" thing is unfair at all. Surely it means something that the James Woods episode had me saying, for much of the episode, "Here we go again". Yes, there's a wide canvas -- but my point is, as always, the ER writers aren't using the whole canvas. It's always oh-so-moving, a major life-lesson with a very slow final fade-away. Those episodes just aren't unique enough, in my opinion.)

Tosy And Cosh said...

Henderson did have a roster spot on a MLB team as of two years ago. Not starting, not great, but contributing to the team. Lots of folks slammed him for it--how sad it was to see someone who used to be brilliant not even starting, not what he was. I thought it was inspiring. After all, he was good enough to play, and contribute, just not at the levels he used to. And so he did. Brilliant.