Friday, April 08, 2005

The Best of Forgotten Television, Pt. 1

It was hard to be a child of the early 90s and not be a complete pop culture freak. My generation was really the first to trade sandlot baseball and jungle gyms for television and Nintendo. I can’t tell you how many childhood summer nights were spent in front of the idiot box soaking in hours of televisionary entertainment. Even as an adult, I can’t seem to get enough TV, and you know… why should I have to? If there are fun things available to watch, dammit, I’m going to watch them! I can’t even remember a time when there wasn’t at least SOMETHING to watch on the tube. I mean, we’ve got some pretty good watchin’ these days, but as a kid, the programming was absolutely STELLAR.

I bring all of this up because I recently found myself pondering the conclusions to my favorite shows. How did “Full House” end? Remember “The Wonder Years” with Fred Savage? And what about “Boy Meets World,” with Savage’s little brother Ben? I wanted to know what happened to all of these shows. There was no recollection in my memory as to whether a show was cancelled and stopped on a dime, or if it was given a proper burial, so to speak. So, I did some research and realized that I had seen most of these final episodes, but I didn’t always realize that those particular ones were the dramatic finales. Other times I had just forgotten. To remedy all of your respective curiosities, I present you—right here, right now—with my Top 5 Favorite Final Episodes for Early Nineties Television Shows, as well as a few Wild Cards that would send you into permanent insanity if I didn’t tell you about them. Sit back, grab a bowl of popcorn and the remote control (or “TV Box” as one friend so unforgettably called it), and enjoy these grand finales!

5. Home Improvement.

This particular series took the Easy Road Out with its series finale by integrating the two biggest Series Finale Clich├ęs of all time: a family changing location and/or a wedding. For this particular show, Jill gets offered a job in Indiana that she decides to take after spending so much time in school studying to be a psychologist. Tim plays the Great Husband role in this one and decides to quit Tool Time. If I am recalling this correctly, I’m pretty sure that Heidi actually gets knocked up by somebody (Pamela Anderson was definitely the hotter Tool Time Babe—I remember the one episode when she came back and got into a little scrum with Heidi. In my head, I still think of how wonderful the fighting Budweiser girls commercial could have been with those two cast as the lead wet hair-pullers).

Al gets married to the ugly broad from “A League of Their Own” in Tim’s back yard. And he does this after spending so many seasons dating that hot, conservative blonde (What ever happened to her? Someone please tell me!). I’ll never quite understand that, but… que sera sera! The highlight of this show, and this is the thing that makes the "Home Improvement" finale so wonderful, is that they tear down Wilson’s fence to make room for all the wedding guests. We still don't get to see his face, but it was a delicious teaser! The episode ends with Tim and Jill’s house on a huge semi truck being transported to Indiana, where they planned to spend their new life together.

Naturally, the producers of the show didn’t want this highly successful sitcom to end, and as a lure to keep Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson on the show, they offered them contracts in the Millions of Dollars Per Episode range (2 mil for Allen, 1 for Richardson). Al Borland (who cares what his real name is, right?) ended up hosting the new “Family Fued” show, which of course dooms him to either death or obesity, as proven by previous hosts of the show. It’s his prerogative, I suppose. Brother’s gotta work, right?

The other thing that always bothered me was the disappearance of Jonathon Taylor Thomas once the show completed. In his heyday, girls were riding his jock like a pre-pubescent Elvis, but he has since dropped off the face of the earth. My sisters wallpapered their bedrooms with Tiger Beat and Teen Dream pictures of this kid, then POOF! He’s gone just like that! I always heard he was gay, but I never got wind of that rumor’s truthfulness. It’s amazing how a show like that can produce NO great young actors. The Taylor parents made it out alive, why not the kids? In any event, I always enjoyed this show, and I’m glad it was given a proper conclusion, because as we’ll see later, some really great shows were not given the same liberties.

What SHOULD have happened: Tim dies on the very last episode of Tool Time via very nasty accident involving a jet engine and a mustache trimmer. This leaves Jill alone and confused, leading her into the arms of Al, who finally loses his virginity. Jill loses self-esteem and morality from this encounter and begins sleeping with the entire neighborhood, most notably Wilson and the doctor across the street Tim was always trying to beat in the Christmas decoration contest. Brad ends up playing soccer in England and marrying that weird sporty Spice Girl that looks like she wants to rape timid men. Randy admits his homosexuality and joins a traveling production of “The Lion King” musical. Mark goes uber-goth and eats babies. The end.

4. The Wonder Years

This finale was weird in that it didn’t deal with hardly any issues until the last 120 seconds of the episode. Otherwise, it was a pretty normal show in which Kevin and Whinny were STILL BEING DEVELOPED AS CHARACTERS! I would think a final episode of a show that ran six seasons would not worry about such things, but alas, I am but a meager consumer with no girth in the television business whatsoever. I’m over it.

In this episode, Kevin is working far away from home at a pool place where Whinny also happens to be working, although the two of them are no longer dating (how convenient, right?). Kevin desires a re-kindling of the romantic flames, but Whinny is porking one of the lifeguards (David Hasselhoff). (Not really). Kevin eventually spies on Whinny and sees her flirting with said lifeguard stud and subsequently calls her a “slutty whore that was conceived before marriage,” or something similar (I’m paraphrasing). She gets angry, he gets fired for making a scene, and he hits the road to hitchhike with no money because he lost it all in a poker game the night before (author’s note: kids playing poker for real money is a BAD IDEA, but that’s a whole other column).

A car picks him up, and guess who’s in the back seat? That’s right! Norm from “Cheers!” And he looks suspiciously like Whinny Cooper (again: how convenient)! The two begin arguing, and eventually the old couple driving gets sick of it and tosses them out of the moving vehicle. Still livid, the two strew their belongings into the road, which of course brings a large truck to run it all over. This, naturally, is followed by rain, which somehow leads to the two of them making out in an abandoned stable a few dozen feet off of the road (is it me, or does this all feel extremely Dadaistic?).

Here’s where the finality of it all kicks in: Suddenly, Kevin and Whinny are back home for the fourth of July, so Kevin runs through what happens to the rest of his family over the years. The dickhead Dad (that guy always scared me) has a heart attack and dies, so Wayne (also a large male genital) takes over the family furniture business and eventually moves out of the basement. Mom works her way to a career as a board executive and becomes all successful, and the sister, Karen, ends up having her baby. Paul goes to Harvard, continuing his journey to become the Ultimate Nerd (think Ultimate Warrior—same face paint and ribbons on arms, but a weaker physique and trifocals with lenses like the Hubble Telescope). Whinny moves to France to study art history for EIGHT YEARS, and Kevin waits for her like a good little boy. She eventually comes home, the two of them knock boots, and Kevin Jr. pops out nine months later. The point of the EXTREMELY brief monologue is that you grow up, and things really do change, but you’ll “always remember The Wonder Years.”

I personally felt like the “summing it all up” thing at the end was cheap, but I loved the last line of the series. I remember watching the first episode recently and thinking, “This is some of the most tastefully done television ever,” and it was nice to see the last line of the last episode mirror that sentiment. If anyone is unfamiliar with this series, it’s a must-watch. It makes you feel good, reminisce, laugh, cry, and even poop a little. Great characters, great vibe, great show.

Fred Savage ended up playing Number 3 on one of the Austin Powers movies (think The Mole), but other than that, I can’t think of one major show any of those guys were on. Some used to say that Paul grew up to be Marilyn Manson, and though that would be hilariously ironic, it’s not true (nor is Manson the kid from “Mr. Belvidere,” by the way). I’ve sat here and moaned about how the show ended, but I can’t think of a more tasteful way to end things (as if my “Home Improvement” suggestions were even in the same zip code as “tasteful”). Sometimes they just get the plot stuff right. Everyone ends up as they should. If only real life could be that way!

***Next Entry: My second and third favorite show finales of the early 90s! Don’t touch that dial!

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