Monday, May 09, 2005

The Best of Forgotten Television Pt. 2

***This is the second installment of my “The Best of Forgotten Television” series, which has, ironically enough, most likely been forgotten due to the extended period of time between the first and second parts. However, like many forgotten things worthy of revival, this entry has returned to the forefront of social consciousness and is here to inform and entertain. Enjoy!

3. Boy Meets World

I’m not sure why I fell in love with this show in the first place. I mean, it certainly isn’t my #3 favorite SHOW of all time, just my #3 favorite FINALE. I think it always kind of fascinated me that the show’s star, Ben Savage, is the younger brother of Fred Savage (aka Kevin Arnold of The Wonder Years), the central character of another of my favorite coming-of-age sitcoms. It was about an adolescent boy in love with one girl for his entire life who he ends up marrying even though there were millions of obstacles along the way. "Wait," you say, "Are you talking about Boy Meets World or The Wonder Years? Well, isn't it obvious that I'm doing one of those fun double-entendre things I'm always hearing so much about? The connections between the two shows are uncanny: Both were split pretty evenly between home and school, both had older siblings to make like difficult, and both had one best friend to help them get through all of their problems. The parallels are amazing, but why do I have the younger brother’s finale listed higher than Big Bro’s?

The answer is in the interpreted ending of the show. Like his elder sibling’s Wonder Years, which ends with the phrase, “I’ll always remember the wonder years,” Boy Meets World had a similarly title-specific ending. After years and years of chasing Topanga and dealing with his best friend Shaun’s crazy antics, the show came to a close with Cory, Topanga, and Shaun (and other recently added central characters) in college. Cory is forced to deal with Topanga’s New York graduate school offer. Let’s be serious here; he’s married to the broad and she wants to leave. Well all know that he’s leaving, too. There’s no question about it. He's more whipped than Kunta. But the fallout of this decision is that by moving, he has to abandon his buddies. It turns out that after graduation, they all have plans to go their separate ways as well. So, they make one last trip together to Mr. Feeney’s classroom and say goodbye to their longtime mentor. Then, they all say goodbye to each other.

So far this all sounds pretty magoo, right? We’re expected to shed a tear because Cory Matthews is being taken from his friends. Boo hoo. Romanticism aside, what I liked about this show is its Wonder Years-like interpretation. At the end of the show, Cory heads out into the real world with his wife and the rest of his life ahead of him. Up to this point, he’s had every one of his friends and family to lean on as he finished growing up and maturing. At this point in the show, Cory is living and acting like a man, making a man’s decisions. That’s when we realize the whole point of the show. At the end, Boy really does meet World, only in doing so, he’s no longer a boy. In this last episode, Cory realizes he’s a man, and what better way to end the show than that?

Besides, Man Meets World sounds more like a low-budget porn movie than something that would produce Disney-worthy reruns.

2. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

NBC struck gold with this show, taking a bubble-gum hip-hop artist in Will Smith and grooming him into an international superstar. We’re all aware of the show’s premise, made explicitly clear by one of the greatest theme songs in the History of Everything (I was the first white kid at my mostly-minority grade school to learn all the lyrics. This, for some reason, is a source of great pride for me), and the finale at the end of the sixth season created an extremely satisfying sense of closure for me and for millions of other viewers.

But before I get to the series finale, I think it’s important to note that this show could’ve ended at the conclusion of the 4th or 5th seasons, and I remember never really feeling quite sure whether or not the show would return. For example, at the end of season 4, Will journeys home to his Zion in Philadelphia, a more-than-logical place to end the series. And in season 5, the last episode deals with Will’s and Lisa’s wedding, which Will abandons, even after giving Lisa so much garbage for having cold feet. Again, weddings are typically a common way to end shows.

I recently found out that the reason for ending every season on a semi-final note was because the show's creators and producers feared sudden cancellation at the end of every season since the third one (think “Moesha” and “The Wayans Brothers,” other “successful” black sitcoms shows that were dropped unexpectedly). To avoid an end to the show that didn’t provide closure, the writers scripted finality into seasons 3-5 because they were unsure as to how much longer the show would actually last. It makes sense, right?

However, the closure scripted into the Series finale at the end of the shows sixth year really was conclusive, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the show would be done forever this time. With Will Smith’s movie career taking off, and with the success of his “Big Willy Style” record in 1998, The Fresh Prince simply didn’t have time for the show anymore, so they ended it (consequently: You know that orange “drink” they serve at church functions and elementary school chorus concerts that consists of about 13% orange Kool-Aid mix, 80% water, and 7% human urine? That’s kind of how Will Smith’s new album is; it’s got two or three good songs, and the rest is either watered-down or just complete “waste”).

So with Smith’s desire to leave, the show ended, and to do so they followed a staple in series finales: moving (see #3 and #5 in "The Best of Forgotten Television, by Joel Brigham). The Banks family sold their house to George and Wheezy Jeferson, who made a cameo on the last episode (Author’s note: Sherman Hemsley has the coolest walk EVER). Ashley plans on moving to New York to model, Carlton gets accepted to some Ivy League university, and Will feels like everyone in the house is moving on with their lives—except him. To avoid making them all feel bad, he lies and tells his family that he got a really nice apartment in the area. Of course, he didn’t, and he would prefer to stay put in the huge Bel Air mansion (I probably would’ve sided with him on this one). But, he lets them go anyway, and the show ends with Will hitting the lights in the empty house that millions of people had come to love, but none more than Smith himself.

This show’s finale avoided cliché by adding Will’s inner turmoil about leaving. As if we wouldn’t all be schmaltzy enough that the family was moving out of the house, we also had to deal with the emotional issue of Will NOT wanting to leave. Brilliant writers moved their viewers towards extreme sentimentality, and we all ate it right up. There was even a point in that last episode where Carlton did “The Dance,” which in and of itself brought tears to my eyes (not true)(or maybe it is)(okay, so I cried when Fresh Prince went of the "Air." Get it?)(seriously, I didn't cry). It was nice to include such a popular trademark of the show in that last episode. I hate that it’s gone, but t was an appropriate end to an excellent, excellent show.

***Next Entry: The number ONE finale, and a the dramatic conclusion to “The Best of Forgotten Television!”