Here at the end of all things

I hate endings/finales. The finality of witnessing an act of closure has always fought viciously with the side of me that treasures and values nostalgia. I guess it’s why I never actually finish any television shows. (This article contains mild spoilers for some shows.)

I mostly stop shows after completing about 65-70% of its run (if it’s finished), or I just watch shows with hardly any seasons at all because they were cancelled and it’s easier. (Firefly, sob.) That’s a very comfortable place to say, “Yes, I’ve seen most of this show and can talk enough about my favourite characters, but well, it’s too goddamn painful to go on when I know it’s ending.”

That’s unless a show is more than eight seasons long like The X Files in which that will just probably take me ten years to finish.

I’m writing this because the show Parks and Recreation is ending very soon and one of my friends is really attached to it. I myself haven’t watched enough of it to hold my own in a conversation, but I’ve seen at least two-ish seasons (I really don’t remember). I know who the main players are and they never really change.

Just the other night I saw this promotional photograph from the finale and started tearing up, to my surprise:

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Credit: spoilertv.com

To have gotten emotional about something I know close to nothing about seems very silly. But aside from the fact that my friends’ pains are mine, I feel like over the years, even as the show progressed and I left it behind, Leslie Knope (pictured above) grew up in my periphery. She had a life that was fully lived, in a manner of speaking, which I saw through the wonderful gifs and edits on Tumblr, and through my friend’s live tweeting during each new episode.

To make things more personal than it should have been, that publicity shot up there is a deliberate parallel to the very first episode of Parks, which I’ve clearly seen. And already, without having to watch the seasons in between, I could see the development. A woman filled with confidence and pride and contentment took the place of the tentative government employee of seasons past. I know for a fact that Leslie is the type of female character I root for. She’s strong-willed, intelligent, independent, loyal, loving, and so many other wonderful qualities. She’s a positive force for women in comedy (as is Amy Poehler, for the most part), and to see her go is a big tragedy.

And that’s the great effect of television in the lives of the people who consume it, especially if it’s done right. A show like Parks is a diamond in the rough. Not every show has to be that special of course, but it is undeniably a force to be reckoned with among comedy fans. You hear people get up in arms over the lack of recognition it gets from awards voters, and that isn’t without merit. In a world where shows like The Big Bang Theory dominate that category with its boorish, repetitive, and actually damaging sexist brand of humour, why shouldn’t viewers have a balancer in a show like Parks?

Other than that, just as a viewer, you develop together with these characters. Over the course of x amount of seasons, they become like siblings, best friends, parents, and co-workers to you. You feel protective over them, and don’t want to see them go where you can’t actually follow (if you get the second Lord of the Rings reference by now, good for you). A show’s death can be like losing a loved one, especially if something was formative or just special to you.

I personally felt that way when Breaking Bad ended over a year ago now. I still actually believe the finale aired “last year”, which shows how much denial I’m in. Quite frankly, I’d never had a show get to me as madly as that one did. I remember catching up on five seasons in a single week (this was at least a year before the final eight episodes aired). I couldn’t do anything else except go out and get the remaining DVDs to keep watching because what was going to happen to Jesse? To Gus? To Skyler? TO WALT JR.? It was a-season-a-day kind of intense.

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Credit: aaron-paul.org

I don’t think I’d be able to do it again with any other show any time soon. Because only something that special could get me there. But definitely, shows can do that.

People like to say it’s “just television” with the sole purpose of entertainment, and those emotions are extraneous. Fair argument, but when something entertains this well while being so socially relevant, it’s always sad to see it go. The fact of the matter is, the media can have a pervasive effect if you look at it beyond a cursory level. It shouldn’t be taken lightly when someone does that. Putting people down for enjoying things like television in a way that seems excessive is probably putting down a part of their personality they’re actually proud of having. You can learn lessons from fiction, after all, and the medium of TV – with its longer format and penchant for longevity – can and is truly the ideal place for those seeds to be planted.

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