I was on WCCO News Radio 830 in Minneapolis today to talk about my Daily Beast story on series finales. Adam Carter and I had a great chat about some of the best and worst finales of all time, as well as this week’s fantastic Parks and Recreation finale. And we even touched on House of Cards a bit at the end. I can’t embed the audio, but you can find it here. Enjoy!
AMC is calling the upcoming Mad Men finale “The End of an Era,” and that’s not hyperbole. Today at winter press tour, creator Matt Weiner and Mad Men’s original six cast members assembled to reflect on Mad Men’s legacy, and its “surprise” conclusion.
As I wrote at Adweek, Weiner admitted he didn’t want to craft a finale that would spark fan outrage, like the How I Met Your Mother conclusion did:
“I’m trying to delight them and confound them, and not frustrate and irritate them. I don’t want them to walk away angry,” Weiner said of Mad Men viewers. But at the same time, “I don’t want to pander to them. … Sometimes, people have to be protected from what they want to see happen. You can’t just give them everything they want.”
There’s much more from the cast on how they reacted to the finale, and Weiner talks about protecting the Mad Men brand in the years to come.
This morning, I appeared on MSNBC to discuss TV’s best and worst of 2014, and was very happy to be alongside Janet Mock for another MSNBC panel about television. While it wasn’t technically a Melissa Harris-Perry show, it aired during her show’s usual time slot and was produced by her team, so it still counts as a MHP appearance in my book. Here’s the video:
The segment was terrific. I only wished they’d mentioned TV & Not TV as they were supposed to (things were a little crazed with breaking news), and that they’d called me the correct name at the end (“Jane Lynch”?). But it was fun to be back on MSNBC, and to discuss the year’s highs and lows one last time.
So far, I’ve spent this Best (& Worst) of 2014 TV week celebrating the finest that television had to offer this year, from the top 10 shows to the 10 best performances. But today, it’s time to leap over to the other end of the spectrum, and mourn the moments that TV let me down in 2014.
I decided against a 10 worst list, because some shows — like Mixology and Manhattan Love Story — were clearly doomed from the start and promptly lived down to expectations. Instead, I’ve focusing on the year’s biggest disappointments: shows (and performers) who aspired to something greater, and perhaps even briefly achieved it, before it all came crashing down. Here is 2014’s Hall of Shame, in alphabetical order:
A to Z (NBC)
This sitcom — chronicling the A-to-Z relationship of Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti —was one of the most promising fall pilots. Its stars had terrific, unforced chemistry. And then … nothing happened, for episodes on end. The jokes evaporated, and no actual stakes ever materialized. And how could a show set at not one but two different workplaces get away with never showing anyone doing actual work? After How I Met Your Mother, I thought the fantastic Milioti had finally found a part worthy of her talents. Better luck next season.
Bearded best friends
One of the most depressing developments of the fall season was the discovery that all the networks’ comedy development teams were operating from the exact same bland playbook: don’t forget to cast a bearded best friend! Like a virus, they popped up on almost every sitcom this fall, including Mulaney (Zack Pearlman), A to Z (Henry Zebrowski), Manhattan Love Story (Nicolas Wright) and Marry Me (John Gemberling). Now Gemberling is the last beard standing, not that I could really distinguish him from the other three.
When I reviewed the Extant premiere this summer, I was excited about the sci-fi drama’s possibilities, both in storyline and the performance it was coaxing out of star Halle Berry, as an astronaut who returns from a lengthy solo mission to discover that she’s pregnant. A few episodes later, those optimistic dreams were the opposite of extant. Instead of learning its lessons from Under the Dome, which quickly squandered its beguiling premise in 2013, CBS repeated them all again.
How I Met Your Mother finale (CBS)
While I was never a regular How I Met Your Mother watcher, I had been eagerly anticipating how series would pay off the story it had been setting up for nine (!) seasons. Instead, the finale confirmed everyone’s worst fears — that the Mother (Milioti again!) had died — and turned into How I Barely Met Your Mother. It was a legen — wait for it! — dary addition to the annals of all-time worst finales. (Make room, Dexter!)
Out of all this year’s new sitcoms, I was most excited about seeing Mulaney, created by and starring one of SNL’s all-time great writers (and the man behind Stefon!), John Mulaney. And then I watched the first episode Fox made available, which was…awful. Soon after, Fox shared four more episodes, each one more depressing than the last. How could someone so innovative end up in something so conventional? Even worse, the show completely wasted its fantastic cast (including Martin Short and the underrated Nasim Pedrad).
A year after Fox had scored big with a midseason drama featuring a movie star (Kevin Bacon’s The Following), it tried again with this Greg Kinnear legal series — and failed spectacularly. Billed as the law version of House, it lacked any of that show’s zest and wit. Kinnear’s Keegan Deane was less an anti-hero than an anti-character, as clunky a fit as the show’s silly title.
Sleepy Hollow (Fox)
It’s the hat trick of Fox disappointments! Season 1 the Fox supernatural series was a delightful, wackadoodle wonder. And that’s what has made Season 2 so upsetting, as the series has undone so much of what made it addictive in the first place. John Noble, so vital to the end of Season 1, has been neutered this year, while Orlando Jones was stuck on the sidelines. There are still flashes of the trippy show that once was (and Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie remain terrific), but Sleepy Hollow suffered the biggest quality dropoff this year.
So intriguing in theory, so bland in execution. Still flailing post-Breaking Bad, AMC came up empty again with this uninspired Revolutionary War drama. It was somehow renewed for Season 2, and saddled with a longer title: Turn: Washington’s Spies. There, problem solved!
FX’s incredible run of essential dramas came to an end with this controversial Middle Eastern series, which finally offered one antihero too many for a network packed with them. And no, don’t remind me that this was renewed over the far-superior The Bridge.
Christopher Walken (Peter Pan Live!)
Two weeks later, I still can’t believe what I saw on Dec. 4. Walken’s Captain Hook was supposed to save Peter Pan Live! Instead, he almost sunk the show. That an actor who is so reliably riveting in everything he appears in — no matter how great or lousy the project itself is — could sleepwalk through a three-hour live performance was one of the year’s biggest stunners. Whether it was due to age or boredom, Walken lost a big chunk of his luster that night.
That was cathartic; now it’s time to praise television again! Check back Thursday for more 2014 TV VIPs.
What if How I Met Your Mother had actually been about, you know, how Ted met the Mother? The result would have been something like A to Z, the new NBC romantic comedy starring, yes, Cristin Milioti, who played the Mother in that show’s final season last year. At The Daily Beast, I spoke to the charming actress — who, it turns out, went to the same high school as I did (a full decade either before or after me; I’ll never tell) — about the controversial HIMYM finale, dropping out of college, what she learned from Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese on The Wolf of Wall Street and (spoiler alert) how she discovered the Mother’s fate:
Milioti first discovered Tracy’s fate late last year, at the show’s Christmas party. “I was sitting with Craig and we were like three cocktails in,” she says. “He’s very happy and giddy when he gets a little tipsy, and he said, ‘Do you want to know how the series ends?’ I was also tipsy and I was like, ‘What, do I die?’—as a joke. Then he got real serious and was like, ‘Wait, do you know?’ He told me how it happens, and I sat there bawling. I just didn’t see it coming.”
I did this interview with her at TCA summer tour; it was nice to be able to do this one in person and swap South Jersey memories.
After a bit of a hiatus, I returned to Parade to put together a Fall TV Preview, which was one of my first stories for them last year. My take on this shows are how they managed to be both fresh and familiar — and have a lot in common with some of your favorite shows.
When I filed, I didn’t know that this would be my very last Parade story. But sadly, the magazine was sold last week and the entire editorial staff, including all my favorite editors, was laid off as editorial operations move from New York to Nashville
I’ll miss you Parade; it’s been fun!
How I Met Your Mother signs off tonight after nine seasons on the air. I spoke with Alyson Hannigan for this piece at Today.com, where she talked about her next movie: shooting a CBS sitcom pilot, More Time With Family.
“I’ve been incredibly blessed that I’ve gotten two wonderful shows, but when I signed onto this, this was a hybrid show. It was going to be partially pre-taped, and partially in front of an audience,” Hannigan, 40, said of “Mother,” which ended up being entirely shot without one. (The laugh track is added in later.) “Well, we’ve yet to have the audience! So my next one is definitely an audience multi-cam.”