Saturday, March 17, 2007

The End of an Era.The End of a Two-Term Presidency. The End of Another Five Months.

Last night, Stu and I sat down to watch the final episode of The West Wing. The red Netflix envelope had been on our coffee table for a couple of days and I'd been eyeing it with extreme enthusiasm and utter dread. For five months we'd revelled in the phenomenally good episodes (and they were some of the best television I'd ever seen), slogged through the painstakingly bad ones (and they were just abysmally, horribly, awfully, ridiculously bad), fell in love with the incoming and outgoing characters (okay, that was mostly me falling in love with Josh, but Stu really, really liked Donna), and I even went so far as to take a practice LSAT on line just to see if I should consider pursuing a mid-career transition to law and politics (it's still up for discussion). And at the end of it all, we were about to be freed of our five month servitude in the West Wing. Much like C.J. Cregg herself, we were about to walk out of the building with equal amounts of elation and depression.

After the final credits of our final episode, I sat on the couch, unable to let go of the roll of toilet paper we'd needed as makeshift tissues. Stu picked himself up and began maneuvering through the apartment, picking up a piece of mail here and a water glass there, the evening progressing along. I still hadn't moved and I still hadn't stopped crying. Stu looked at me, "Are you afraid that if you get up, it will really be over?" I nodded pathetically. I was so excited to learn the fate of the characters in whose lives I had become so invested (the reason I insisted we sit through the horrid post-Sorkin seasons--I needed to know everything that was to befall my beloved peeps!), but I was devastated by their being extracted from life, yanked from my day to day existence with a shocking and painful rip and pull.

And that's the thing about watching a show on DVD, the episodes piled up one on top of the other. You live and breathe these people's lives, inhaling their every experience. The first show Stu and I watched on DVD was Sex and the City. I was attempting to write a sitcom pilot at the time and wanted to watch a show after which I thought I might like to model mine. I strode to the video store with great purpose and came home with DVDs of Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Larry Sanders Show, and Sex and The City (clearly, I was going for that HBO, no laugh track thing.). After gobbling up the first season's episodes like they were pink M&Ms (They have those now. You know, breast cancer awareness candy!), Stu and I noticed that we would both constantly dream about the show and its characters. I remember tossing and turning in my bed, night after night, thinking of nothing but Big and Carrie, Miranda and Steve-o, high fashion and non-stop brunches and cocktails.

The same thing happened when we started our second DVD series, Dawson's Creek. Our watching this was the result of Stu tearing his rotator cuff while on vacation in Mexico. Spending much of his time in the hotel room, he became quickly addicted to the English reruns of Dawson's Creek that were on every day at 5PM. I will never forget his shouting to me as I showered off the day's sun block and sand, "Honey, you gotta come watch this!" "What is it?" I yelled back. If you know Stu at all, you would understand my shock and amazement when his answer was, "Dawson's Creek!" More shock and amazement would follow were you to learn that not only did we rent the entire series upon our return from South of the border, but also purchased several of the seasons and downloaded the rest of off TIVO. Midway through the shows, my nights became nothing but eight-hour long deliberations: Pacey or Dawson, Dawson or Pacey! Must decide. Must decide!

I sobbed and wailed equally as hard at the end of Sex and the City and Dawson's Creek. It was all so bittersweet: Big and Carrie finally together! Steve and Miranda finally married! Charlotte finally adopting! Samantha finally clear of cancer and able to hold someone's hand! But, MAN, nothing topped Jen Lindley DYING on the Creek. WTF?!?!? I had become so attached to these people and they seemed to disappear from my life as quickly as they had appeared on my television screen.

That's the thing about watching a show unfold over several years on television versus watching them over a few months on DVD...

There's no other series finale as renowned as M*A*S*H. I was only thirteen when the series ended, but my sister and I, both devout fanatics, cried our adolescent eyes out over the 4077th's goodbyes (Not to mention the irony of Klinger's being the only one who would actually remain in Korea. That just about killed us.). But we had spent years with these people (No, I didn't start watching the show when I was two. Reruns and syndication, people!). We had been through so much with them over so long a period of time. It was shocking to think they wouldn't be with us anymore on a weekly basis (But how happy was I to see Hawkeye return to TV on The West Wing? Sure he was a republican, but whatever...Hawkeye Pierce!), but after eleven years it's time to let go, devastating as it might feel. And I felt the exact same thing and shed the same amount of tears when Cheers and Friends ended.

But when you watch a show over only a few weeks and months as opposed to years, the characters become close friends of yours in a very short amount of time. The relationship you have with them is so intense, not diluted and spread out over manageable increments, your emotions kept in check by the passage of all of your lives. With a weekly show, you age as they age. You progress with your life while they progress with theirs and you reconnect once a week, and generally take summers off from one another. But when you watch a show on DVD, there are no breaks, and while the show's character's lives progress by years, yours only progresses by days and weeks. It's a very odd dynamic, so that when you're done with the show, its vanishing from your life seems tragic and premature.

So with the swiftness with which the White House staff has packed up President Bartlett's belongings and moved in President Elect Santos' things, Stu and I have been shoved out of the West Wing. We are like C.J. walking away from the gate and blending anonymously into the crowd, off to a new life, a new set of experiences, and a new set of friends.

All I can say now is thank god the Netflix envelope containing disc one of Sports Night showed up this morning! It's only two seasons and it never quite ended so it's final moments shouldn't be all that painful...should they?

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