Does Not Live by Jokes Alone: Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the Warm Sitcom

28 Mar

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine creator Mike Schur isn’t the only one doing the warm sitcom—Modern Family does it; New Girl occasionally does it; I hear The Middle does it—but he might be the best and most consistent. He comes from The Office and he created Parks and Recreation, both of which have decidedly uplifting tendencies and had flaily first seasons before gaining traction later on. With Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he’s gotten it right out of the gate, and then gone further: from jokes to characters to compelling relationships in one season flat.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was that rare TV unicorn, a sitcom that people liked right away, and rightly so: it was funny and self-assured from the start. It got good reviews and reasonable ratings, and it won two Golden Globes (Best Television – Comedy or Musical and a Best Actor – Television Comedy or Musical nod for Andy Samberg) before it had aired a full season—which everybody thought was a little dumb, but may have given the show a little extra time and confidence.

The task of any freshman sitcom is to hang on long enough to let its characters find their voices, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine has done that, largely by being funny enough and well-liked enough at an early enough date to sidestep worries about cancellation. (The writers also had the brains to develop the entire ensemble and avoid becoming The Andy Samberg Show—a smart move, since a lot of people find Full Samberg off-putting. Here, he’s allowed to play to his obvious strengths and show off a few less obvious ones.) That said, the growth spurt took awhile. As late as Thanksgiving, it was hard to remember exactly who was who (now which brunette was the kiss-up, and which one was that girl from Twitter?) and why we cared, exactly, aside from all the jokes. But it did eventually come: with time and careful writing, the archetypes of the Nine-Nine have become fictional people, identifiable and with full-sized personalities. Most importantly—and this is maybe Schur’s greatest gift as a showrunner—every single character on this show has an identifiable heart. From the deadpan Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) down the line to his weirdo assistant Gina (Chelsea Peretti) to the show’s protagonist, professional goofball/detective Jake Peralta (Samberg), everybody wants things, and fears things, and tries to keep secrets—and when those things collide, as they always do on a sitcom, we get unexpected moments of grace. It’s very, very funny, but it’s generous funny, and it’s those vulnerable spots that make us care.

Early on, a lot of people pointed out that the characters on Brooklyn Nine-Nine bear certain resemblances to the characters on Parks and Rec: intense goody-goodies Amy Santiago and Leslie Knope; ultra-stoics Ron Swanson and Captain Holt; golden-hearted angry ladies Rosa Diaz and April Ludgate; perpetual bumblers Gary/Jerry/Larry and Hitchcock & Scully. And it’s true that Schur has his types, and the two series have similar rhythms—but it isn’t a problem. Amy and Leslie may be different sides of the same coin, but they express themselves differently. Rosa isn’t April. And we all know Gary/Jerry/Larry would just think Hitchcock & Scully are the coolest guys ever. And when it comes down to it, is a family resemblance to Parks and Rec really the worst thing?

So, all this character-building is great—but for what Schur is doing with the warm sitcom, it isn’t enough. Lots of shows have good characterization; not as many play good characterization into nuanced interactions that stand the test of many seasons. Around the beginning of the year, carefully established relationships began to emerge across the character matrix, from the big names all the way down to recurring small-dose characters like  Hitchcock and Scully (see: Gina and the secret bathroom). The expected combinations are there, for sure: loose cannon Peralta and ultra-stoic Captain Holt, Peralta and teacher’s pet Santiago (Melissa Fumero, who’s great on this show), and the like. But a lot of the interesting stuff lies, as it so often does, on the periphery. The series started off with a potentially tough-to-pull-off unrequited-love story between the awkward foodie Boyle (Joe Lo Truglia) and the generally terrifying Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz). Would they overcome their complete incompatibility and fall in love? Mercifully, no. But Schur and Co. worked with the concept and came up with something compelling but not insane: they would overcome a little of their incompatibility and become friends. In his hour of being dumped by his fiancee, it was Rosa who talks him through with sincerity and grace—and because of the slow creep of their relationship over the course of the season, it didn’t feel strange. This is the kind of groundwork that allows for long story arcs and keeps viewers coming back week after week.

One note of potential awkwardness: toward the end of the season, Peralta began nursing a crush on Santiago. This is pleasant: Samberg sells it, and Fumero has a great semi-awareness that she somehow gets across, and the whole thing allows for a certain number of goofy and touching romantic hijinks. It also makes a sort of strategic sense; people love having a couple to root for, and that extra emotional hook might ensure that they don’t forget to tune in come September. It’s enjoyable—but it feels like it was introduced too late and moved forward too early. This is the kind of storyline that does especially well when it’s introduced immediately (a la Jim and Pam on The Office) or worked in slowly during a longer run (Leslie and Ben on Parks and Rec, indicating that Schur knows exactly how to do this), but something about bringing it up a month or six weeks before the season finale feels just a hair forced. In the finale, just before breaking contact and going undercover long-term, Peralta confessed that he’d like something to happen between them. It was a nice scene, but it didn’t need to happen yet. Endless delayed gratification in TV love can make things awkward and ridiculous, but making a move too soon cuts out the thrill of waiting awhile—and we’re still well within the bounds of a little healthy pining. The show wasn’t in danger of cancellation (I’m looking at you, The Mindy Project). It could have waited.

Anyway. As the first season ends, we’re left with a fun concept for next year: Peralta goes undercover to root out the mafia. It’s unclear how that will work logistically, assuming he’ll have to cut off all contact with the rest of the Nine-Nine, but that’s a concern for another day—and I think we can assume it’ll be good. They’ve got their act together.

This is the second of a three-post series on the Fox Tuesday-night comedy lineup. Hop on over to New Girl here; stay tuned for The Mindy Project!

 

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What Happened to New Girl?

10 Mar

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There was a time when Tuesday night was New Girl night. After the ramping-up period, back when The Mindy Project was an infant and Brooklyn Nine-Nine was just someone’s pitch for Andre Braugher holding puppies, New Girl got good. It grew nuance and originality along with silliness, and cultivated a gift for amazing throwaway lines. It developed characters so weird that you had to love them. It had something going. And now, in its third season, it’s lost its way.

The last season of New Girl was incredibly exciting. Among other plot points, the writers leaned hard on the developing romantic relationship between Jess and her roommate Nick, with thrilling results. The story was exciting; Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson’s crackly, grown-up chemistry was exciting; and the writing was really exciting. The writers approached Nick and Jess’s story with the kind of abandon—one might say recklessness—not often seen on network sitcoms. Instead of drawing out the will-they-won’t-they, they went for it, all at once, and it was a glorious thing to watch.

In comparison, this season is dead in the water. Nearly everybody’s flailing, looking for an arc and not finding anything of substance. Schmidt moved out, and then back in again, for reasons I don’t really remember. Winston, never a character of great purpose in the first place, continues to have harebrained schemes that never go anywhere (though I hope he becomes a cop, and stays one; there’s lots of material there). And Coach, the roommate who was replaced by Winston after the pilot, has resurfaced for reasons nobody seems to get, other than the cancellation of Happy Endings and the availability of Damon Wayans, Jr. Cece is working at the bar with Nick—potentially a fun move—and fostering a mostly platonic soft spot for Schmidt, but she isn’t going anywhere. None of them are.

The thing is, though, that there are two characters who aren’t really flailing, and they are Nick and Jess. They’ve lost the urgency of last season, but their relationship remains the best part of the show—they’re funny, they’re sexy (except when they’re deliberately not, a la Nick’s nightgown), and their storylines stem primarily from the drama and humor inherent in two weird humans trying to establish a life together. This is huge: by far, the biggest killer of television couples (and, sometimes, television shows) is the temptation to manufacture drama externally, as if human relationships were somehow not interesting enough. It’s this impulse that brought us Luke’s long-lost daughter April, Luke’s inexplicable desire to keep her a secret, and a totally unnecessary breakup on Gilmore Girls; it’s this impulse that replaced Lois Lane with a frog-eating clone a million years ago on Lois and Clark; it’s this impulse that made a serial killer force Booth to refuse to marry Brennan, and not tell her why, on Bones. It’s an infuriating instinct—and on New Girl, the writers have mostly avoided it, apparently getting that these two characters have enough neuroses and conflicting pressure points to keep an enterprising sitcom writer busy until the next winter Olympics, at least. It’s a slowed-down version of what they started last year, and that’s understandable; what they were doing last year wasn’t sustainable. I suspect not everybody is enjoying the monogamous setting-up stage of Nick and Jess’s relationship—but it’s keeping them focused, and in motion, which is more than anybody else on the show can say.

Maybe The Nick and Jess Show in its barn-burning heyday sucked all the energy from everybody else’s storylines, and we were all so busy watching them that nobody noticed. Now, when everything has normalized, we notice, and adjustments need to be made. At its best, this show invests in all four roommates, and regardless of what Fox tries to tell us, Jess can’t carry the show alone. This week may have been a step in the right direction, with Schmidt moving back into the apartment, forcing Nick and Jess to continue sharing a room despite realizing they’d rather not. This reshuffling is a chance to refocus the action in new ways and go back to some established routines, and maybe find new arcs with new setups and new payoffs. Let’s hope a little proximity and a little reset button can breathe some life back into apartment 4D.

This is the first of a three-post series on the Fox Tuesday-night comedy lineup. Coming soon, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Mindy Project

You Can’t Take It Back; Ron’s Already Out There!

2 Mar

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Awhile back, JK Rowling made some comments to the effect that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead of Ron. This was nearly a month ago, back when I thought I was the kind of person who didn’t really have thoughts about this particular subject. For the record, my inner monologue in recent idle moments has since set me straight.

So she wishes she’d written it differently. Fine. But she didn’t write it differently. Setting aside the argument that perhaps not all of these characters should marry the person they’re dating at seventeen, she didn’t spend ten years and thousands of pages carefully setting up a romance between Hermione and Harry. She invested in Hermione and Ron, and in the ways their very different personalities complemented each other. She gave Harry other loves. She created a canon, and she can add to that canon at any time—but she can’t change it. Not unless she wants to write the alternate history of the wizarding world (in which case, may I request further exploration of Neville Longbottom as the possible alternate Boy Who Lived?). Until then, we’re living by the When Harry Met Sally philosophy of fictional canon: You can’t take it back; it’s already out there!

(There’s also the issue of how to deal with other pronouncements that appear outside the books, but don’t contradict them. To bring up another Harry Potter example, are we obligated to officially consider Dumbledore’s sexual orientation if it’s never referenced in the series? I personally consider these kinds of things non-canon, but not a cause for philosophical rage. We’ll call them apocryphal.)

But let’s get specific. Say it’s all different: Harry and Hermione pine pine pine, battle battle battle, kill Voldemort, and ultimately fall in love. What’s the benefit, aside from to the wizarding gene pool? Does it make things more interesting or illuminate the situation in any way? As a reader, I assume that a Harry/Hermione relationship would come with a completely different set of problems and character issues than Ron/Hermione, and maybe that would have been fascinating. It’s also the wizarding equivalent of the captain of the football team and the most popular girl in school, and anyway, Ron and Hermione are pretty damn interesting as it is: the unglamorous but loyal best friend falls for the smartest, bravest girl in school; she knows every way he falls short, and loves him anyway. Rowling said in the interview (with Emma Watson, incidentally, who agreed) that she didn’t believe Ron is the type of man who could make Hermione happy long-term. I think that’s realistic—but I also think that, in a sense, that’s the point! Not that Hermione should settle, but that she finds and cultivates love with somebody who isn’t her perfect match, in the way that grown-up humans do. After all the wizard-fighting is over, that’s an interesting story.

Also, if Ron doesn’t get Hermione’s love, what does he get? He’s the third-in-command best friend who isn’t a genius, isn’t going to be an Auror, and doesn’t have any money. (This is, again, setting aside the idea that Ron goes off to a wizarding state university on scholarship, plays backup Keeper but ultimately kind of warms the bench, and settles down to a job at the Ministry and a nice non-Hogwarts girl who likes hand-knitted sweaters at Christmas.) I think this kind of statement underestimates how much we’re all rooting for Ron. After all, he’s so often our stand-in: how many of us are the hero, and then how many of us are the occasionally courageous screw-up best friend? Ron spends seven years chasing acceptance; his gaining the love of the girl of his dreams is the end of an arc that’s nearly as important to many Potter fan as who takes the Battle of Hogwarts.

A week after Rowling’s comments set certain quadrants of the Internet on fire, she recanted—sort of—saying that Ron and Hermione would be “all right with a bit of counseling” (which, please tell me there’s a magical MFT program somewhere, and that it has a funny animal-acronym name), which makes me think she was just speaking off the cuff. Again, fine. It’s a free world, and she can say what she wants. But unless she writes it down, binds it up, and sends it out to bookstores everywhere, I don’t have to like it.

Glee Takes New Directions, Unless It Doesn’t

1 Nov

We’re two months and three episodes into the new season of Glee, and I’m not sure what’s happening.

I had—have, actually, present-tense—high hopes for this season of Glee. After two seasons being written by the sometimes-genius-always-unpredictable team of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, the new season saw a writing staff tripled in size, including an impressive team of veteran writers: among others, Allison Adler, who did great things with the first few seasons of Chuck; Marti Noxon, of Buffy and Mad Men fame; Michael Hitchcock, who was hilarious in Season One as the coach of the deaf choir (“SCARLET FEVER!”); and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, fresh off of his rewrite, for better or for worse, of the book for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

This is all great news, because it’s a move toward sustaining the series. The first seasons of Glee are an oddity in terms of the ways they ignore the tropes of mainstream TV and instead take the shape of Murphy’s apparent spirit animal of the week. When it works, it’s fresh and unique in the TV landscape. When it doesn’t, it reads as an unwillingness to commit and ultimately an exhausting lack of confidence. This new crew of writers is a talented group with a tantalizing goal—not to strip the show of its voice, but to add narrative strength and consistency.

A few episodes in, it’s hard to say how things are shaking out. The season is still young because of the World Series break, and FOX left things on a high note, with a strong third episode. It wouldn’t be Glee without a dash of the obnoxious: weekly play-by-play on the state of Emma Pillsbury’s virginity, the plot to defame baby Beth’s adoptive mother, and hints that Mercedes might be pregnant; on the other hand, she might be pregnant by Friday Night Lights alum LaMarcus Tinker, and the very presence of Blaine covers a multitude of sins. And who even remembers what’s happening with Rachel and Finn? In any case, this season is a turning point for the show—with its three biggest stars leaving at the end of the season, better writing is of the essence. Here’s where I think you go, if you’re trying to make Glee respectable:

– Move on from the Rachel/Finn train. Let them be together, or don’t; whether they get their true love story, live happily ever after as Broadway’s new power couple, or never even get out of Lima, give them the endings they deserve and lay the groundwork for new romance. Which brings us to…

– Make Brittany/Santana your It Couple–allow them to remain supporting characters, but follow through on making them the fan favorites they deserve to be. Place them in contrast with the carousel of random dating that is the rest of the cast, turn up the charm, and give fans a couple to root for long-term. (To be fair, the writers’ work with Kurt and Blaine approximates this already—but Kurt won’t be around forever, and to deny Brittany and Santana the fruition of their relationship would be a terrible thing.) Additionally, if Ryan Murphy’s looking to make a lasting cultural impact with this show—and it seems like he is, whether or not he cops to it—making the entire TV-watching American public root for a couple of teenaged lesbian cheerleaders isn’t a bad way to do it.

– Figure out what to do with Quinn. First-season Quinn was great. She had a purpose, she had an arc, she had spectacular hair, and Dianna Agron proved she’s a mature enough actor to handle the big stuff with grace and nuance. The downside to all this is that, post-baby, her plain old high school “big stuff” came across as petty melodrama. Her second-season quest for Prom Queen status made a vague kind of theoretical sense, but it wasn’t rooted in the experience of her pregnancy or carried out with an eye to how she’d changed—instead, we got the idea that she actually hadn’t. This season started out in an interesting place, with Quinn rebelling against her old social routine to play queen of the losers, but her plan to get baby Beth back from her adoptive mother (Idina Menzel) still reads as shallow compared to the emotional potential of the character. In other words: Shut it down and find this girl something realistic and satisfying to do, stat.

– Offer Dot Marie Jones Dictator-For-Life status. Coach Beiste is one of Glee‘s most inspired creations, and Jones inhabits her beautifully. Use her.

– Commit to Emma Pillsbury. Emma was barely around last season (possibly unavoidable for scheduling reasons, though I question the amount of press junketing The Smurfs required); as one of the few semi-reasonable and sympathetic adults on Glee, it’s nice to have her back. Whether or not her continued affection for Will actually speaks well of her taste in guys,  Jayma Mays is a warm human presence who also happens to nail the comic stuff without making a big deal out of it. Depending on the extent to which the writers decide to engage with her mental illness—and the sensitivity with which they handle it—Emma is a rich vein of material wrapped in a pretty, funny package. While you’re at it: bring back her psychotically matchy vintage wardrobe.

It’s hard to say what a grown-up version of Glee  would look like—Freaks and Geeks with singing?—but the move towards finding out is an encouraging one. If the new staff can impose order while preserving the tone of the show, more power to them. If that’s the case, everybody wins.

On Dumbasses I Have Loved

28 Jun

First, let me just say: if you are a dumbass, a real, in-the-flesh dumbass, I probably don’t like you. I probably don’t think you are funny, and I probably don’t think you are charming; actually, I probably don’t think that much about you at all except maybe to wish that you were not a real, in-the-flesh dumbass. HOWEVER. If you are a dumbass in fiction, a dumbass who does dumbass things but then learns and grows and becomes a real person, well. In that case, it is very possible that I might be a little bit in love with you. Surprise!

Let’s talk about a couple of fictional dumbasses. Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips), of Friday Night Lights fame, is the kind of guy who proposes to his girlfriend at the strip club where she works and thinks burying stolen cars is the same thing as disposing of them. He’s “raising” his teenage brother, perpetual audience favorite/heartbreaker Tim Riggins (also in possession of dumbass tendencies, but endlessly golden-hearted, not to mention pretty-faced), which mostly consists of buying him beer and then yelling at him about it later. Billy occasionally spills over into “genuinely destructive” territory–Tim eventually goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit so that Billy can stay with his wife and newborn son–but mostly he’s just a guy who wants to be a man but doesn’t have the common sense to pull it off.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Mason (Callum Blue), George Lass’s smarmy  grim reaper colleague on Bryan Fuller‘s 2003 show Dead Like Me. Mason is fundamentally gross. He’s British, perpetually high, and spends most of his time scamming on girls and staking his squatter’s claim on the apartments of dead people, or both. Par for Mason’s course is his cause of death: self-inflicted head wound via power drill while in search of a permanent high…which does nothing to stop him trying to smuggle drugs fifty years into his afterlife (“I’ve got illegals in my bottom!”). Unlike Billy Riggins, the source of Mason’s dumbassery is that, after fifty years of taking souls and observing human nature, he knows better, sort of—and continues to be repellent in a number of hilariously dumb ways. And yet, Mason is moved by those around him in ways that surprise nobody more than Mason himself: there’s the gay couple who start out as a joke and end up as a (somewhat disturbing) lesson in true love, the old lady from whom he intends to steal art and whose worthless paintings he ends up hanging around her house (…after he moves in as a squatter, of course), and Daisy Adair, his love-starved reaper nemesis/love interest, played infuriatingly and then heartbreakingly by Laura Harris. Between acts of mind-blowing stupidity, he’s prone to acts of random kindness: surrendering his beautiful house to the girls, say, or simply treating Daisy like a loved person for just a second.

And that’s the shocking, wonderful thing about great dumbasses in fiction: even in the midst of their deepest cluelessness, they’re always ripe for just a hint of redemption, and for touching the the lives of others in ways they’re too self-absorbed to have planned. The ideal balance of idiocy and self-transcendence is a delicate one, making dumbasses a risky character type to create; on the other hand, they can be the most satisfying to write and to watch–hence the title of this post. When Billy Riggins becomes a maker of men as an assistant coach for the East Dillon Lions, we know it’s all he’s ever really wanted–not the football job, per se, but success as a leader. When Mason kills Daisy’s violent boyfriend Ray (a surprisingly scary Eric McCormack) in her defense, it’s spur-of-the-moment–but it’s an act of bravery of the kind that Mason generally avoids, and it comes with a brand of guilt that he spends most of his time trying to escape. It’s a coming-of-age moment, sort of, or at least a statement that he cares. And we love him for it, murder or no.

This is the joy of the fictional dumbass: the fictional dumbass is always shadowed by his or her own potential in a way that the non-fictional dumbass is not required to be. It’s a potential for brilliance or a potential for compassion or a potential for just maybe being okay, but it’s the possibility that that character might someday not be a dumbass. Or maybe they will be, forever and ever amen, but by the time that ship has sailed, it’s too late, and we don’t mind all that much.

The List

28 Mar

 

For me, 2010 was a year of monogamy, TV-wise. I essentially watched two shows, and two shows only, on DVD: The Wire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s twelve seasons of intense, arc-heavy must-see TV, mostly about cops and drug dealers and teen angst (and occasionally all of the above). If it’s about Southern California/the mouth of hell or about the Western District way, you can ask me anything. I was in it.

This year? This year, I’m like a soldier on leave. I’m hanging around in bars, picking up strange shows, just because I can.

To emphasize the frolicky feeling of watching whatever I want, I’m starting with the short stuff—the young and the canceled-too-soon. There’s Wonderfalls, which, let’s face it, might get me off track right away if I let myself veer into re-watches of Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, and there’s  White Collar, which is charmingly retro and features Matt Bomer’s stellar fedora-wearing skills, and there’s The Middleman, which is brief and which I somehow see as the much-delayed successor to the live-action Patrick Warburton/Nestor Carbonell version of The Tick. There might also be a brief rendezvous with the most recent (Eleven/Amy Pond) series of Doctor Who, which I didn’t even realize was on DVD yet, because everybody I know downloaded it. Or, you know, so I hear.

After the palate cleansers will come the time bombs—shows that are currently airing and getting away from me with every passing week, i.e., The Good Wife, Fringe, and a few errant episodes of Friday Night Lights. And then, if it turns out I’ve somehow caught up and it’s the end of the list or, like, endless reruns of MASH or whatever, there are the beloved but non-urgent–the ones I intend to watch, eventually, but that aren’t pinging my radar all that loudly. There’s Community, a show I’m supposed to love but don’t, and Psych, which I suspect will seduce me more successfully than I can possibly imagine, and possibly a variety of other comic procedurals. I can get a lot of mileage out of comic procedurals.

And then, once I’m feeling good and ready for a commitment, I’ll go back for Angel: The Series. Because we can’t all be TV sluts all the time, and…nothing says monogamy like David Boreanaz? Right.

On meaning and character: Some frank talk about Lost

25 May

I learned two things from the series finale of Lost:

1) It doesn’t matter. Destiny or free will, science or faith, different sides of the backgammon board—it’s all irrelevant. What matters is people. People, and love.

2) Don’t forget to set up an afterlife meeting place, like when my family goes to the mall and we all decide to meet at the pretzel stand if things don’t go well.

And, you know, I think I’m satisfied with that.

To those who are throwing up their hands: I get it. I do. If none of it mattered, if all of it were just erased, if Lost was six years of wasted viewing time, then that’s incredibly disappointing.

(To those hating on the finale because it’s fashionable, in the same way that hating on SNL is perpetually fashionable, I have no patience for you.)

But nobody—not even Desmond, in his scene with Jack—ever said that what happened on the show didn’t matter. What happened on the show, in the past, matters deeply—all that tromping through the jungle, all that shared experience, all those fish-and-mango dinners on the beach, all the sacrifice and the tears and the laughter and the Star Wars jokes, they’re redemption for those characters. So maybe the outcome of Jack and John’s personal battle doesn’t matter, per se. Maybe—and I’m not actually clear on this—the status of the Man in Black and his giant cosmic bottle of wine isn’t the most important thing. Maybe nobody was actually saved from anything with Kate’s saved bullet. But in the context of this band of people snatched from their angsted-out lives, what happened is everything. And that’s why the finale, so rooted in memory and relationship, makes sense.

Answers are satisfying up to a point—but on TV, answers are bound up with characters. After six years, we have answers: we know about Jacob and the Man in Black, and we know what the Smoke Monster is and how he came to be and what he ultimately wants. We know who the Adam and Eve skeletons are, and we know all about the four-toed statue. We know about the hatch and about the numbers, and about why Richard Alpert doesn’t age, and about the cool infinite back-and-forth of his and Locke’s shared pocket watch. But none of these things are the heart of Lost, and no single gimmick or structural point was going to provide the kind of emotional and intellectual satisfaction that we as audiences are always looking for . Better, then, to actually have Jack successfully fix something, after six years of botched heroism. Better to let Sawyer be with the woman who grew him up back in 1977. Better to let Hurley, the pure at heart, be a leader, and to let Ben finally be chosen for something—after all, it’s all he’s ever wanted. Better to let the structure of Lost be a vehicle for its characters, rather than the other way around—even if that vehicle isn’t as neat and all-inclusive as we’d like.

It wasn’t perfect. I wish I had a better grasp on the relationship between Desmond and Daniel—constants and variables and such—and their significance to…well, basically anything. I could go for a quick run-through of who belongs on the Afterlife Express and who doesn’t, and why. I’d like another run-down on numbered time-traveling bunnies. I wonder about characters like Eko, who never turned up again.

(Would I like to know how the castaways created the purgatorial Sideways for themselves? Yes and no. Yes, because that’s some business meeting. No, because the literal translation of the Lost mythology has never been the show’s strong suit—I’d rather admire the pretty light-up cave from a distance than sit through another temple debacle.)

But as a finishing statement, as an arrow pointing us towards the characters and not just towards the fascination of the universe, I think the finale—and, really, the Sideways, if we consider it as an extended portion of the finale—did its job. As the end of an arc, it allowed us to remember the highs and lows that came before, and to pinpoint the very redemption of each character by way of the characters around them. It’s the fulfillment of Jack’s ultimatum back in the first season, and the definition of living together—even for those who have already died alone. And that is the very thesis of Lost.