Thursday, May 27, 2010

Final goodbyes

After watching two shows that accompanied me through the last decade sign off this week, I started thinking back to some of my other favorites, those that I watched without fail from week to week. Despite some of the touching and tear-jerking moments as Lost and 24 ended their runs, I didn't find myself feeling quite the same sensation of emptiness and, well, loss that I used to over a favorite program's ending -- and it's all because of DVDs.

As we all know, Lost isn't lost to us -- the final season will be out on DVD in August. And though 24 had several common threads throughout its eight seasons, each "day" can stand alone, so we can just ignore the sub-par years and rewatch the good ones, like the first, ground-breaking campaign when Jack Bauer had to save Pedro Cerrano from becoming an insurance pitchman. (Or something like that; it's been a long time since I watched that season.)

My feelings this week included two kinds of sadness. The first is for the emptiness in my weekly TV schedule -- no more new episodes to anticipate. The second is based on the escape into the shows -- a group of plane crash survivors on an island, a counterterrorism agent who will do whatever it takes to get answers and protect this country -- and a suspension of disbelief. I wanted Jack -- both of them -- to win, not just by defeating evil, but by riding off into the sunset to enjoy his accomplishments. That Jack Shephard had to give his life to triumph and Jack Bauer had to flee his country and never see his daughter and granddaughter again was heartbreaking, but necessary to the story. But then I can bring myself back to reality, remember it's only a story, and go back to previous thrills and triumphs from years past.

But I can't do that with two of my all-time favorite programs, The Wonder Years and Ed, both of which came along before (just before, in the case of Ed) rights agreements took into account shows' lasting legacy on digital video. As a result, their release on DVD is hung up in negotiations for the rights to the music that played such a big part in both of them. Ed only lasted four seasons and used its extensive soundtrack more as an accompaniment to the storylines, but the music matters enough that cutting corners won't do the show justice.

The Wonder Years has a bigger task ahead of it. Not only did it run nearly twice as long -- six seasons -- but its music, in many cases, was the story, right from the opening credits, which featured Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help From My Friends." The cost to renegotiate all the music rights has been estimated in the millions of dollars, no surprise when a look at one random episode's song listing includes nine tracks. I'm not holding my breath. For now, I can only rely on my homemade videocassette tapes of what I think might be the complete series in random order, taped off of Nick at Nite or TV Land back around '97-98 ... if they still work. I haven't watched them since about then.

Both The Wonder Years and Ed were special to me, for vastly different reasons. In The Wonder Years, Kevin was the same age as I was. As he moved through seventh, eighth and ninth grades into high school, so did I. Some of his awkward social situations -- school dances and general boy-girl interactions, dealing with older kids -- were parallel to my days at school. And Fred Savage, in fact, is just two months older than me; a high school classmate of mine pledged the same fraternity as Savage at Stanford. With Ed, the connection came in the geography. Set in the fictional Stuckeyville, Ohio, it was filmed in northern New Jersey, giving me a chance to visit some of the locations, including Stuckey Bowl itself. (I only saw it from outside; Casey got to go inside after the show had ended and they sold off many of the props.) I hated to see both of them go.

So unlike Lost and 24, all I have of The Wonder Years and Ed are the memories of watching those final scenes -- of Kevin at the Fourth of July parade and the voiceover describing meeting Winnie at the airport years later, his wife by his side, and his dad's death; and of Ed and Carol dancing at the bowling alley as Yo La Tengo's "My Little Corner of the World" played over them. That will have to do for now.

No comments: