Many electrons have been seriously inconvenienced of late, as reporters and bloggers have vented their spleens about the series finales of two of network television’s premier continuing dramas — ABC’s “Lost” and Fox’s “24.”
I watched both in one night, thanks to Fox sending along an advance DVD of the “24” closer (while saving “The Celebrity Apprentice” season finale for the next morning).
By the time I went to bed, I was neither elated (that waited for “Celebrity” the next day) nor particularly disgruntled (nothing could top my loathing for the “X-Files” finale, a wound that remains unhealed to this day).
So, here’s what I thought (after I’ve had a few more days to think about it):
“Lost”: Intentionally or otherwise, the writers started excavating a great yawning plot pit for themselves in the pilot and only enlarged it as the series marched on. In my way of looking at things, they never satisfactorily explained diddly-squat, and you know what? I really didn’t care.
Years of watching J.J. Abrams’ epically convoluted previous show, “Alias,” had cured me of trying to make sense of anything that bears his name (but I did eventually figure out why the interior of the Starship Enterprise in the “Star Trek” movie he directed looked like a brewery — because it was actually shot in a Budweiser plant, and not because a thirsty Scotty did major remodeling). You just pay your quarter, strap in and enjoy the ride — sort of a Disney pirate ride in which dinosaurs and unicorns and garden gnomes and all sort of other things having nothing to do with pirates pop out, make you laugh or scream, and then disappear, never to be mentioned again.
Because, just like in “Alias” — which was essentially “The Waltons” in spy clothes — “Lost” aimed to make emotional, not logical, sense. Perhaps realizing that the jig was up, the writers decided to ignore nearly all plot points and go instead for a giant, heaping spoonful of sentimental goo, spiced with plenty of hugs and tears and personal journeys, ladled lovingly into the aforementioned pit, with the hope that the viewers, eyes misty and hearts full of happiness, wouldn’t notice that the whole lot of it made no sense whatsoever.
And that’s just what happened for me. Your experience may have varied. I sniffled, sniffled, smiled at the return of Vincent the dog, and sniffled again.
“24”: Unlike the “Lost” producers, who had what seemed like an entire college career to plan their ending, the producers on this show suspected the end was nigh, but didn’t know for sure until this year was well underway. Complicating the problem for executive producer Howard Gordon and company was the plan for a “24” movie, which made it very difficult to kill long-suffering counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer.
So in navigating the ledge between providing a sufficiently shattering ending to this series — which had become a cathartic echo of the national case of the jitters born in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — while also leaving a door open for the franchise to continue (another problem not faced by “Lost,” which could pretty much slaughter anyone it felt like), the writers opted for simple sadness.
As the president faced the terrible price she must pay for her poor decisions and indiscretions, there was a measure of forgiveness for Bauer, but not true absolution. He went far over the line at the end of the year, and he finished his life on TV on the run from both his enemies and the nation for which he sacrificed all but the last measure of his humanity.
Jack Bauer could not go out in a hail of bullets, but he could once again take on himself the sins of his country, shoulder his burden and head back into the wilderness.
As I said on Twitter at the time, it was “the just-right porridge.” I smiled in satisfaction.
Then, the next day, watching Poison frontman and reality-TV star Bret Michaels face down multiple brushes with death and successfully show up and make the case for why he should win “The Celebrity Apprentice,” I cheered and clapped. It was by far the loudest reaction of the three.
After all, the “Lost” cast and Jack Bauer aren’t real, but Michaels is, and so are his many health issues.
It wasn’t just a TV show.