Friday 15 December 2017

Final curtain

Paul Whitington

As 'Desperate Housewives' bows out for good, Paul Whitington looks at the art of ending it all with dignity

After eight years and some of the most audacious plot twists in the history of TV drama, 'Desperate Housewives' comes to an end on RTETwo this Tuesday in a spectacular two-hour finale.

The concluding episode ran in the US a few weeks back to strong reviews and good ratings, and, without giving too much away, I can tell you that it involves a court case, a last-minute legal intervention, some emotional reunions and even a trip to the future to see how the girls' lives have played out.

As all the cast except Eva Longoria were in their early 40s when the series started, some running repairs have been necessary on the glamour front, but, all in all, the show which began as a comic drama and ended as a kind of hysterical sitcom has acquitted itself well and made its farewells with dignity.

Which is no mean feat for a long-running show, because ending a hit series can be tricky, and if you get it wrong you can expect to earn the enduring ire of an embittered public. By the time 'Dallas' reached the end of its 13-year run in 1991, for instance, the show's exhausted writers had pulled so many outlandish strokes that they were getting desperate, and decided to introduce an angel to the final episode.

JR has lost all his stock and been abandoned by Sue Ellen and his son, and is wandering around with a bottle of Scotch contemplating suicide when a spirit called Adam appears and shows him what the world would have been like had he not been born.

Nevertheless, a shot was heard off-camera at the episode's climax, implying that he'd ended it all anyway. Some long-standing viewers felt a bit used.

Most people remember the hit 1993 Harrison Ford thriller 'The Fugitive', but not many recall the 1960s TV show that inspired it. 'The Fugitive' starred that consummate TV actor David Janssen as Richard Kimble, a doctor on the run after being wrongly convicted of his wife's murder.

The series ran for four years between 1963 and 1967, and its concluding episode is perhaps the greatest TV finale of them all.

An estimated 78 million Americans tuned in on August 29, 1967, to watch Kimble finally confront his wife's one-armed killer at the top of a fairground tower.

After confessing his crime the man fell to his death, to the immense satisfaction of the watching public.

Sitcom last episodes can be especially problematic. 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' was a huge success in the 1970s, and a groundbreaking series in many ways.

Mary Tyler Moore played Mary Richards, a career woman and TV news producer who was single by choice and had no need of a man in her life -- an unheard-of concept in those days.

The show was smart, classy and very funny, and it ended on a perfect note.

In the finale, a new owner arrives at the TV station and decides to do something about the 'Six O'Clock News' low ratings.

So he fires Mary, Lou Grant and all her friends, and retains the only incompetent one among them -- Ted Baxter, the moronic newsreader. The episode, which won an Emmy, concluded in a group hug that nobody wants to break.

The last episode of 'M*A*S*H' was watched by 125 million Americans, a record at that time. The series, set in a ramshackle army surgical hospital, ran for 11 years, and went for the tears in its 1983 finale, as Alan Alda's wise-cracking character, Hawkeye, leaves the unit.

When Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld announced that they'd be ending their hit sitcom 'Seinfeld' in 1998, it made the front page of the US national newspapers.

The final, feature-length episode was shot in secrecy, and saw Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer incarcerated after laughing at a fat man while he was being carjacked.

The final scene, where the four of them continuing to bicker inanely in a tiny cell, felt a bit like 'Waiting for Godot', and not everyone was impressed.

The writers of 'Friends' went for high emotion in their last episode, as Monica and Chandler meet their twin kids and Rachel gets off a plane at the last minute to tell Ross that she loves him.

'Cheers' ended on a plane as well, with Sam sitting on a runway about to depart to Los Angeles with Diane when he realises at the last minute that what he really loves is that Boston bar and the bums who frequent it.

Departures are one way of ending a hit show. Death is another, and still more final, solution. The crime show 'Inspector Morse' was a massive hit in Britain, and ran from 1987 to 2000. More than 18 million Britons tuned in to watch the Oxford detective collapse and die in the final episode, after a touching farewell to his sidekick, Lewis.

Sometimes a series is so damned good there's just no satisfactory way to end it. This certainly seems to have been the case with 'The Sopranos', which concluded so abruptly in 2007 that numerous websites are still arguing about it today.

Jovial mobster Tony Soprano and his family meet for dinner at a local diner with their various problems seemingly behind them, but as they settle down to their starters, three sinister men appear to be watching them. Then the diner door opens, the screen fades to black and the credits roll in silence.

Followers of JJ Abrams' weird and existential drama 'Lost' can't have been expecting too many straight answers in the show's 2010 finale, and audience reactions were mixed.

Some loved the idea of the island being a kind of purgatory for the crash victims, others felt the series had left too many loose ends unresolved.

And then there are the unfortunate shows that end without getting a chance to say goodbye at all. RTE's farming soap 'The Riordans' was a national institution in the 1960s and 1970s. It daringly dealt with social issues, and its characters were household names -- in Dublin, 'Benjy' became a euphemism for cow dung.

But in 1979, RTE suddenly decided to axe the show, and Tom Riordan and co disappeared into the ether, never to be heard of again. Rural Ireland was not impressed.

The last episode of 'Desperate Housewives' airs Tuesday, RTETwo, at 9.55pm

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