April 23, 2015 | Arts and Culture
a farewell to brown through the eyes of a television aficionado
“It all seems so very arbitrary. I applied for a job at this company because they were hiring. I took a desk in the back because it was empty. But, no matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home.” – “Finale,” The Office
With rosy cheeks, SpongeBob SquarePants–embellished eyeglasses, and a plaid button-up shirt tucked into my khaki shorts, my fifth-grade self delivered the Jefferson Elementary Morning News, alongside my co-host and principal, Mrs. Dominga Vela. It was a low-budget affair that was broadcast in every classroom on campus. The librarian and his assistant would shoot from behind the camera, while Mrs. Vela and I announced staff meetings, student birthdays, and the day’s lunch. Two mornings stand out vividly—one was when Mrs. Vela looked down mid-broadcast to discover she was wearing two different heels. As a woman who never left anywhere without a new palette of makeup and a swath of perfume that lingered long after she’d left the room, this mishap was a huge deal.
The second broadcast I remember was also my last. Even then, I had a flair for the cinematic, so I wanted to make it a thank-you letter to my time at Jefferson. When the time came to sign off for the last time, leaving to embark on the “scary” journey to B.L. Garza Middle School, I took time to mention everyone who I’d encountered in my three years there. I did a poor job in my attempt to stifle my sobs the entire time as I went down my list of names, recalling specific memories and realizing that I was leaving a place I came to know as a second home.
Mrs. Vela patted me on the back and whispered through a smile, “You’re on camera.”
I’m a devoted fan of television, one of the many things I learned about myself in college. Any free moment I have, I’ll pop open my laptop to catch up, start something new, or watch something old. I’m also loyal, and I’ll stick with a show until the credits of the finale roll. The post-viewing discussions are my favorite, and it’s fun to hear what my friends thought about a certain episode, character arc, or surprise twist. My friends and my family and I bond over television, and the fictional characters that enter our lexicon and daily lives.
After logging so many hours with a show, sharing memories not only with the show but also with the people who’ve been by my side through the episodic journey, I always have a deep-seated appreciation for the series finale. The first show I was emotionally invested in was Lizzie McGuire, and I cried at the last shot of Lizzie waving goodbye to the camera as her song “I Can’t Wait” faded into the credits. It was bittersweet closure knowing that the show was ending (also around the time of my final broadcast), but their story was ending with such hope. In the finale, Gordo writes in Lizzie’s yearbook, “You rock. Don’t ever change.” With four years of high school, and an upcoming impressively coordinated trip to Europe, changing wasn’t part of the plan. The show cleverly implied that their romantic friendship would persevere into the near future.
Since my taste in television has matured and my fondness for Disney Channel has evolved into nostalgia, I’ve noticed that series finales today deal with accepting the change that lies ahead and acknowledging the uncertainty of the future. And what better moment to reflect on finales than at a time when my life feels as if it’s wrapping its own series finale?
Life, up until now, has been segmented by our education system, moving through predefined periods of time, and now commencement marks the last milestone in our lives that we’ll share collectively. From here on out, the pace at which we move through life and the places we go will be unique and entirely up to each of us. Now that I’ve lived four wonderful “seasons” of my life at Brown, the execs in University Hall have said that it’s time for this show to wrap—and to start planning a spin-off.
Graduating college is sharply different from graduating from high school in many ways, but the strongest difference is how friendships and connections disperse. No matter what people chose to do after high school, we were all inherently tied to the city we called home. That sense of a shared space will not exist when I graduate from Brown. Sure, there will always be a connection with my fellow undergrads in appreciation of our Ivy League alma mater, but we’re off to sow our oats somewhere else. Brown won’t belong to us anymore like our homes back where our high schools are. Brown will belong to new classes of undergrads who get to experience Brown for all that it is. This sense of dispersion is unsettling because what then happens to the friendships? In the flashforwards of my life, who from Brown will remain in the vignettes?
The series finale of Parks and Recreation was one that knew what its fans wanted and needed—which was the same heartfelt optimism that fueled the series. It was with this optimism that the writers followed each character years after the gang dispersed from Pawnee, Indiana. Though apart from each other, the crew always found a way to come back together for life’s biggest moments, which was reassuring as it offered a hopeful outlook to the permanence of friendship. Was it too optimistic? Perhaps, but then again, so was Leslie Knope.
Some shows portray this theme of change more brutally honest than others. After binge-watching all eight seasons of Will and Grace, up until the series finale, I couldn’t help but see similarities between my own friendships and the show’s gang of four. If Will and Grace could remain best friends after everything they’d been through since they met as undergrads, then me and my friends could too. So, when they drifted apart after they each had children and lost touch for 18 years, I was heartbroken. The great memories they’d shared suddenly faded with time as they matured with their respective partners.
Cut to 18 years later, and by fate of the writers’ room, Will and Grace are standing across from each other in a dorm hallway. Their kids are college neighbors, just like they were. Besides a few wrinkles, grey hair, and some added weight, the duo hasn’t changed a bit. The gang reunites for a drink, and as they slam their shot glasses on the table, the camera pans up to reveal their younger selves as Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” plays. As a whole, the episode was tinged with a bittersweet feeling of realism, the notion that even the strongest relationships can change as time goes on.
In the same way, the final moments of Desperate Housewives showed the ladies promising that they’d make the time to reunite after they all left Wisteria Lane, but as Mary Alice omnisciently narrated, “It was a promise made in all sincerity, but sadly, it was not meant to be.” As they left the Lane, they drifted apart, and Marc Cherry didn’t give us the satisfaction that they’d ever speak again. Ultimately, these series finales have shown the varying degrees of how I might retain the relationships I made at Brown. After all, it’s up to me. I’m the showrunner here.
The uncertainty of change is probably what has led flashforwards to become a trope in series finales. The flashforward offers an air of comforting certainty at a moment when all is coming to a close and will be left up to the viewer to imagine what happens after the final credits roll. This sense of closure is something that life can’t offer, and television has the ability to bend reality. In her book, “Not that Kind of Girl,” Lena Dunham recalls a conversation where she says that in the work of a television creator, “we create a better or cleaner universe … at least one that makes more sense.” Television has the power to put our minds at ease that our beloved characters will be safe and sound.
And that is where television and reality differ, much to my dismay. There is no way to know what will happen in the future, which has been a major source of anxiety for me as commencement draws closer and closer with each passing day. My senior year of high school, I wished for a flashforward of my own that would show me what college I attended and assure me that I’d end up happy. If he could have seen what I’m seeing now, I can’t imagine the excitement my past self would have felt.
When I lead campus tours, I end with a spiel about what makes Brown special, and I stress the sense of community that Brown fosters. There was simply a feeling as I lugged my luggage into my freshman dorm room that I’d call this place home in no time. As it happened, the night before classes started, I met the people who’d I call my best friends for the years to come.
In the finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary looks upon her coworkers and questions, “What is a family?” She realizes that “a family are people who make you feel less alone and really loved.” Moore’s words written in the 1970s ring true today. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling homesick and displaced from my family back home, and I questioned whether it would subside. It quickly did, as I grew closer with the people around me who became my family away from home. I have nothing but gratitude to everyone and everything that made Brown my family and home for the past four years.
“And now the hard part,” says Mary’s coworker in the middle of a group hug with his cast. “How do we leave this room?”
Cue the Callbacks
After watching for so many seasons, viewers ache to be granted a satisfying end. A large component of my satisfaction is the use of callbacks, bringing characters and situations back from earlier seasons. They provide an air of finality, since they’re returning for one last time. I see it as a way for the viewer to appreciate what they’ve offered in the past, and experience a bittersweet tinge of nostalgia.
The callbacks can be small, like Jenna Maroney showing her good side for “camer-ah” before her last TGS episode, or using the original “Don’t Stop Believing” performance during the finale of Glee. The callback can be large, like bringing back all the supporting characters into the courtroom in the finale of Seinfeld, or allowing Michael Scott to appear in the finale of The Office. It is knowing that they’re coming back for one last time that brings a sweet tear to my eye. Little did I know in my farewell sign off as a fifth grader that I too was making a list of callbacks .
Like callbacks, the montage in series finales plays to the same effect, one of appreciation, remembrance, and nostalgia. As the last few weeks approach, I know I’ll be thinking back to my fondest memories I made during my time at Brown. If I were an editor putting together a reel of “Best of Brown,” it’d be a difficult task. No doubt there’d be scenes from stand-up, downtown karaoke, the GCB and The Herald, of course. I would, of course, score it with the ballad “The Rural Juror” from the 30 Rock finale: “I will never forget you, Rural Juror. I’ll always be glad I met you, Rural Juror.”
As the crew finishes their last task as the Parks and Rec team, Ben Wyatt turns to Leslie Knope and asks, “You ready, babe?”
The Indiana sun illuminates her already glowing smile, and it is with Knope’s optimistic determination that I also look ahead to the uncertainty of the future, ready for more adventures and friendship. I hear her words as she looks directly into the camera.
“Yes,” she says. “I’m ready.”
That’s a wrap.