Every day at our morning meeting, my team here at VICE Canada has fun, casual banter about nostalgic pop culture and most of the time I am very lost. They're all millennials while I am an intrepid Gen Z-er who doesn't know things about friggin' Face/Off and Oasis or whatever.
To keep up with the old timers, I set out to learn as many TV references from the 90s as I possibly could in one week, so I decided to immerse myself into a holy 90s tradition: series finales. Unlike these days' finales, I'm told that the ends of shows used to be crucial to the lasting opinion of a tv show. Whether this is because shows used to run for longer or episodes used to be more valuable, I'm not sure, but maybe if I watched the last impressions of my coworkers' (soon-to-be close friends) favourite shows I would finally be able to play ball with them.
Not all of the shows I watched ended or began in the 90s but I watched shows which were deemed canonical 90s by the VICE gatekeepers, please don't get mad at me in the comments. There are some shows which, I gathered from heated debates around me, were seminal but flopped in the end and others which were redeemed by amazing finales. I watched an approved combination of both and it was very disorienting. Is it just me or do all 90s shows have the exact same theme song? Here are some of my field notes from many confusing binge-watching hours.
Even I, having never watched the show, was shocked by this ending. None of the show was real. The whole thing has been an alternate fantasy written by Roseanne Barr's character Roseanne! What! The Conners never won the lottery, Jackie was gay, and Dan has been dead this whole time! The show ends with her alone laughing and it is really very upsetting. Everyone thinks that millennials are lazy and poor while no one is offering solutions to help them deal with the trauma caused to them by a show ending like this when they were in their formative years. The 90s taught its audience that, when unsatisfied with an entire series' events, it is best to act like none of it happened. The 90s gave us the Lost finale and Bill Cosby's comedy career on a silver platter.
The twist at the end is very sweet, Frasier goes to Chicago to see that woman he loves instead of taking his dream job in San Francisco. But I don't understand two things about this show. Number one: why do the rich people who are American have accents? Does being rich give you an accent? Number two: I can't believe a balding man with a tummy like that is the star of one of the most decorated television shows of all time. I feel a way which Roxane Gay puts eloquently, "If I was conventionally hot, I would be president." And thanks to Frasier, even if you are not hot (sorry Frasier you seem nice) and even if you are balding and bellied but you are also a white man, you can be the star of a very successful television show. The 90s were a fraud and so are white people. Also the episode thanks Hilary Duff and Stanley Tucci for some reason at the end and I found that entertaining.
In the first ten minutes of the finale, there's no talking and Mulder is just running around. And I thought for a second that maybe the show was silent but it turns out that Mulder is pretend brainwashed after killing someone. Just regular Mulder stuff. He's faking it until the guards look away so that he can make out with Scully. Then he's put on trial and the episode is perfect for anyone who has never watched the show: a flashback episode! Witnesses from the past attest don't really attest to Mulder's character (everyone just summarizes the show) but instead to the fact that aliens certainly do exist and that Scully had an alien baby. I don't really get what happens in the end but Mulder says, "Maybe there's hope." The millennials that are raised on weird shows like these dream about worlds of opportunity (for white people, mostly) and even when no one believes in them and blames them for caring about things that don't matter and spending too much money, they still have hope. It's pretty sick and now I believe! In the red hair look, GO SCULLYYYYY! SORRY ABOUT YOUR DEAD (?) ALIEN BABY!
Mad About You
I'm pretty sure this show is just about two "neurotic" people and the last episode is about their young daughter in the future. She's a filmmaker and stuff. It was boring. I learned nothing other than that comedy standards in the 90s were low.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
My editor says this is a rare example of television in which the finale is the best episode of the show and then he said I was mocking him when I really enjoyed it. It was like watching a movie! I can't believe there was a whole TV show before it! Frankly I did not understand everything or the true reason that Jean-Luc Picard is jumping through different eras but I do know that the true romance of the show is between him and Q and that's a fact.
I got a real kick out of this show, which is like a parody of a parody of a 90s police show. I love their New York accents and how quickly some characters speak for no reason. I love that the opening credits is people walking around looking at each other! I love NYPD Blue! Bale and Sipowicz make up in the end so that they can pass the squad over to Andy, who for some reason is not called by his last name. It's delicious and I can't believe it's real! Yum!
The original Grey's Anatomy! With the girls from Gilmore Girls and Freaks & Geeks! Two shows I've only seen one or two episodes of! It's exciting and fun and John Stamos is a cutie. Greene, a character who is dead I assume, has a daughter and guess what, she's also a doctor and she might work at the hospital! They deal with tough issues like alcohol poisoning and cancer, and I can't believe how many patients they treat in one episode. They seem pretty happy about people in immense pain and the final scene is just different doctors saying, "You coming?" to each other and then elevator jazz plays the show out. It's satisfying, but not as satisfying as if they played "To Build a Home."
This was one of the only shows that I had actually seen, obviously. Rewatching the finale felt like watching a totally different show though. It is a long, emotional episode where Ross does a mopey Ross face for about forty straight minutes. (One time my high school friends told me I was the Ross of the group and I was incredibly mopey about it.) I know there were big plans for Joey's spinoff, but I really felt that Joey deserved better. Phoebe got Paul Rudd and Joey got, like, two lines of comic relief in the whole finale. It's interesting how Friends is the ground zero for shows about friendships in New York City because I feel like this show made friend groups feel cliquey and sacred but gave people unrealistic expectations for romantic relationships with friends and apartment renting. I don't know about you "sentient in the 90s" folk but I have never met a group of friends larger than three that actually all like each other that much (and I have simply never seen an apartment larger than 850 square feet). I think if Ross didn't like Joey or if Monica didn't like Phoebe in a way that was a little more authentic, many 80s babies would have much more satisfying friendships than they do now. I think I learned from Friends what most people do: the important relationships in your life will never demand that you change, there were only white people in New York City in the 90s, and transphobia was not only normalized but truly commended a mere few years ago.
Another one of the two shows I had seen, of course, but I am told that the whole thing is very polarizing. Characters from the depths of the show take the stand to defend Jerry et al who have been jailed right before Jerry's big break and it's very laborious. Wait did The X-Files rip off this finale format? The last scene is pretty shocking, Jerry is in an orange jumpsuit doing weird, hacky comedy about the prison industrial complex to a very silent prison audience and only Kramer is laughing. After so many years of workshopping in seemingly packed houses, I feel like Jerry's last televised set should have been his best. Maybe he and Larry David were after a greater message: that white male comics who do the same rooms for years and years only regress into their most primal forms: offensive one-liner comics. As a working comic, I have found this to be true. I don't know if the show ultimately wanted one to know that dreams are unachievable, living with one's friends and working towards the dream IS the REAL dream or, in perfect 90s fashion (see: the Roseanne finale) none of it is real and in the end you only have like, one friend and they're usually unstable and weird.
Ah, Picket Fences, a show we've all definitely heard of and would make total sense to reference in conversation. This finale that taught me that you can get married with two other couples in a triple ceremony and who Kathy Baker is! This show seems deeply illogical and just peppers in social issues onto a weird Wisconsin town. Also, the finale is called "The Final Frontier," which is a Star Trek reference right? Another finale that references another finale! This is why 90s kids are so obsessed with references!
Beverly Hills 90210
This two-part finale taught me that twenty-year olds in the 90s were very concerned about whether or not to get married and whether or not to stay married once married. And in the end, they are OK with the uncertainty that comes with being married even though your hot husband with big muscles is for definitely sure going to cheat on you and just admitted that he cheated on you and seems like he's probably going to cheat on you again. I also learned that Luke Perry has never once wavered from the character he plays in Riverdale.
What a stressful, confusing finale. Ally moves to New York City, which seems like a big deal but I don't understand the ending at all. Billy returns as a ghost and it seems pretty normal. Star Trek was much easier to grasp than whatever weird world this is in which ghosts of people return? What is this show about and who is this ten-cent Jennifer Aniston? (I have no context for how offensive this statement is.)
This show is amazing. I have disrespected every elder I have ever met by not watching this show earlier and I am sorry for it. Dorothy's departure from the show helped me understand something that I have found very characteristic of the 90s and its children, that friendship is very valuable and you shouldn't wait to be old and grey to have good friends. I am glad I can finally understand references to Blanche, even though I feel (controversially?) that Sophia is definitely the best character. Also, perfect theme song!
Will & Grace
I had no idea how sad the ending of this show was! Will and Grace (and Jack and Karen) decide that they all can't be friends anymore and even though they reunite when they're all old they spend the rest of their lives apart! It's terrible! Is this why everyone who was a teenager in the nineties loves talking about how they have trust issues? Because Will & Grace was like, "Oh you like having friends who are similar to you and who accept your queerness in a heteronormative world? Well it will be taken away from you in your adult life! It doesn't get better… until the very end of your life, SORRY!"? Not to mention that I just watched the trailer for the show's REVIVAL episodes? Excuse me? They do not look old and grey in this sexy (musical) trailer, they look like adults who still have relationships with each other and who have aged enormously well! (Was the show a musical?)
Aggressively did not enjoy this show, it was very boring and the people in it seemed like jerks. When I told coworkers I was watching this show, the winner of the 1990s Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, they did not know what I was talking about and struck a bunch of other supposedly non-canonical shows from my list ( Cheers, something called China Beach, and Northern Exposure will be for another day, I suppose). The main dude, Leland, is old and wants to retire because he literally has cancer and everyone is pissed at him for it! His shitty coworkers try to debunk the claims that he has cancer and in the end when they find out that he is indeed terminally ill, they CONVINCE HIM TO STAY AND WORK. It is infuriating. Let Leland live! It really affirmed the importance of the mid-90s focus of this project in that I did not want to be angry and bored at the same time watching pre-"good"-90s shows.
First of all, the title of the finale is called "Asses to Ashes" which is one of the most astounding artistic decisions I have personally ever encountered. I thought this was going to be the same as Beverly Hills 90210 but oh boy, was I wrong. Terry and Sarah survive a car accident and then some woman named Eve kidnaps two people to murder two other people—didn't catch their names. I think one of the people Eve is trying to murder has murdered someone else? And then Peter tries to tarnish Irene's name with some money issue. Jane is pregnant but she doesn't know who the father is so she just pretends it's one of the possible men. Amanda and Peter both fake die in their hideout but really get married at the end, Eve goes to jail and Michael gets a million dollars in hush money and becomes the chief-of-staff at the hospital. "Closing Time" plays at the end and it is very amazing and very 90s. I forgot the assignment while I was watching and I can't wait to watch the whole show from the beginning.
Results In the 90s, when my new friends (co-workers) were pre-teens or teenagers, the television pretty much just framed relationships between Men and Women in different backgrounds: police stations, Wisconsin, wherever that X-Files episode took place, the final frontier (wink). Watching these shows, I felt at times like I was even more of an outsider than before since I straight up didn't know anything about most of the characters' backstories. Other times, some–certainly not all–of the zippy jokes and emotional splurges translated very well and I imagined that I had loved these characters for so many seasons on a real television without an internet to discuss them with. This tasting platter of TV shows was so entertaining because each one seemed to be making the transition from not having new media to one discovering it in distinct ways. The shows are cheesy and obvious with many of the plots centering around the fact that you should either get married or not get married and either way, life is hectic! But each show I watched tested a different, specific limit of the tv world and I have the people who loved them to thank for creating the shows I love so much today in 2017. After watching these finales, I understand why they're worth reminiscing about a little more and I finally know what Frasier looks like. The latter is disappointing.
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