And Finale…

American TV seems to be in a permanent state of finale. The average season has more false endings than a Hobbit trilogy. Before the Christmas break, there’s the mid-season finale, which desperately tries to manufacture a television event out of a show taking a brief holiday. Some shows have started to invent finales and talk about them as if we somehow know what they’re supposed to signify. Fox’s The Mindy Project has just had its Winter Finale, which is apparently what you now call putting the show on hiatus for a couple of months at the end of January. Season finales only seem like a big deal because all a show’s stories build towards it as a point of climax. In reality, it’s only a matter of months before the show is back on again. Even series finales don’t preclude a show returning through revivals, spin-offs, movie sequels and reunions. The cast of Seinfeld have managed to reunite twice since the sitcom went off the air, firstly in a fictional reunion episode within the world of Curb your Enthusiasm and then in a sketch for this year’s Superbowl coverage. That’s a lot of endings for shows that never quite finish.

Seinfeld cast reunite at superbowl, which is also the name of Jason Alexander’s haircut.

I’ve been thinking about finales because American TV has just had a big one. After 23 years in the host seat, last week Jay Leno finally said goodbye to The Tonight Show. Like most finales, however, nothing is really ending. Jimmy Fallon will take over as host, which has been a forgone conclusion for years now given the high-profile and staggering popularity of his late-night NBC talk show. Few people would be prepared to believe that Leno is even giving up the show. Leno first left the job in 2010 ceding hosting duties to Conan O’Brien. Within a few months, he had clawed back the job from his successor, as acknowledged in O’Brien’s Olympic-themed jab at his predecessor on the eve of Leno’s departure. Yet everyone acted as if something was in fact ending. Leno cried, celebrities queued up to say goodbye, and Garth Brooks played – which really is the nuclear option. The Tonight Show is going back to its home in New York and is now hosted by someone capable (though bafflingly so!) of gaining consistently huge ratings for a show whose popularity has balked in the last decade. Sounds more like a salvage operation than a send-off.

You can never come back from Garth Brooks.

Another American TV finale was in the news recently. The latest season of weight-loss game show The Biggest Loser held its final weigh-in last week, with the winning contestant having undergone a loss of weight so severe that she appeared to have another kind of eating disorder. The usual Muppet-mouthed looks of aghast pride from the trainers were replaced by horror, concern and confusion when they laid their eyes on her emaciated body. The show has always been self-righteous about the good it does for public physical and mental health. Yet by incentivising maximum possible weight loss without any healthy weight caps and filling its contestants’ heads with cod psychobabble in motivational-speak, The Biggest Loser falls prey to the pitfalls of many reality shows in neglecting its responsibilities of care to the members of the public it features. The season finale is usually a cause for self-congratulation as the show parades its reduced-sized versions of that year’s contestants and pats itself on the back for helping them, all the while of course revelling in sensational images of obese people eating cake naked. But this year’s finale revealed the dangerous and unhealthy extremes that the show’s premise could be taken to.

Trainers on The Biggest Loser react to body-shock win!

It’s good to have an end in sight. TV is such a massive and sprawling thing that it’s helpful to set limits and boundaries now and again. But rarely do they actually represent something that could be actually be called an ending. Finales help TV continue, renew and keep track of itself but all their talk of being done for good needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Like The Tonight Show goodbye might just mean adieu and as we’ve seen with The Biggest Loser finales might take you further than ever wanted to go in too short a time. And with that, Watching TV with Americans enters its Valentine’s Finale followed by its mid-mid-year finale. It’s time for me to say an emotional, longwinded goodbye as I leave you…for a couple of weeks. Remember to eat in the meantime and only play Garth Brooks while I’m away.

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