A sci-fi comedy with some not-so-subtle commentary.
Avenue 5 is a luxury passenger ship captained by the acclaimed Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie). During a routine cruise, the artificial gravity malfunctions resulting in the death of the chief engineer, as well as the ship’s course being altered by a few degrees. Unfortunately, those few degrees will extend the 8-week trip to over three years. Now it’s up to Captain Clark, the second engineer Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow), head of mission control Rav Mulcair (Nikki Amuka-Bird), assistant to the owner Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura), and former astronaut Spike Martin (Ethan Phillips) to get the ship back to Earth. Unfortunately, they are generally hampered by the incompetence of the Billionaire Owner Herman Judd (Josh Gad), the head of customer relations Matt Spencer (Zach Woods), and entitled passenger Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front). It also turns out that most of the passengers are also complete idiots.
I realize that the premise of a ship being massively off course and having to get back home, as well as the presence of Ethan Phillips, make this show more closely resemble the show Star Trek: Voyager, the fact that it’s set in a single location and doesn’t feature the crew stopping off at other spots makes it sometimes feel a bit more like Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5, after which it is probably named. Of course, either way, this show does not really feel like Star Trek as much as it seems like Idiocracy. Most of the people on Avenue 5 are rich (hence 5th Avenue) and most of the staff don’t really have any knowledge of how the ship works due to almost everything being automated. Even the crew are revealed to have almost no idea what they are doing, because the ship, like most things in the future, is better at flying itself than humans are at flying it.
The key to this show is that the cast are all pretty hilarious and great at playing characters who are out of their depth. Possibly one of the best running gags is that Captain Clark speaks with an American accent because people find it reassuring, but when he gets angry, or drunk, he reveals that he is actually British. Little details like this seem small at first, but the show actually accumulates them as the show goes on and, unlike many shows, actually has them all pay off in one absolutely hilariously dark episode. It’s not even the finale, it’s just the point at which the show really had to let everything come to a head or else it would have become stale. That’s another good aspect of the show is that it tends to let stuff simmer for just the right amount of time.
Overall, I really recommend you give this show a shot if you like farces or sci-fi comedies.
How you start is important to getting popular, but how you finish is the key to being a legend. After all, who wants to sit through 75 hours of a show for a giant letdown? Here are ten series that managed to really stick the landing.
Runner-Up: My Finale (Scrubs)
The Show: John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff) is a doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital with his best friend Chris Turk (Donald Faison), Turk’s wife Carla (Judy Reyes), his girlfriend and fellow doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), his mentor Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), the head of the hospital Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), and his nemesis the Janitor (Neil Flynn).
The Finale: Okay, this is only a runner-up because I am not willing to deal with people sending me messages that say “technically, the show had another season,” followed by me slapping my face in frustration and saying “Then why did they call it Scrubs: Med School? How come it changes location, most of the cast, and central character?” But, the DVD release still says Season 9, so… fine. It’s not the “finale.” That’s particularly sad because I think it would be a strong contender for the number one spot here if it was. Unlike many great finales, this one didn’t rely on any kind of subversion or loss. Instead, this episode gives its main character, J.D., the exact send-off that we probably hoped he’d get.
It probably stands out because of the last 5 minutes of the episode, when J.D. starts to walk out of the building, and the show, and is suddenly surrounded by every guest from the show’s run that they could manage to fit and afford. As he walks down a literal memory lane, he finally stands at the exit, and we see a projection of the future he’s headed for, filled with love, happiness, and friendship. It’s a happy ending that never feels too cheesy or overdone.
10) The Last Show (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)
The Show: Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman who is an Associate Producer for WJM’s 6 o’clock news, starring Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). She works alongside Executive Producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner), and head writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod). Mary’s best friend is Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Rhoda’s nemesis who is also Mary’s friend is Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Mary’s friend who works at WJM is Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). The other main character, introduced later, is Georgette Baxter (Georgia Engel), Ted Baxter’s girlfriend.
The Finale: For a show that contains what I consider to be the single best episode of all time, it’s pretty impressive that it managed to end with what was, for a while, considered the “gold standard” of finales. It was a regular exhibit in screenwriting courses. The creators of Friends said it was a major influence in how they wrapped their show. The key is that it really is an ending for the characters as well as the show. When a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) takes over WJM, he decides he wants to fix the 6 O’clock News ratings. Unfortunately, he determines that the only person worth keeping is Ted, the person who repeatedly causes the show to tank. Everyone else is fired, devastating Mary. To cheer Mary up, Lou Grant arranges for Rhoda and Phyllis to visit her (both now had spin-offs), with both offering vastly different methods of support for Mary (and hatred for each other). Ultimately, Ted tries to do a sincere send-off, but instead quotes the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Everyone says goodbye, resulting in a group hug that no one wants to break, giving rise to the hilarious image of the entire team moving together in order to get tissues. Mary ends up smiling at the good times and turning off the lights on the set.
The key to this ending is that everything goes wrong for all the right people. Everyone who has spent years cleaning up Ted’s mistakes gets fired because of Ted, but because they kept making him look good, Ted keeps his job. He tries to protest the firings, but ultimately backs down when threatened, leading to Murray saying “When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up that long.” When Lou tries to cheer Mary up, she calls in two of her friends… who hate each other and fight viciously. When Ted tries to be sincere, he just quotes a completely unrelated song. That’s what made the show great, watching people deal with all of life’s crap and unfairness with a laugh and a joke. It was the best way to end the show.
9) Come Along With Me (Adventure Time)
The Show: Adventure Time follows the journeys of Finn, the last human (Jeremy Shada), and his adopted brother Jake the dog (John DiMaggio), through the land of Ooo. They usually are accompanied by Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marcelline, the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), and sometimes the Ice King (Tom Kenny).
The Finale: The last episode of this show takes place far in the future from the normal timeline and the show now apparently stars two new characters named Shermy (Sean Giambrone) and Beth (Willow Smith), who appear to have a similar relationship to Finn and Jake. They go to meet with the King of Ooo, who is revealed to be BMO (Niki Yang), Finn and Jake’s AI game system. BMO tells them the story of the “Great Gum War,” what the show had been building to for a season, then tells them of the coming of GOLB, the anti-God of that universe. Ultimately, the war is averted and the world is saved, and Shermy and Beth take up the mantle of Finn and Jake.
The reason this is on this list is mostly because it contains three great elements. First, the Great Gum War is literally averted, rather than fought. Finn ends up convincing both sides of the war to stand down, and does so by forcing each side to view the situation from the other’s point of view. This represents the culmination of Finn’s growth from a boy to a man, finally realizing that violent solutions propagate violence, but that forgiveness can bring true peace. Afterwards, Shermy, now representing young Finn, complains that he thought the War would be more important, like the end of the world, only for BMO to casually say “no, that’s what happened next.” Second, after the apocalypse is averted, Shermy and Beth, acting as audience surrogates, ask BMO what happened next, only for BMO to respond with “Eh, y’know. They kept living their lives.” I think this may be one of the most perfect summaries to end a show. It’s not a bland “happily ever after,” but it is a way to tell everyone that, even though life goes on, this story has hit the end. However, the true ending is Shermy and Beth taking the pose that Finn and Jake take in the title screen, meaning that the adventure will always continue. Lastly, we see Marceline and Princess Bubblegum finally become a couple. Given how much crap the show had gotten in the past for even hinting at this, I love that they decided “we’re at the end, let’s go for it.” This finale summed up everything that was good about this show.
8) One Last Ride (Parks and Recreation)
The Show: The series follows the lives of all of the people who work for or are associated with the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana: Idealist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), her husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), her Libertarian boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her coworkers Tom (Aziz Ansari), April (Aubrey Plaza), Garry (Jim O’Heir), Craig (Billy Eichner), and Donna (Retta), as well as April’s husband Andy (Chris Pratt), and Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and her husband Chris (Rob Lowe).
The Finale: By the end of the series, everyone is leaving and no one works for the Parks Department anymore. However, Leslie asks everyone to help her when a man asks them to fix a swing near his house. As they work together to navigate the bureaucracy to repair the swing, the show flashes forward and shows how almost every characters’ life progresses. We see Garry get a happy ending after being the sad sack for most of the series, Donna turn her success into helping children with her husband (Keegan-Michael Key), and Tom become a celebrity through writing a bestseller. Ron is shown to retire from his business to run a major park with Leslie’s help. April and Andy start a family and Leslie and Ben both become successful politicians, with one of them implied to eventually be president.
This episode should be terrible. It’s saccharin beyond anything else the series had done up to this point and it’s little more than an extremely elaborate “and they all lived happily ever after.” However, the way in which their flash-forwards are told give us a real picture of how all of these people, despite drifting apart, are always bonded by the events of the show. Even though they live in different parts of the world, they’re still a family and they always will be. Moreover, the world we see in the future is a hopeful and just one, with Leslie, who has always been thwarted by the stupidity of Pawnee, becoming governor of Indiana. We see a world where, despite still having problems, we find a group of people who are fighting for the right thing, even if they all disagree on what that is. To drive it home, Leslie even quotes Teddy Roosevelt’s line “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.” We see a future where that kind of dedication is celebrated, and that’s what really makes this episode work.
7) Basil the Rat (Fawlty Towers)
The Show: Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) run a hotel in England. Basil is an angry jerk obsessed with class mobility, always trying to become one of the elite, but his own incompetence usually dooms him. His staff includes the sensible Polly (Connie Booth) and the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs).
The Finale: A health inspector (John Quarmby) informs Basil that the state of Fawlty Towers’ kitchen is below standard. If they don’t fix the problems in 24 hours, the hotel will be closed. At the same time, Basil discovers Manuel is keeping a pet rat, named Basil, in the kitchen, having been sold it as a “Siberian Hamster.” Basil tries to get rid of it, but Manuel protests and he and Polly hide it in the shed. After Manuel foolishly lets the rat back into the hotel, Basil the human poisons a veal shank in an attempt to kill the rat, but the shank gets cooked by accident. After every customer, including the returning health inspector, orders the veal, hilarity ensues. Eventually, the health inspector is handed the rat, but the cast attempts to cover for it as the episode ends.
The key to Fawlty Towers was the incredible combination of tight writing and amazing physical performances. Each episode typically took Cleese and Booth six weeks to write, which is probably why there are only twelve of them in two seasons over five years. This episode is the pinnacle of that, because all of the beats in the episode have to be precisely timed in order to keep the tension building. In the meantime, all of the characters have to keep scrambling and covering for their actions as they keep trying to find Basil the Rat. It also helps that this episode is the opposite of what Basil Fawlty had been hoping for. Rather than becoming an elite establishment, his hotel is almost closed down for being a dump, and at the end of the episode, it seems extremely likely that it will be shut down. Rather than a happy ending, we get a shot of Basil, having passed out from stress, being dragged unceremoniously from the room.
6) Weirdmageddon (Gravity Falls)
The Show: Gravity Falls is a town filled with strange happenings and mysteries. When two kids, Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), come to stay with their Great Uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) for the Summer at his Mystery Shack, they get caught up in the town’s weirdness, along with Stan’s two employees Wendy (Linda Cardellini) and Soos (Hirsch). Their greatest enemy is a dream demon named Bill Cipher (Hirsch).
The Finale: The final episode begins with Bill winning. He has finally figured out a way to enter the real world in his true form and he immediately reveals himself to be one of the most horrifying villains ever to be featured in a show for kids. He and his gang start to wreak havoc upon the town, until Dipper, Mabel, and the surviving cast fight back. Ultimately, they’re able to trick Bill into entering Stan’s mind, which they then wipe, destroying him as Stan’s dream self punches the demon out of reality. Then, finally, the Summer ends and the kids have to go home in a tearful goodbye.
The greatest strength of Gravity Falls was that it always focused on how the characters felt and what they were going through internally more than externally and this finale is no exception. The strength of the episode isn’t just in finally showing us the power of Bill Cipher and having the team overcome him, it’s that the last 20 minutes is just having a slow, sad, emotional goodbye from all of the characters to the two kids that changed the town so much. We see some nice flash-forwards explaining that most of the characters will be okay, and still be the eccentric oddities that we came to love, but also that everyone will be separated in their own lives. Maybe they’ll be together again one day, but it seems likely that this is the end of this story. It ends with a cryptogram that deciphers to: FADED PICTURES BLEACHED BY SUN. THE TALE’S TOLD, THE SUMMER’S DONE. IN MEMORIES THE PINES STILL PLAY. ON A SUNNY SUMMER’S DAY. I’ll admit that I still tear up reading that, because it’s just that adorably sincere.
5) All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
The Show: It’s the 24th Century and mankind has spread itself among the stars, meeting new life forms and threats along the way, and forming the United Federation of Planets. The top ship among the Federation fleet is the Enterprise-D, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Along with crew members William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data (Brent Spiner), Worf (Michael Dorn), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Picard explores the unknown along the Final Frontier.
The Finale: Picard finds himself unfixed by time, his mind jumping between the present, twenty-five years into the future, and seven years in the past, just before the show’s pilot. These jumps are random, making people think he’s going mad. In the present, he goes to investigate a space anomaly. He then uses a jump to convince his future ex-wife Beverly to travel to the same anomaly, which is happening in the future as well. In the past, he declines to go to the anomaly so that he can have the encounter at Farpoint with Q (John de Lancie), an omnipotent being who threatens humanity. However, it turns out that Q is actually causing Picard to jump through time, telling him that solving the mystery of the anomaly is the only chance to save humanity. Picard discovers that investigating the anomaly is actually what causes it, and sacrifices all three different versions of the Enterprise to stop it. This is revealed to be Q’s test and that Picard passed, saving humanity.
It’s one thing to manage to tie in the themes of a show with the finale, it’s another to literally tie the entire series together into one single cohesive expression of what the show is about. Star Trek has always been about humanity at its best; challenging the unknown, exploring the unexplored, bettering themselves for the sake of being better. This episode reveals that the entire series, from the Pilot to the end, was a test of whether humanity can evolve, with Picard as its focus. Picard proves not only that he can solve a four-dimensional problem, but that he and his crew are willing to sacrifice themselves in three different time periods in order to save the universe. It proves again that humanity has limitless potential both scientifically and socially, if only we can evolve beyond our selfishness.
The Finale: Fry (Billy West) decides to propose to his longtime flame Leela (Katey Sagal), and uses a device that rewinds time by 10 seconds (and has a 10 second recharge time) to set up the perfect proposal. Unfortunately, he ends up breaking the device, trapping him and Leela in a frozen world. Together, they live a long and happy life, until they’re discovered by the Professor, who fixes the device. He warns Leela and Fry that when he undoes the time freeze, it’ll take them back to before the episode started, with no memory of the events. Fry and Leela agree that, while they enjoyed growing old together, they both want to do it all over again.
This show gets bonus points because Futurama actually had four separate finales: “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and then this one. Despite having tried to wrap the show up multiple times, I am always impressed that this one is, in my opinion, the best of the four. It’s not just telling us that Fry and Leela will ultimately find happiness, we get to see them being happy together, with each of them clearly influenced by the other for the better. It helps that so much of the episode is really funny before that. We see Fry messing around with time in a number of fun gags, a throwback to the pilot, and Fry dying multiple times to the point that Leela starts to get bored with it. It’s a solid set of comedic scenes that turn into a sincere and emotional third act, which is basically what Futurama did at its best.
3) Goodbyeee (Blackadder Goes Forth)
The Show: Each season of Blackadder featured Rowan Atkinson as a different descendant of the Blackadder family. This one was a Captain in the British Army during WWI. He was commanded by the incompetent General Melchett (Stephen Fry) and his nemesis Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny). Each episode features his attempts to get out of actually having to fight, usually involving Blackadder’s incompetent aides George (Hugh Laurie) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson).
The Finale: Blackadder finds out that there’s going to be a full-scale attack the next day, meaning that he, along with all of his soldiers, will be running all-out into No Man’s Land. Since all of them will likely die, Blackadder pretends to be crazy in order to get sent home, but it fails. He tries to contact the British High Command to get sent home, but it fails as well. Darling is sent to the front line, despite his attempts to protest, while Melchett sits miles back. George and Baldrick discuss their losses during the war in a humorous way, until finally George admits that he’s afraid of dying. Blackadder and the rest of the group go over the top and are killed, with the shot fading to a silent poppy field.
It was a tradition for each season of Blackadder to end with death, usually that of the entire cast, but it was always done in a comic fashion. This entire season had frequently played off the massive casualties of World War One as a dark joke, which set everything up to do a similarly humorous or absurd conclusion to this season, but instead, they played it perfectly straight. It’s a sad, somber, painful ending to the show. It’s a subversion of the nature of the series, but it fits the theme of the season, that war is hell. The show sacrificed its own cast to make sure that people remember that the price of war is blood and tears.
2) Felina (Breaking Bad)
The Show: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a chemist who finds out he has terminal cancer. He decides to partner with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to make meth in order to provide for his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). He does surprisingly well, eventually becoming a kingpin.
The Finale: Having managed to lose most of his money and betraying Jesse in the last season, Walt threatens former partners to leave a fortune to his son and decides to “make things right.” He rigs a machine gun to a mechanical arm and tries to make amends to his wife for all of his misdeeds, having a conversation in which she points out that his actions were always about him, never the family. Walt goes to meet the Aryan Brotherhood members holding Jesse hostage and uses the machine gun to kill almost all of them, with him and Jesse killing off the survivors. Walt is mortally wounded, but dies smiling surrounded by meth cooking equipment as Jesse escapes.
This episode works on so many levels. First, the title is an anagram for finale and a reference to the song “El Paso,” which mirrors the events of the third act. Like the subject of “El Paso,” Walt dies in the arms of his beloved: Meth. Second, it mirrors the pilot, both beginning and ending with sirens headed for Walt. In the pilot, Walt declines to shoot himself, but here, he dies by a shot from his own gun. Walt even dies in the same outfit he wore in the pilot. Third, it provides a satisfying conclusion to a series that was constantly escalating tension by doing exactly the opposite, being a quiet denouement for Walt after one last blaze of glory. The show was always building towards his death, and Cranston’s final moments on-screen send the character off in exactly the right way.
1) The Last Newhart (Newhart)
The Show: Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who moves to Vermont to run an inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). While Dick is a relatively normal and sane person, the town is populated by eccentric people whose inability to operate within the bounds of reality constantly drives Dick crazy.
The Finale: After years of putting up with the locals, the entire town is purchased by a Japanese tycoon who wants to turn it into a golf resort. While Dick and Joanna make a show of wanting to keep the town the same and refuse to leave, literally everyone else takes a huge payout and vacates. Years later, Dick and Joanna now run their inn in the middle of a golf course. All of their former neighbors pay them a surprise visit, but quickly drive Dick crazy until he gets hit in the head with a golf ball. He then wakes up in bed… as Dr. Bob Hartley, the main character of The Bob Newhart Show, next to his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). He reveals that the entire series of Newhart was just a dream he had, something that annoys his wife when he reveals that he was married to a beautiful blond.
This finale should be terrible, because the idea that the whole series was a dream would normally be stupid or seem like a cop-out. However, The Bob Newhart Show was a series about Bob Hartley questioning his own reality and Newhart was a series where everyone somehow played by rules that defied any established rules of logic, except for Bob Newhart’s character. It not only made sense that Newhart was a dream of someone who constantly questioned reality, it made MORE sense than any other explanation. Bob Hartley always defined himself as the “only sane man” in his life, so he still does that in his dreams. Bob Newhart essentially spent 20 years setting up this punchline across two different series and it served as a perfect finale for both of them. I think it’s telling that after Breaking Bad ended, Bryan Cranston did a “fake ending” where he wakes up as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle that was inspired by this. When the second best ending has to pay tribute to something, you know that thing has to be the best.
Let me know if there are any others that you think I should have added by posting in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter.
We have now entered the home stretch. Say what you want about the quality, it took a lot of work to get here. So, for the finale, rather than just rely on my notes from re-watching, I’m actively writing each of these as I watch the episodes again.
This is the start of the top 10!
Blackadder ran for four seasons and, so far, three TV specials. Each season and each special took place in a different time period, but with the same actors playing similar characters in each season, with exceptions. The first season, The Black Adder, which, in my opinion, was the worst (though still great), is set during the kingship of the fictional Richard IV. The second season, Blackadder II, takes place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The third, Blackadder the Third, takes place during the Regency (for non-British peoples, this was the period at the end of the reign of George III where he was deemed incompetent and the prince regent ruled as proxy). The last season, Blackadder Goes Forth, takes place during World War I in the trenches on the Western Front.
Blackadder was a farcical comedy in traditional British style. The situations in the episodes were comically over-the-top and the dialogue was quick, witty, and often filled with a dark cynicism, just like the main character. While not part of season 4, the line that most defines the Blackadder character, and much of the show, is usually his speech to the Prince Regent in season 3: “A man may fight for many things; his country, his principles, his friends, the glistening tear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally, I’d mud-wrestle my own mother for a wad of cash, an amusing clock, and a stack of French porn!”
The main character’s incarnation in season 4, Captain Edmund Blackadder (Rowan “I’m the real 9th Doctor” Atkinson), is a professional soldier in the British Army. He was decorated as a hero for his successes in battle, but, as he himself admits, that’s only because he’d been fighting in places where the indigenous peoples didn’t have guns. Now, being in WWI, he constantly comes up with schemes which are designed to get him out of the line of fire. In traditional comic fashion, they all fail miserably, usually because of the incompetence of his batman Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson), who always comes up with “cunning plans” which generally are nonsense, and his second-in-command Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), whose intelligence test scored negative. Nonetheless, the team managed to avoid dying in every episode.
Blackadder Goes Forth generally had an attitude that was decisively anti-war (at least, anti-WWI). The main character definitely came off as opposing the conduct of the British Army. Of course, his attitude was probably due in no small part to the fact that his immediate superior, General Melchett (Stephen Fry), is completely incompetent, and Melchett’s assistant, Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny), is a bureaucratic toady who puts his own self-interest over anything else. At one point, Captain Blackadder even suggests that the great plan of the British Command is “to continue with total slaughter until everyone’s dead except for Field Marshall Haig, Lady Haig and their tortoise, Alan.” This is immediately confirmed by Melchett to indeed be the British Army’s plan. That was the sort of attitude that the show took towards WWI: That it was not only unnecessary to start, but that perpetuating it did nothing of any value to any party.
In this episode, the series finale, Blackadder receives a message from Command that a full-scale attack has been ordered for the next day at dawn. Everyone in the trenches is going over-the-top. Since this is basically certain death for him, Blackadder decides to pretend to be insane in order to get sent home.
Lieutenant George buys it and calls HQ to report Blackadder. While waiting for someone to evaluate him, Blackadder is asked by Baldrick why there even is a war. George states that it was due to German imperialism, but Blackadder responds with the line “George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. I hardly think we can be entirely absolved from blame on the imperialistic front.” He then follows it up with the greatest explanation of WWI I have ever heard:
“You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent a war in Europe, two super blocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side; and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast, opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way, there could never be a war.”
Baldrick then points out that there IS a war. To this, Blackadder responds that there was only one tiny flaw in the plan: It was bollocks. Again, the writers didn’t have the highest opinion on the European politics of the time.
When HQ finally arrives, Blackadder overhears General Melchett telling the men that people claiming to be insane will be executed, so he is forced to abandon the plan. Then, remembering that Field Marshall Haig owes him a favor, he calls High Command, only for Haig to advise him to claim to be insane. Meanwhile, General Melchett, thinking that he is doing a favor, gives Captain Darling a front-line commission. Darling begs to be allowed to stay at HQ, but Melchett is too stupid to understand his requests, and Darling arrives at the front lines. He and Blackadder quickly forget their rivalry, as they are both about to die.
Up until this point, the episode had been fairly farcical, much like the rest of the series. Then, with one line, it changes. Hugh Laurie’s George, who up until this point was the most hopeful, loyal flag-waver that the British Empire ever had, says to Blackadder:
“I’m scared, sir. … I don’t want to die…I’m really not overly keen on dying at all, sir.”
The rest of the cast, likewise, admit that they’re terrified, and with hardly any jokes at all. They convey the real anxiety that a person feels when something awful is looming over them. The mood shift is palpable, and it’s made all the more distinct because it starts with the character who, up until this point, has managed to ignore all of the realities of his situation. Darling, who up until this point had been an antagonist, tells the group about his plans that will now never come to fruition, including marrying his girlfriend.
As the guns above them fall silent, the men hope that the war is over, but Blackadder reminds them that it’s just the British halting their fire so that they won’t be mowing down their own men during the push. At the last second, Baldrick tells Blackadder that he has a plan, but, for the first time in the entire series, doesn’t call it cunning. Blackadder then asks him if it’s a cunning plan. Baldrick says yes, but Blackadder hears the order to advance, and tells him it’ll have to wait. “Whatever it was, I’m sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?” And with that, the cast exits the trench and runs onto the battlefield. The sequence enters a slow-motion shot as the scene dissolves into the poppy-covered field which, presumably, is the remainder of the battlefield in the modern day.
Okay, so, upfront, I don’t necessarily fully agree with the characterization of the British Army that was put forth in this episode. I don’t think that they were completely insensitive to the number of people that they were losing, and I think that the episode should have thrown a bit more criticism towards the political blunders that led to the war. But, since they did manage to create a hilarious line out of the entangling alliances, I’ll give them a pass.
The episode is set in 1917, which was probably the lowest point of morale for the British. In the two years prior to this, not only had they not successfully advanced on the Western Front, but they’d been losing more troops compared to Germany in almost every engagement. This is probably the most damning fact for the British Army leadership, because, on paper, the British and French had the advantage in most of these, sometimes even 2:1. The largest advance was the Battle of the Somme, where they managed to progress 10 km inwards, while losing more troops than the Germans, despite the massive numbers and armament advantage. Despite the stalemate, relatively little public effort was made to bring an end to the war politically, something that made it seem endless and pointless. It was made even worse by the fact that the participants could have ended it under Pope Benedict’s terms before this episode took place, terms that, in retrospect, might have prevented WWII. Gas attacks were becoming more effective and deadly, and hope was now a scarce commodity. In short, it’s why a lot of great books were written by people involved in the War.
This was the perfect environment to set a black comedy, and it showed throughout the series. However, Goodbyeeee made a profound use of the comic set-up to drive home the horrible nature of war. In the Blackadder seasons which had preceded this, the cast members had often died at the end of the season, but it was always in a humorous or ridiculous manner. This episode went the other way, playing it deadly straight, killing off every character, apparently, in a very real way which is prefaced by them expressing a very real fear of it. The fact that they played the first half of the episode in the traditional style only makes it more jarring when the serious elements start to take over.
By having us grow to like these characters and then killing them off in such a dramatic fashion, the show conveyed a very sad, but important truth: There is no such thing as a “good” war. There are only two kinds of wars: necessary and bad. WWII was the former, the Great War was the latter, especially if you’re British. Remember, the British and the French technically won the war, and yet, they still view it as a colossal mistake that killed off a generation of men. The show sacrificed its own cast to make sure that people remember the price of war is blood and tears.
Dr. Gregory House (Hugh “Seriously, I have range guys” Laurie) is basically Sherlock Holmes with a medical degree, a Vicodin addiction, and a limp. Never forget that Holmes was a cocaine and morphine addict, kids.
Really, making a Holmes medical drama is extra fitting, because the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes was Joseph Bell, a Scottish Surgeon famous for his demonstrations of deductive reasoning. It somehow brings everything full-circle. In addition to being extremely intelligent and observant, House is a Vicodin addict, has a pronounced limp, and is an almost entirely insufferable human being. But, his worth as a diagnostician usually outweighs the difficulty of working with him.
This episode is the closest thing I have to an example of a pataphysical structure. It’s not really one, because it doesn’t quite go far enough, but it’s close. In this episode, we see someone tell a supposedly true story, or three, as it were, that he is seen interacting with, changing things within, and reconfiguring as he goes. It’s not entirely unique in this, but the way it’s presented and what truth is revealed through the stories definitely reframes the episode in a very different way than most television shows would even try. And this is from a show that, aside from a handful of episodes, is known for being formulaic.
In a typical episode of House, a patient comes in to the Princeton-Plainsboro teaching hospital with a disease that nobody knows, House and his team, Drs. Foreman (Omar Epps), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Chase (Jesse Spencer), misdiagnose the patient six or seven times before finally figuring out what’s wrong with them. During this process, House makes snarky and mean comments, says dirty/mean things to his boss Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), and hangs with/screws up life for his only real friend Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). This episode manages to avoid most of that. (Update: Wrote this before adding the image above, but it supports my summary)
House agrees to lecture about diagnostics at the med school in exchange for fewer clinic hours. As part of the lecture, he decides to propose three hypothetical situations based on one single common symptom: Leg pain. The first is a farmer who was bitten by a rattlesnake. The second is a female volleyball player who appears to be having tendinitis. The third is Carmen Electra who has severe leg pain while mini-golfing. Which, according to House, in his combo flashback/story/lesson/fantasy, she was doing while wearing a traditional golfing outfit with short-shorts.
As I said before, the structure of these stories is really interesting. The med students make suggestions, and House’s hypotheticals play out based on them, while also interacting with them himself. It gives the stories a very different feel to have them be both metaphysical and yet physical at the same time to the characters. It creates a weird twist on reality within the show, which builds up to the climax.
As the farmer’s story plays out, the farmer has a reaction to anti-venom, and it’s revealed that he lied about the snake, because his dog bit him. The dog had a prior bite report, so the dog would have to be put down if the farmer told the truth. House uses this to continue his frequent theme of “everybody lies.” Ultimately, the farmer loses his leg to an infection and his dog to euthanasia, but the farmer gets a prosthetic and a new dog. To balance it out, the volleyball player ends up having osteosarcoma, but beats it and keeps her leg.
The third story progresses a little differently. First, Carmen Electra turns out to be a male golfer, who complains of pain until given Demerol, which he grabs out of the nurse’s hand and injects himself. The students, naturally, assume that he’s a drug addict looking for a fix. However, the patient then starts to undergo organ failure, and the med students can’t figure out why, angering House. His team, as well as Wilson and Cuddy, arrive at the lecture, and determine that the patient was suffering from an aneurysm that led to an infarction, before further realizing that this is the story of how House got his limp.
House, in the past, refuses to have his leg amputated, instead opting for a procedure to try and restore function. However, he suffers a heart attack and dies, briefly, seeing the other two stories he’s told during the lecture as visions. Wilson, in the present, asks if he believes the visions were real.
House responds that he finds it comforting to think they were just images his mind conjured as he died, because then all of life isn’t just a test. In the past, House is put into a coma, and his then-girlfriend Stacy will, on the advice of his future-boss Cuddy, subject House to a different surgical procedure than he requested, which results in the chronic leg pain he suffers now, the source of his drug addiction.
Aside from the format, this episode also receives marks for having a main character reveal his secrets, albeit indirectly, before an audience of strangers. This episode is basically House’s origin story, but, more than that, it’s his confession and his justification for who he is. He’s an atheist, and for a very specific reason. He’s an addict, but he actually is constantly in pain. He’s an asshole to his boss, because he blames her for his situation, and might be right to do so. And, despite thinking that they were just meaningless images, House still used the two other stories as a way to cope with his own fate, and to enable himself to be honest about his past. It ends up being a complex, layered narrative, but Hugh Laurie manages to sell it, and the structure ends up drawing you further in than most stories could.
Also, the title is a pun on three-storied house, so that’s fun.