Thursday, January 31, 2013

The five dummies you meet in heaven

     "30 Rock" cast, from left to right: Jack McBrayer, Tina Fey,
     Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, and Tracy Morgan.
     Photo Credit: NBC

I am not very old at all. In my ~20 years, I have really only ever lost two people that I consider close to me: my grandfathers, one of whom died when I was 4, and the other when I was 16.

You might be surprised to learn that losing someone close to you isn't much fun. Despite being told to remember the good times, you spend a lot of time dwelling on "what ifs" - the time you wish you had spent with a person, and the conversations you never had.

Right before my paternal grandfather died in December 2009, my English class was assigned a speech. We were asked to interview a family member or close friend, preferably over the age of 50, about an event in their life that we could write out as a story and then tell to the class. My mom suggested I talk to my grandfather about how he got his driver's license back in the early 1940s (long story short: he scared the tester so much with what a bad driver he was that the guy actually passed him because he refused to ever get back in a car with him). My family and a number of our relatives had tickets to go see the Guelph Storm play their annual Teddy Bear Toss game that upcoming Saturday, and while doing some research on the time period on Monday, I thought that going to that game and going out for dinner would be a perfect opportunity to ask him questions about that story.

Well you can guess what ended up happening. There was no story or hockey game on Saturday. There was a funeral on Friday. I never got to hear that story, and I still regret that I felt like I had as little as six days to wait to hear it. That Thanksgiving, he had told my brother to come over some time so he could teach him about electrical wiring, and I know he also still feels bad about never getting around to that.

Something that draws me to television so much is that I really, really hate change. I have never liked it, and for the most part I think it's because major change in my life has never been the result of my own determination. I have never been able to experience the kind of change where I choose to move into a new house, or quit a job and move on to pursue some bigger career opportunity. My change has been new schools and living away from home because that's what you do when you reach certain ages.

Yet through any kind of change in my life, and no matter how much I might not like the show very much anymore, the paper pushers at Dunder Mifflin were still there every Thursday night. I was still able to watch Dr. House crack inappropriate jokes every week. And when my own family isn't around every day, the Simpsons can be as good a substitute.

And there is one TV show - just one, as far as I know - that has been on the air, and I have been a viewer of, while I attended each of the three schools I have ever been enrolled at. It was on during my final year of elementary school, all four years of high school, and my first two years of university. For some reason, one of the biggest constants in my life has been this ridiculous satirical TV comedy that is both really intelligent and yet probably most well known in the larger popular culture for catchphrases like "I want to go to there" and "Blergh!"

Tonight, after seven seasons and 138 episodes, "30 Rock" takes its final bow on the NBC television network. I have been a viewer of "30 Rock" since Tuesday, October 10, 2006, when I sat down to watch its very first episode premiere (a day early here in Canada). That was a little more than 329 weeks ago - more precisely, it was 2,305 days ago. I have been alive for 7,219 days. That means "30 Rock" has existed for roughly 32% of my life. And in terms of how long the show has existed in this period in which I have been the copious TV watcher who types before you, I imagine the number shoots somewhere into the 80-90% range.

"30 Rock" is not my grandfather. It's not a relative or a close friend. It's not a person whose funeral I will attend. But with the incredible sadness I feel about the show ending, tonight's one hour finale might as well feel like a funeral to me. Probably the Monty Python Graham Chapman funeral to be specific, but still.

I remember thinking a couple years back that I had never really watched a TV show from beginning to end, as it aired, at least not for a show that lasted for any substantial amount of time. I was pretty sure that "House" would be the first show I could say that about, but I bailed on the last couple seasons once the show became an unbearable chore to sit through each week.

And so for the first time, I'm confronting the conclusion of a television show whose first episode I can really vividly remember watching live so many years ago. I'm also realizing that I've been fortunate enough that it's probably also been two or three years since one of the shows I watch week to week has even been cancelled (continued RIP, "Better Off Ted"). The end of "30 Rock" doesn't bring tears to my eyes (though who knows what's in store tonight), but it also does feel like I'm losing something that's been a part of my life for so many years. It's made me look back and realize that I took the show for granted season after season, letting episodes pile up on the DVR and not understanding how lucky I was to be able to watch this show for one episode, let alone seven seasons. As ridiculous as it might sound, for someone like me who geeks over TV so much, it does feel of a piece with not picking up the phone and talking to my grandfather more often, and the failure to realize that even the things that are a part of our lives for so long don't last forever.

In the remaining few hours before the finale, I'll be rewatching some classic episodes, as I've been doing for the past week or so, and wondering where the time has gone. And at 9pm tonight...well, I was gonna say that at 9pm tonight, I'll probably sit quietly and think about the fact that "Parks and Recreation" and "Cougar Town" and "Arrested Development" are still on the air, and that at least "30 Rock"'s 8pm timeslot will be filled by the delightful "Community" next week. But I think I'm probably gonna end up DVRing the finale and then staring at the list of recorded shows, finding five more minutes at a time to put off facing this weird end of an era for a kid who has been obsessed with TV for so long that he's been watching "Mad Men" since he was 15. *Then* I will go through my version of the five stages of TV grief outlined above.

And'll be Friday, February 1. I wait for the next time I lose one of my favourite shows. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But we're talking "30 Rock". So I think the more appropriate term would be "respawn".