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April 5th 2014
Endings are hard. I write this in the wake of this week's final episode of How I Met Your Mother, but given that the episode hasn't yet aired in this country, I will be as vague and spoilerless as I can about that particular ending. The point is, when a long-running TV series - or book series, or even film series - comes to an end, there is a need for the finale to be something special and distinctive, but at the same time loyal to and consistent with what went before; it needs to wrap things up and leave as few loose ends untied as possible, but avoid a pat conclusion of the kind more suited to murder mystery novels. You can more or less guarantee that a finale aiming for any kind of originality - excuse the oxymoron - will divide fans (as the HIMYM finale certainly has), but nobody wants a dull and predictable finish. In short, endings are hard.
Some of the stronger endings come when the writers know where they want to end up right from the start. In the Harry Potter series, for example, JK Rowling had the whole plot more or less organised before the first book was published, which meant that she could end book seven in a satisfying and natural way, even if some readers (not me) felt it wrapped things up a bit too neatly. On the other hand, where the writers are clearly making it up as they go along they run the risk of a nonsensical ending which fails to answer bundles of questions raised in previous installments; this is particularly annoying in series that have narrative constructions based on solving a central riddle. I'm thinking here principally of Lost (I'm basing this on reading reaction; I never watched the show), although the same could also be said of The Prisoner, which had an ending some infuriatingly terrible that it was presumably deliberate. The recent remake of The Prisoner was not particularly good, but at least it had a solution to the whole question of why he was on an island and, of course, who number one was.They were legen- wait for it...
HIMYM was a reasonably rare example of a TV series that knew exactly where it was going to end up, even if it didn't know how it was going to get there. If you haven't seen it (and don't remember my enthusiastic review from a few years back), the central premise was that Ted was telling his kids about how he met their mother, and the entire series was based around his quest to find her. Saying any more would take me dangerously towards spoiler territory, so I shall move on. Fair warning: I haven't tried too hard to avoid spoilers for anything other than HIMYM.
Another divisive ending came in the finale of Chuck, an action-comedy TV series I very much enjoyed that finished in 2012, where in the final moments the eponymous hero and his girlfriend shared a kiss that might return her lost memories. Or might do nothing, leaving her to have no memory of their relationship or, indeed, anything that happened in any of the five seasons of the show. Much like the HIMYM ending, I'm not sure how I feel about it; my immediate reaction was disappointment, but over time I've come to admire the ambiguous ending (in a show that rarely traded in ambiguity). As an aside, this highlights a problem of the Twitter age: fans are rarely happy to mull things over or choose a middle line, and so the Twittersphere was awash with complaints about HIMYM "ruining a decade of television" in the immediate aftermath of the finale - or, in some cases, before it had even finished.
Of course, some endings truly are terrible, and no mulling is going to change that. For example, the Hunger Games books, which I've written about before, had an ending so awful that I spent most of the last chapters hoping that it was all going to turn out to be a dream; then there's the wonderful Pushing Daisies, where the series' cancellation meant the writers tried to cram a season's worth of storylines into the last ten minutes of the final episode. Red Dwarf faced similar problems when airing a finale to season eight that was incoherent and barely finished; luckily for them they got to bring the series back years later so could have another try. Speaking of which, there are of course many shows that sidestep the finale problem by never actually having one: soaps go on forever, and Doctor Who always regenerates (although perhaps that just means they have a finale per doctor). More often, there are shows that don't have finales because they didn't realise that they weren't coming back: some even end on cliffhangers that will remain eternally unsolved.
As cunning as a fox. So, what about the finales that emphatically got it right? We recently had the final episode of Poirot, which faithfully followed his final book and killed him off in a way that - as well as being moving - managed to be surprising without betraying the spirit of what had gone before. Then there's The Office, where a Christmas special that followed the show's two seasons gave the viewers what they wanted: chiefly, Tim and Dawn getting together. It could have come across as a overly romanticised ending to a programme that traded on the comedy of cynicism, but somehow Merchant and Gervais (back when he was still good) managed to avoid that pitfall and created a very satisfying conclusion. Other strong endings that were only slightly flawed include Scrubs (a moving finale somewhat undermined by the fact that they then decided to make another season) and the Wheel of Time (a very fitting conclusion to a series of books that were published over 23 years, but it would naturally have been better if the author hadn't died three books before the end). Friends had a decent ending - even if it featured possibly Lisa Kudrow's worst perfomance in the series - but had fallen in quality so significantly since its early years that it didn't have the same impact on me that it might otherwise have done. The same, to a lesser degree, is true of House.
Speaking of House, it ended with a trope that I always like, by bringing back characters from over the course of the series for the final episode, as a celebration of what had gone before. The same thing was done by Scrubs, HIMYM (although they did it in their penultimate episodes) and, gloriously, Hustle, where Danny's late return made it the best episode they'd done in years. On the other side of the coin, it is made very noticeable when certain characters don't return: House again, and the absence of Lisa Cuddy in the final episode was a shame, and even more so in the West Wing where Toby's non-appearance was perhaps a fitting culmination to the poor treatment of his character by the writers towards the end (turning him from a government stalwart to, effectively, a traitor).
Anyways, the show that I think really got it right in its finale is, as you might have guessed from the picture above, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. No, actually, it's not - despite Sabrina getting back together with Harvey in the final episode of that great icon of after-school TV - it's Blackadder, where the final shots of the main cast going over top in the trenches were a fitting conclusion to a very funny series, but also managed to be a moving tribute to the millions who lost their lives in the First World War. Eat your heart out, Breaking Bad.

April 27th 2014
Part of the reason for having a blog is, I'm sure, to tell my loyal readership about the major events of my life. And so it is that I must draw your attention to my recent (well, it was a month ago) trip to California, and more specifically to my 100% record of leaving my coat in the USA. Long-term fans of my outerwear may be familiar with my only previous journey to America, for Ant & Becca's wedding, when I departed the continent with my coat still in the Clohesy car. This time round I had a new coat (of which, more later. And if that isn't tantalising, then I don't know tantalising) and managed to abandon it in a Californian closet. Fear not, though, as on both occasions I was reunited with the coat on British soil, this time round because Diana was kind enough to post it to Anna in Seattle, and Anna was kind enough to add it to her luggage when visiting this country for her sister's wedding. Of course, getting the coat back therefore cost me more than double what the coat itself had cost me, but I feel it was money well spent.That first coat, in February 2008At this point you might be wondering if US postal costs are exorbitant, or if I am a cheapskate when it comes to coat-purchasing. Unless you've ever been shopping with me, or have heard my occasional arguments with Simon about what represents good value for money, in which case you'll know that cheapskatery is what's at play here. Not long after moving to Bristol, with only a few weeks of paid employment under my belt, I bought a coat from a local charity shop for the princely sum of 9.99 and wore it more or less every cold day for the next six and a half years (the chief exception being, y'know, when we were separated by the Atlantic Ocean) until, with holes in most pockets and a zip that had been broken for months, I - spendthrift that I am - thought it was time to buy a replacement. Now, I am not a fussy man when it comes to coats (you might have gathered that from the last sentence) and I only really had three requirements: (i) a wool / wool-blend coat; (ii) that's black / grey / darkish; (iii) and has a zip. And, try though I did in any number of coat shops, I couldn't find a coat that fulfilled those requirements. I even went into John Lewis, which apparently sells clothes, and while I was literally laughing out loud at the price tags - I guess I should have added (iv) the coat doesn't cost more than its weight in diamonds - I still couldn't find what I was looking for. Very few coats were woollen, and those that were had buttons rather than a zip.
Defeated, I retreated from these purveyors of brand new clothing and went instead down the same route that served me so well in late 2007: charity shops. And so it was that, in only the second one I tried, I found a coat which fitted my requirements perfectly, and set me back 10. That's inflation for you.
That's all I have to say on the topic of coats, today. But if you want to see pictures of my journeying in California, you can check out this album.

what was I listening to?
Reflektor - Arcade Fire
what was I reading?
Tune In - Mark Lewisohn
what was I watching?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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