Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Mad Break: Saying So Long to Two TV Faves

This weekend brought the series finales to two of my favorite television shows: Prison Break and MadTV. Although I've watched both shows infrequently lately, I've been a fan and have seen most episodes of each series, so I made sure to catch these last ones, (1.) for that necessary sense of closure and (2.) to see if my faithfulness would be rewarded with a satisfactory resolution. Though both shows are vastly different in genre and format, they delivered the best they could considering the circumstances. Indulge me an analysis of each.

Prison Break

"A brother's love . . . is a brother's love." -- Detective Roland Castlebeck (portrayed by Delroy Lindo) in Gone in Sixty Seconds

I confess, I didn't watch Prison Break's hasty return to television last month. Fox didn't hesitate to advertise the last half of this season as "the final episodes," so, if the network barely cared about the series, why should I? Still, four years later, I just had to see if/how the brothers Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows survived their run from the law (though the show's plot couldn't take place for a period of time more than just several months). To summarize the series' twists into a single, comprehensive synopsis, near as I can tell (spoiler alert): Lincoln was framed for the murder of the Vice President's brother so Michael would develop the prison break skills and a secret society led by their mother could plant him in a Panama prison to break out the man capable of delivering Scylla, a hard drive with data about global infrastructure. In the end, Michael protects Scylla from his mother and the Company, another shadow group with evil intentions, and he eventually cuts a deal with the United Nations in exchange for his comrades' freedom.

Trust me, the four seasons' worth of television was much more interesting than that synopsis. Fortunately, I was less interested in the perpetual mystery and more in the development of the characters, specifically Scofield and Burrows, who, as this finale explains, symbolize the concept of nature versus nurture. While Lincoln lived a criminal life (he wasn't hard to frame), Michael overcame their neglected childhood to become a successful architect. Further, these characters could've been the Hardy Boys for a new generation, as Frank was definitively the brains and Joe the brawn -- except in Prison Break, their mystery was too self-oriented. Indeed, with a title like Prison Break, even when the show didn't take place in a prison, it focused on issues of both internally and externally exposed exile, escaping both circumstantial bonds and the constrictions of one's own perceptions and personality. If you're branded a criminal, are you forced to live that life, even if you were originally innocent? Ironically, even an innocent man on the run is guilty of being a fugitive! As this show's bittersweet final moments prove, some things in life simply can't be outrun.


What, me canceled?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: MadTV is better than Saturday Night Live. I use the present tense because many of MadTV's sketches retain a timeless comedy that should experience success via the likes of YouTube and Hulu or years to come. The secret to this success is simple: MadTV always put comedy first. SNL has frequently struggled with relevance and casting, and when either has suffered, the show has, as well; MadTV has been consistent in its content and delivery from day one. While many comic book fans don't consider MadTV a traditional page-to-screen adaptation, its goofy satire reflects what the magazine has done for decades. Unlike SNL, it never took itself too seriously to think it could make a difference on any social or political landscape, and it only sought to remain relevant in the realm of comedy, by offering memorable characters like Stewart, or by making celebrities like Kenny Rogers so exaggerated they might as well be as made up.

Consider the recent Presidential election. In their skits about Sarah Palin, SNL gave us a barely costumed Tina Fey simply reiterating the candidate's verbal pratfalls verbatim, as if giving America a chance to laugh at it again is genuinely clever or original. I actually blogged about this before, when I wrote, " . . . a squirrely old McCain that frequently asks for his shawl is much more subversive than a Palin lookalike that reiterates the source material with a smirk that’s somehow supposed to make the reality of it all more derisively funny. 'Mavericky' isn't a punchline; it's a shortcut. Obama and McCain in a dance-off, which would most likely and ironically receive higher primetime ratings than one of their debates anyway? Hilarious."

I'll especially miss Bobby Lee's characters: the Asian interpreter and his catchphrase, "Uh oh, hot dog," or Tank, or most recently Johnny Gan. For fourteen years, MadTV made Saturday night a night worth staying home -- and I couldn't help but take its mock charity fundraiser season finale a little emotionally. That's right -- I took it hard, and sloppy.

Like I said at the top, these final episodes did the best they could with what had been established, surprisingly faithful to longtime viewers with imagery and callbacks to first season standards. I was wondering why I felt like something was lacking after each finale, but I realize now -- it's not that the episode was missing something. It's that, now my life will be . . . not that I won't be looking for a substitute, though. Indeed, television is the prison from which we can never escape.


johnny_justice said...

I think you missed one of the most important themes running through the Prison Break series: Lincoln was so desperate for Brotherly Love that he was willing to go to prison to find what he was looking for. Spoiler Alert: Lincoln's burning desire for his brother was finally made possible when it was revealed in the last few episodes that Burrows was in fact NOT blood a relative. The whole series was basically cloned from Brokeback Mountain, but the camping trip was replaced by prison. And I never saw Brokeback, but I imagine that one of the guys ended up killing himself over his frustration of unfulfilled love, just as Lincoln must have done when he (Spoiler Alert) staged his suicide as a losing battle with a brain tumor.

KaraokeFanboy said...

Wow, are YOU misdirected. Because it was MICHAEL that "staged" his death. Sheesh.