Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Fifth Season

I've returned to watching NewsRadio again these days, largely because I enjoy the show's dynamic and characters, and also because I love Beth. And Phil Hartman. It's a good comedic show with great actors.

It's gone quite a bit further this time, because I've been actively searching for the seasons on DVD. I ended up at CD Warehouse after pointlessly looking in HMV at Bayshore, which is nothing but a haven of women's fashion and lingerie stores. They had the first two seasons together. Then I surprisingly found the 5th season at Giant Tiger when my mother wanted to go browsing around there to my annoyance. I bought it simply because it was there, it was a DVD, there'd be commentaries and more weird images of Matthew and attractive ones of Beth on the cover. Why do I say this? I never watched the fifth season. I was never interested. I didn't want to watch something that had a void left by Phil Hartman and no doubt not actually filled by Jon Lovitz. I didn't think it would really work without him there.

Having the DVD, I had to watch it now. Maybe the series found a way to redeem itself after it was left in disarray due to Hartman's murder. I didn't know. I watched it.

Firstly, Giant Tiger sold me a useless copy as the first DVD disc does not play in my Mac or my DVD player, no matter what. I was left to watch the other two remaining discs, causing me to miss an entire plot arc in the first half of the season. Ironically, I have seen the first episode before - I went right ahead and watched it when it was available on Netflix because I wanted to see how the cast was considering Hartman had then-recently passed away. It was a good episode; I felt their pain, which was very real, no fake tears whatsoever. I saw that one awhile ago.

Anyway, I'll just copy and paste what I put on Facebook: Critically, the first three and a quarter seasons are awesome. The final season is a caricature and silly absurd cartoon of a Phil Hartman-less product. Eh. Good things always come to an end.

On - you guessed it - Wikipedia, in the articles for each season, it is noted on the fourth episode of the fourth season that "the writers by this point felt that NewsRadio had lost touch with reality and essentially became a cartoon." It was increasingly relevant in the latter half of the fourth season, but in a good way that still felt normal and funny in an absurd way (Phil Hartman had perfect execution). By the fifth season...it seems ghostly strange and unusual and bleak and just off. Abnormal.

I got the sense that by that point virtually all of the actors weren't nearly into it anymore, both due to Hartman's absence as well as the simple fact that they'd been doing this for four years now and both the writers and the actors seemed stretched for good comedic plot-lines. It seemed to me that a few of the actors (Dave Foley, Maura Tierney, Vicki Lewis, Stephen Root) looked like they were almost too old for this kind of thing anymore. Dave Nelson's patience and direct level-headed approach as a news director appeared to have eroded away to an inane careless This-isn't-a-normal-workplace-let's-let-things-slide-anyway persona; Jimmy James babbles so much he sounds ridiculous; the entire environment no longer looks and seems and feels like an AM radio station - rather, it looks like a place for people to run around blowing each other's personal feuds into each other's faces while extras you never see or hear sit in the broadcast booth, forgotten in the background. Lisa becomes irrational and out-of-character and marries a homeless man played by Patrick Warburton, who was apparently "evil" and took over Jimmy James' empire after having him imprisoned. Beth was always a quirky character from the start, which I always loved, but when she falls for Max's leaving-to-make-Beth-sad scheme at the last second and starts wailing like a pre-teen...even for her that's over-the-top.

In spite of all the negative nit-picking, I'm kind of glad I did watch the final season (three-quarters of it). I got to see it finish. The ending made some real sense and had a last-second true spirit of NewsRadio humour in it. Dave walks through the empty floor, into his empty office - only to find Matthew hiding under his desk, having never left with the rest of the cast for New Hampshire. Matthew gleefully offers a variety of duties to be done for Dave, all reminiscent of each character's on the show, before gleefully saying "it's just me and you forever, Dave!" Dave smiles in a way that suggests he's going insane before stuttering that it really is the reality before him - then goes to credits. It leaves me feeling bittersweet, because I was expecting Dave to rush out of the building after the rest of the cast over the credits, which didn't happen. It made sense from a comedic standpoint - but I kind of wish he joined the rest of the people he spent four years with.

The bottom line of this is what I said above: All good things come to an end. Like I said in my review of this series last year, it's the kind of thing I wish I could un-watch only to re-watch it with that original first-time experience. The first season was amazing. The second and third season - awesome. The fourth - pretty good. The fifth? Eh. Like every show, it had its peak. It was such a warm, happy start to something that continued on with great characters and chemistry...then continued on, and eventually got cartoonish and silly and old. I like to think it was a combination of the quality of writing and Hartman's death, but either way, no matter what, good things always come to an end. It's a bitter and unfortunate aspect of life. And Lovitz tried - he did a pretty good job, even though he could never fill the gaping hole Phil Hartman left. I give him credit for trying.

Anyway, that's it for NewsRadio. I'll keep looking for the third and fourth seasons on DVD, and I'll continue to enjoy those, but you know, I hope everyone in that cast - Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney, Khandi Alexander, Vicki Lewis, Joe Rogan, and of course Andy Dick - I hope they find time to all reunite and see each other again, just to relive the magic of each other's company from the great old days of the show. They virtually seem like a family. They don't have to create a new show - just spend some time together. Top it off with a nice framed photograph of Phil Hartman or something.

Sigh. So bittersweet.

Red Cloud
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