Updated: Mar 30
We are existing in an extremely tumultuous time for television. I’m not stating that all television is dying, or even the preposterous notion that television is “no longer good,” but when YOUR show is taken off the air, it can sometimes feel like you’re losing a part of yourself in a very big and debilitating way. There were so many different instances where I tried to write this article for multiple, different series, but I was never fully able to discuss any of them: frankly, it’s been extremely difficult for me to come to terms with a number of series ending in the Year of Our Lord, 2019. Some of these series had been slated to end this year, but some of them got cut short extremely unexpectedly. And while the ones that ended prematurely left holes in my heart, it was the series finales that I had actually been anticipating that truly left me absolutely wrecked. I know a lot of us are in the same boat around this time of year, even though we may not be mourning the same program. But in these trying times, regardless of the series, I want you to know that I stand with you and am understanding of your struggles. For this very cause, I offer you the five stages of “your show is dying.” I don’t know how well this analysis will help, or even if you’ll recognize my empathizing with you, but I will try my absolute and very best.
I hear you. I love you. We’re in this together.
DENIAL : SMILF (Showtime 2017 - 2019)
SMILF is without a doubt, one of the most sincere depictions of single motherhood I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing in film or television. Growing up in rural Indiana, I surely have known and loved my fair share of single mothers (my own mother included). SMILF was created by showrunner Frankie Shaw, and is a series that was based off of a short autobiographical film she made with the same title. The series’ title is based off the common moniker “Mom I’d Like to F***,” with the “S” standing in for “Single” or “Southie” (which is a common term used to refer to those living in Southern Boston). I know nothing about living in Boston save for what I learned while watching this series, but to speak to its honesty, I feel like I truly get what it is to live there. Similar to FX’s Atlanta and FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the heart of the show beats through the characters and the setting. And that’s what made it even more difficult to say goodbye.
Shaw’s character, Bridgette Bird, is constantly navigating her troubled past while trying to avoid missteps in her present. Daughter of Tutu (a seriously knock-it-out-of-the-park performance by Rosie O’Donnell), mother of Larry (Anna Chanel Reimer/Alexandra Mary Reimer), and ex-fiance of Rafi (Miguel Gomez), she frequently makes messes for herself to clean up (whenever she gets around to it), but she always learns from them. So it was shocking and upsetting to find out that Shaw herself happened to be just as messy and flawed as Bridgette. It turns out that during the course of the two season run, her show had undergone some pretty serious turmoil. Showtime had a (maybe not so) difficult choice to make when complaints began surfacing that some of the writers on the show weren’t getting their deserved credit. But, for me, the clincher was finding out that Samara Weaving (a series regular) was coerced into breaking the nudity clause in her contract when Shaw deemed it would play for a better scene. There are distinct moments during Season Two that you can see Nelson (Weaving’s character) start to retreat into a shell; and while it makes sense that her character would be feeling this way, it only begs the analysis that perhaps Weaving was retreating too. She had already come forward saying that she would not appear in Season Three, if there was one, but her departure was made irrelevant when Showtime axed the show.
Now, Shaw has come forward multiple times to apologize for the choices she made, but she always undercut her apology by also saying that she really didn’t know what she was doing. I completely get that though. She had a hit short film that Showtime picked up for series, gave her the reins, and said, “Good luck!” I know the circumstances were probably a lot more complicated than just that, but I really wish she would have had more guidance while making this show. Because when it was good, it was really good. I think it’s extremely rare to see family depicted in such a raw way that isn’t necessarily played for sympathy, and I really dug it. Even though Season Two was rocky, I enjoyed that too. SMILF was definitely a show I looked forward to watching each week, and I can’t believe it’s gone. Shaw didn’t do those things, right? She’s Single Mom I’d Like (to) Forgive.
ANGER: Crashing (HBO 2017 - 2019)
In a very similar vein, Crashing is the auto-biographical story of real-life comedian Pete Holmes and his foray into the world of stand up comedy. Starting at the beginning of his divorce, hard-core-Christian Holmes decides he wants to start taking stand-up seriously and “crashes” on the couches of fellow stand-ups while he also crashes on stage, trying to bridge the gap between personal belief and jokes. It’s not necessarily a fresh take on what makes comedy work, but it’s definitely a fun ride to watch. Within the three seasons that aired on HBO, Holmes managed to weave together a story that covered religion, feminism, and the modern age in a manner that felt both genuine and extremely endearing. I had been aware of both Holmes and the New York comedy scene prior to watching this show, but since it began shortly after I had moved to New York in 2016, it felt even more personal to me. A matter of weeks before the third season finale ended, my husband and I had even attended a Comedy Cellar set where we saw a few of the comics that grace the show on a regular basis. That felt really cool: at that point, I considered myself heavily invested in the show.
So when the Season Three finale aired, I had felt even more attuned to just what makes NYC tick. And then the news broke: HBO had canceled Crashing, making the Season Three finale the series finale. That last episode totally works as a series finale, but it just doesn’t feel right. After investing three years in this show, it’s still mind-boggling as to why it’s being taken off the air. HBO certainly has a killer line-up in the next few years, but I can’t help feeling that Crashing just isn’t “grand” enough for HBO to back, which is a damn shame. I understand we’re living in an era where budget and hype is the contract bottom-line, but I always gravitate more towards personal stories about human issues that don’t necessarily need the special effects or the hype value to keep them going, or even interesting. Really, at the end of the day, I’m angry Crashing was axed. It’s a show that certainly should have been low budget enough to keep running, and I think Holmes and the entire cast were saddened to see it go. They had not been made aware, per se, that Season Three would be the end, but they weren’t completely surprised to hear the news it was over. I was surprised though. In the age of dragons and gods, I was happy to watch a show every week that portrayed the down-to-earth struggles of keeping the faith in the modern world, all the while showcasing the amazing comedic talent New York City has to offer. It was raw, it was gritty, and I’m angry about it. I still consider myself lucky that I can look to a show like Pamela Adlon’s Better Things to be a representation for the working comedian/actor in our modern time, but I’m not thrilled that we’ve lost such an honest and vital voice like Pete Holmes’. Crash and burn, HBO.
BARGAINING: Broad City (Comedy Central 2014 - 2019)
The world does not deserve Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. We just don’t. Their voices also could not be louder at a more important time. Jacobson and Glazer’s Broad City came about after they had formed a friendship studying and training in improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC (do you see a trend here?). Broad City existed as a Youtube series before gaining popularity and the appreciation of many comics, including Amy Poehler, who decided to mentor the two women, and eventually executive produce what would become the Comedy Central powerhouse. If you were at all in the dark about SMILF and Crashing, I think Broad City’s reach has been the strongest thus far in this brochure for the bereaved. Jacobson and Glazer portray Abby Abrams and Ilana Wexler, respectively: two post-college broads who are just trying to figure it all out living in NYC in the mid-to-late 20s. I mean, how could I not relate?
I don’t need to get into just how funny and fresh Broad City is. I would bank on the odds that you know because you’ve already been watching. The comedy ranges from saccharine to absurd, just as any good comedy should, and it was unapologetic for just how female the show was. Broad City IS woman, hear it roar. But just as any exquisite, topical, comedy can sometimes reach a peak, Broad City’s reception certainly ebbed and flowed. There were episodic arcs that fell flat with the general public, but the die-hard fans rolled with those punches. Already referenced earlier in this article, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia certainly begat a number of shows that pride themselves on discussing hot button issues, but where Broad City has the rest of those shows beat is that they offered the female opinion with no rebuttal. Instead of a point/counterpoint argument between the opposite sexes, Abbi and Ilana argued internally with themselves before bolstering the other’s opinion. But then after supporting each other, they supported everyone around them too.
It’s been extremely inspiring to watch Abbi and Ilana grow year after year, issue after issue. Our comedy landscape is better because of them, and it’ll be super cool to see what they get their hands on next. But, you know, if Comedy Central wanted to bring them back in a few years for another few seasons of Broad City, that could be pretty cool. I mean, the politics in the next few years alone are begging for their commentary. Don’t you think so, Comedy Central? I’ll let you think about it. Get back to me whenever.
DEPRESSION: Catastrophe (Channel 4 - Amazon Prime 2015 - 2019)
If I had to thank Twitter for one thing, and one thing only, I would thank it for bringing together Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney. Delaney, a fan of Horgan’s prior work, extended a lunch invitation Horgan’s way on the good ole Twitter app...and the rest is very hilarious, raunchy, depressing history. Following the saga of American Rob and Irish Sharon getting pregnant from a “one-week” stand and then subsequently deciding to keep it, (because - Rob’s words, not mine - “they’re adults”) Catastrophe comes out the gate kickin’ and absolutely does not stop. If farts, alcoholism, death, alzheimer’s, adultery, and a general bleak outlook on life aren’t your go-to topics for comedy, then this show isn’t for you. This show covers basically every single facet of what it means to purposely couple/shackle yourself to a partner, and how that decision slowly erodes your own sense of self. It argues a very strong case that while you may find overwhelming love and joy in your partner, you ultimately have to kill a part of yourself to keep it.
Catastrophe ran on Channel 4 for four seasons, and after each season it aired in the UK, Amazon Prime would begin streaming it. If I remember correctly, I binged all of the first two seasons and had to wait for the third to air, but the gap between the third and fourth (final) season is a jaw-dropper. I don’t want to elaborate on what happens at the end of Season Three, but I have never been moved so quickly from happiness, to fear, to tears in such quick succession before in any form of media. I have certainly dealt with my fair share of depression and anxiety, but the manner in which Catastrophe operates is what I can only imagine it feels like to be manic/depressive. The show itself is certainly on drugs (many of the characters imbibe frequently), and we get to see sober Rob try to make sense of a foreign country (England), a foreign union (having a wife and family), and a foreign landscape (older age) while not losing his sanity. That’s not to say that Sharon isn’t the co-lead, and from her perspective, it’s more about coming to terms with the choices you’ve made as a woman in the workforce. Catastrophe is never trying to tell you that you can have it all. You can’t. Life sucks that way.
Even though the show deals with pretty much all of the heaviest of themes, I wouldn’t necessarily say it isn’t a feel-good story. I certainly felt great watching it: it proved that you can cover extremely dire topics in a heartwarming way and look damn good while doing so. I’d say if anything, it was when I found out that the fourth season would be its last is when I started to come down. Both Horgan and Delaney have stated that they wanted to quit while the quittin’ was good, and I completely applaud them for it. But it made it that much harder to watch that final episode. The series hadn’t played out; it could have continued for a few more years. So when I open my cabinet and there are no more Catastrophes left, here I am short a dose and left feeling raw. It’s not a perfect analogy, and I don’t want to pay those of us/you struggling with depression any disrespect, but the loss is a tough one. All I know is that I’ve seen the first three seasons a good handful of times, but I haven’t revisited season four. I’m just not ready to. Not yet.
ACCEPTANCE: You’re the Worst (FX/FXX 2014 - 2019)
You’re the Worst and Catastrophe could almost be interchangeable in this list save for the one fact that, while it pains me to say it, You’re the Worst lasted no longer and no shorter than what it was destined to. Focusing on four complete garbage people wandering the LA streets, trying to avoid all responsibility for their actions, YTW is my favorite series on this list. The undeniable chemistry of the core cast - Gretchen, Jimmy, Lindsay, and Edgar - and the supporting cast is an absolute marvel. It’s like that Seinfeld level good, but so different too as their arcs manipulate them into being so much more than their original archetypes. You have your aimless Gretchen (a drug-fueled PR), who deals with debilitating clinical depression, and miserly Jimmy (the verbose, English novelist) who really just wants approval. These are our star-crossed lovers destined to flail and flail until they either give up or give in. And as far as ditzy Lindsay and war-vet Edgar go, they’re just the icing on the cake. Take any one of these core four out of the equation, and the entire thing falls apart. Until it doesn’t. ‘Cause that’s just the thing: they’re all the worst, and we are too.
This is the show I’ve been wanting to write about, but every time I get to the keyboard, I hardly ever know where to begin. To actually, really, dig in and start writing about it is to truly acknowledge that it’s over. And so, I’m doing it. I’m doing it in baby steps. Today it’s a measly paragraph in an ode to the great (ending) television of 2019. Perhaps next month, it will be a more in depth analysis of the episode, “LCD Soundsystem,” or a few months further down the road, I’ll write about what a perfect reflection the series pilot and series finale reveal of one another. Or maybe I’ll just record a Cathode Ray Cast of all the ridiculous sounds Vernon and Paul make. The possibilities really are endless...because You’re the Worst is just never going away for me. It’s entered the pantheon of my forever shows. And as difficult as it’s been to recognize the endings of all these great series, I’ve finally accepted what a miracle it is that they ever even existed at all.
So, to all of you saying goodbye to your very own You’re the Worsts, whether that be Game of Thrones, Veep, or even The Big Bang Theory...know that I sit with you. I am but a tweet away if ever you need a shoulder to cry on. We’re in this together.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.