Every now and again television shows come along that define a period of your life or frame your outlook of the world around you.  “It’s Worth What?” is that show for me.  When Cedric the Entertainer turns to the camera and gets the audience to say his catch phrase, “It’s.  Worth.  Whuutttt?” along with him, I go to a place that, if it’s not heaven, I don’t know what is.  Luckily for me I think “It’s Worth What?” has a good two more weeks before NBC comes to their senses and cancels it.  I will cherish these next two Tuesday nights like a ventriloquist cherishes putting their hand into a warm felt-lined puppet.

I say this in jest of course as I’d never heard of “It’s Worth What?” until tonight and I think I’m a little dumber as an individual for having seen the last seven minutes of it.  What I would like to do however is pay homage to two shows that I have loyally followed for the past few years that are no longer with us and their finales have me worrying about how I’m going to pass the evening hours next summer already.

Rescue Me

Let me start by saying I can’t believe more people didn’t watch this show.  I’ve spent the last week and a half trying to find someone to discuss the series finale with (aside from The Wife of course) and my questions are met with blank stares.  I know people out there were watching, just not apparently anyone I associate with.  I can pick up my phone and discuss the most recent episode of “Jersey Shore” at any point with up to five people however which says a lot about the company I keep.  I personally have missed a lot of shows myself, for instance I have not seen one minute of “The Shield” and it pains me to say that I’ve only caught “The Wire” in passing which is a literal crime in three states, so I get how this can happen but still…

Dennis Leary and Peter Tolan, created and wrote the series and I think their work on the project will certainly be mentioned in their lifetime achievement list.  For a tried and true Boston guy to suck it up and pay homage to the FDNY in the fashion that he did, Dennis Leary earns about as much praise as I can heap on an actor/writer. 

The show started in 2004 and was the first of its kind to directly address 9/11 and the aftermath that the event brought on the people who were involved in it.  No punches were spared and no lines were edited to protect the soccer moms in the flyover states.  The writing was raw and the actors lived the scripts in front of the camera each Wednesday night. 

The Gavin clan will go down with the Bunkers as an iconic twisted take on the American family as their dark recesses of life were exposed to the viewing public.  Every family has and deals with complicated issues and their own demons to some degree (hopefully only a fraction of what the Gavin’s went through or God help your family).  The easy play in entertainment is to gloss over these real life issues and make sure that all the problems are resolved and everyone is happy at the end of 30 minutes.  It’s safe to say, even knowing the success the show would go on to enjoy, that the people running CBS would still pass on picking up “Resuce Me” on their network if they had the year 2004 to do all over again for this very reason (pussies).  The Gavins are a clan that once the cameras stop rolling, are still going to be as maladjusted as the day the lights came on.    

The firehouse crew was similarly well written and cast.  Having never been a part of a fire department I can only assume “Rescue Me” hit the nail on the head as far as the camaraderie and bonding that can only develop between a group of men that have been through wars together can form.  It was everything I would imagine a fire house to be like, short of an annual chili cook-off.  Not every call depicted on the show resulted in a cat being pulled from a tree or the elderly woman being escorted to safety.  Truck 62 went through the emotional rollercoaster of showing up for false alarms and entering buildings as a unit but not all members coming back out alive. 

The vices of alcohol and drugs, sex and adultery are all addressed in thorough, real life detail over the course of seven seasons, and in a sick and twisted way you can understand and to an extent justify all of it.  If Tony Soprano opened the door for the audience to learn to cheer for the story’s antagonist, then Tommy Gavin kicked it down and lit it on fire. 

For those who didn’t watch shame on you.  Services like Netflix were created to right these wrongs and I’d encourage you to make the cast of “Rescue Me” a part of your family as well. 

Entourage

Entourage” will probably go down in history as one of the all-time shows that everyone wanted to be more than it was.  One could argue that the characters were flat, but when Doug Elin and the writers tried to add depth they found that either the characters themselves, or more likely the actors that played them, weren’t able to swim in that end of the pool.  I would argue however that the beauty of “Entourage” was in its simplicity.  At its core “Entourage” is escapism.  It would run on Sunday nights on HBO over the course of eight summers and provide the viewing audience a glimpse at what everyone dreamed the Hollywood lifestyle to be.  Critics pan the show for not showing the real Hollywood where Vince would really live in a one bedroom condo starving for auditions and opportunities and gets stabbed in the back repeatedly as he tries to succeed in a blood sucking industry.  Guess what, no one wants to watch that.  The show opens with Vince having just made his first movie (with Jessica Alba mind you) after being essentially plucked off the street by super agent Ari Gold.  From there on out he falls into one opportunity after another and receives second chances on his second chances that even the least jaded of us would have to be suspicious of, but that’s ok.  For every reason that I wrote about above where “Rescue Me” dug into the crevices of real life, ignore that logic and accept “Entourage” for being the polar opposite. 

When twenty-somethings in the Midwest thing of Hollywood they think of working out at a gym next to a starlet and finding yourself in bed with her two hours later.  It doesn’t matter that that doesn’t really happen, we’d want it to and thus “Entourage” makes it so.  The show provides the thirty minutes of suspended disbelief I personally was looking for before waking up for another week at the rat race and I know I’m not alone in this.

If they were going to make a serious effort to make “Entourage” a “real show” they would have poured more into the E and Ari characters as that was where there was opportunity for growth.  I would make the argument that roughly around seasons 3/4/5 the creative team behind the show made a serious effort to do just that, and frankly they fell flat on their face.  That’s ok.  I don’t want to deal with the dark side of drug addiction and recovery the way I did with “Rescue Me”.  Quite frankly the writers and the actors on “Entourage” didn’t have the chops to pull it off anyways (see Vince’s drug issues in Season 7).  The show came back to its core for Season 8, ended on happy note for everyone (that isn’t really spoiling it for those who have yet to see it), and all is well in the world once more. 

As noted above, the viewers of “Entourage” are there to see the celebrity cameos & to learn the differences between an agent and a publicist.  That’s it.  It’s cool to see the outside-of-the-limelight scenes where Luke Wilson has a stereo guy for Turtle and James Woods dates prostitutes and wants movie premiere tickets.  That behind the scenes look at famous people doing un-famous things is the reason women buy US Weekly and OK magazines (and their husbands sometimes happen to peruse through it when there’s nothing else around of course).  I can’t tell you how many people have brought up in conversation the fact that the show is based on Mark Wahlberg and his buddies when they moved out the LA.  Like it was some special little nugget of information that they uncovered and deemed you worthy to share it with.  It’s that behind the scenes I bet you didn’t know… insight that people are clamoring for.  “Entourage” turned that stuff into twenty eight minute videos for us to consume and I’m a happier person for it.        

To both “Rescue Me” and “Entourage” I bid each of you a fond farewell.  It’s been a great ride on all accounts.  As I look back on my twenties fondly, each of these shows will stand out as pop culture and entertainment icons that played a small role in these years of my life.  Sometimes I just think the networks should just suck it up and cut a blank check to the creators of these shows to put new people in charge and breathe life into these institutions to carry them on as long as possible.  But then thinking about hiring new writers, turning over the cast or paying them to come back, I can just see the network execs saying in unison: “It.  Cost.  Whuuutttt?” and I’m reminded that all good things must come to an end.  Vinny Chase, Tommy Gavin, thanks for letting me be a part of your family all these years.  Next summer won’t be the same without you.