Thursday, July 30, 2009

The mourning after

The camera zoomed in on TDH and RS ...

... The credits rolled ...

... The Show was gone.

In retrospect, that final scene was appropriate. Beyond appropriate, in fact. Talk about foreshadowing: RS and TDH's characters got the shock of their lives -- and so did the the fans. Given how I felt, I can only imagine how those even more invested in The Show reacted when they learned the love story they had been following (both on- and off-camera, depending on who you were) was gone without any hint of an explanation.

But there was one, and this being Hollywood, it was the see-you-in-40-weeks kind of explanation that really needs no explanation and generally results in the general public (or at least those obsessed/bored enough to care) beginning to wonder if they're actually watching the Lifetime Movie Network.

Fortunately for RS and TDH, back then, the Internet was barely out of the womb itself, and celebrity gossip sites didn't exist -- at least not in the way they do now. No one was truly considered D-Listed. "I'm Not Obsessed" was a defense, not a guilty pleasure. And somewhere, in the shade of a palm tree, Perez Hilton was likely getting his ass handed to him by the football team for smarting off. There were no unofficial announcements, and no questions raised -- at least not publicly.

But some things are just hard to ignore -- and you start to draw your own conclusions.

So while it would have been far easier to pin The Show's demise on the slimmed-down ratings rather than RS' thickening waistline, the mere idea that she and TDH would continue to live their charmed lives (separately, of course) while the fans cried into their pillows over being abandoned without a second thought (and without a clue about what the final scene actually meant), made them -- and The Show -- wholly unappealing.

After all, everyone knew The Show had already been renewed for a fifth season. What the hell had happened? What had THEY done?

And just like that, The Show, once considered the love of my life, was relegated to one-night-stand status. No emotional attachments, no reason to linger in the morning. It was nothing more than fleeting pleasure -- and I was adamant about practicing what I was preaching. (After all, the formative years -- aka high school -- are nothing if not dramatic.)

The tapes went into a box. The photos came down. The magazines were tossed.

I had invested far too much time into something that clearly didn't love me back. After all, RS -- my hero -- couldn't even take the time to answer a fan letter (or four) from a young girl who saved her Christmas money to buy clothes similiar to those her character wore, and whose life goal was to be just like her. She was too busy having it all.

I was done.

By the time school was back in session, I had a new love. Ironically, it was on The (conniving liar of a) Network, but since it had been around for more than 30 years -- and continued to do well in the ratings -- there was no chance of it vanishing faster than a speeding mandate on extramarital rehearsals.

The Show was history.

The Soap now ruled.

And I was about to get my first taste of fandoms ...

Monday, July 13, 2009

The 52-minute Tango

Now where were we?

For TDH, it's somewhere between the unemployment line and his next movie of the week, never to be re-aired, but forever to be rehashed among his stalkers ... err, fans. (Never fear, oh ye faithful; taped copies will be available later; please proceed to the conference room at the end of the hall.) A victim of the famed-role curse? Possibly. Enamoured with Jose, Jack and Jim to the point that you may wonder if he likes boys? Possibly. Either way, he could be a bigger one-hit wonder than Rick Astley, and when you see pictures of him sinning his way through Sin City, you have to wonder if he's even hoping that someone starts a TDHroll.

And at the other end of the proverbial Street of Dreams is RS, who, for all intents and purposes, puts the phoenix to shame when it comes to rising from the ashes. You've got to hand it to someone who bites the hand that feeds her -- and then pays for reconstructive surgery. All was forgiven at The Network once her (once again) good name propelled The Rebirth straight to top 10 of the Nielsens. The irony is that while she's a good actress - and has a mantle full of awards to prove it - her best work, without question, was done during the fourth season of The Show.

While RS and TDH's looks had gained them notice in every corner of the earth - and cyberspace - their acting skills were laudable, too. RS was the stronger of the two, but TDH really blossomed over the course of four seasons, and together, they grew into a formidable duo.

Partners, in every sense of the word.

And by the time the curtain went up on Season Four, TDH and RS had perfected the ability to complement each other nicely, play off each other's strengths, and never upstage one another.

Over the years, I have seen acting partners who had great chemistry both in movies and on TV, but this ... this was off the charts. To this day, I've never seen anything like it.

Every line ... every movement ... every look ...

TDH and RS turned the simplest of scenes into a sultry, graceful tango to which only they could hear the music. And for a while, watching them was magic.

Absolute magic.

But, as with any profession, sometimes it's hard to separate professionalism and personal lives, and inevitably, those emotions show up on screen. In the best-case scenario, it gets the actors' juices flowing and the viewers salivating. And, in the worst, it leaves the fans asking if what they just watched was, in fact, The Show, or if The Network is, in fact, trying to ruin their night, or, depending on just how bad it was, their lives.

The second episode of the fourth season was the first time when I noticed that something had changed. If not for the out-of-this-world A-plots, it would have been easy to forget that The Show wasn't real.

And it seemed I wasn't the only one having trouble remembering.

The final scene of that episode was the most raw and emotional I ever seen either TDH or RS. Everything they were feeling was reflected in their eyes, their voices and their body language. And for the first time in four years, TDH wasn't simply playing his character, he had become his character. There was no woman on Earth that he wanted more than RS, and there would never be a woman he would love more. Granted, I was a mere child the first time I watched this scene, but even back then, I sensed something was different. Real tears were falling from RS's eyes. There was a hitch in TDH's throat that no script had called for.

As the season rolled along (or at least tried to amid pre-emption and shifting timeslots), every touch, every kiss and every look had an intensity that made me glad that my mom had already given her approval three years earlier that this was a nice, wholesome family show and didn't bother checking up on what I was watching. Sure, it was on during the family hour, but at times, it almost felt voyeuristic. My friends and I had no qualms that this was what true love was. And given that our basis of comparison had not too long ago been Zack and Kelly, we did wonder at times if maybe there was a reason why those embraces were so off-the-charts hot.

Put simply, we wanted our hair cut like RS, and we wanted to fall in love with boys who looked like TDH. We did our research, and we weren't naive. After all, with acting like that, the ratings should have been a lot higher. Any show where the studio medics should have checked to make sure both leads still had their tonsils after a love scene gets attention, plain and simple.

But by the end of the season, the heatwave had cooled off to the point that The Show, once again, was a different show. But this show was one where TDH and RS could barely look at each other, let alone touch. And they had all but disappeared from the magazines that sucked up entirely too much of my babysitting money and the entertainment shows that I'd faithfully schedule my algebra homework around.

What had happened?

Surely The Network wasn't just screwing with us again -- addressing those pesky rumors by falling silent? No, that couldn't be possible. That would effectively put a stop to publicity for The Show altogether. TDH and RS were The Show.

Come to think of it, when was the last time there had been any advertising for the show? Would it even be on this week?

And since when did RS, who since the third season had been about the same size as the oboe player in band class who was held back a year because of her "eating problem," gain weight? Was she sick? Had something happened to her? And why, in the season finale did her tears, once again, seem real, much like the hitch in TDH's throat?

To this day, I get choked up watching that scene. It has different meaning for me now, but there's something so tangible about their grief. These were two people in pain, and it was far more pain than the stage direction called for. I saw it then, and I see it now. There was something going on that only they knew, and it could forever change The Show.

The episode left me unsettled. What would the fifth season be like? Could it get any worse? I scurried off to see what had been written about the season finale by the usual suspects: People, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide. Maybe there would be a hint about what was to come.

But nothing, not even the long, hot, miserable summer waiting to see if TDH would ever make it back to RS (on The Show, people) the year before could prepare me for the two words at the end of the episode synopsis:

Series finale.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scriptus interruptus

Perception has nothing to do with age. I know some exceptionally astute children, and some exceptionally dense adults. In retrospect, it's amazing what I picked up on during The Show's original run, considering I wasn't even old enough to drive yet.

Case in point: Individually, RS and TDH are good actors. Together, they're amazing. So amazing that when you watch them, you start to forget that it's not real.

Or is it?

Sure, you've noticed little things while watching The Show, like the looks that pass between them, or the natural way they touch each other, or how incredibly good they look together. But you don't want to even think about allowing yourself to think about the fact that your heroes could be toppling themselves (and each other, apparently) so you chalk it up to method acting. Damn good method acting.

But what happens when the cameras stop rolling is a little harder to justify.

In the days before the Internet put celebrity gossip at our fingertips, entertainment shows were the best method of finding out what was going down in Tinseltown. And it took all of one interview in the spring of 1995 to notice that the great on-screen chemistry RS and TDH shared translated to real life. Quite well, in fact. They clearly had a great time together - flirting and touching and making each other laugh, like all great couples do.

But that's the thing: They weren't a couple. She was married. Sure, her bit-part bastard husband was decidedly less tall, less dark and less handsome than her co-star, but taken is taken. As in for richer, for poorer, in contracts, in adultery, and the whole nine yards. So surely, with BPB waiting at home, the flirting between RS and TDH was just for ratings. Turn up the heat and the viewers come running with margaritas and sunblock.

But back then, we didn't realize that the only thing keeping RS warm at night was her contract for The Show. At least not at first.

And then she went on national TV and basically said BPB had deserted her on her birthday, and therefore, she was looking for a surrogate husband to help her celebrate. (Ironically, she really didn't need to look too far.) It was the straw that broke the camel's back, and, incidentally, landed her on her back with someone other than the second man in the door after the villain.

Now, I may have been young and naive, but I certainly wasn't blind - or immune to the steam radiating off my TV screen in the dead of winter, a mere week after RS blew out her 31 candles all alone. While promoting that weekend's episode on the one of the entertainment shows, RS and TDH also promoted the fact that they may have had an interest in practicing kissing scenes somewhere other than the soundstage. But I could have been wrong. Maybe unbuttoning your co-worker's shirt and trailing kisses down his neck is common practice at some companies.

In what I will call the "mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be wordsmiths," flashback, I remember wandering into the kitchen and asking, "What does interruptus mean?" My mother eventually picked her jaw up off the floor, mumbled something about stopping in the middle of sex, and then demanded to know why her innocent little daughter, who had not too long ago been playing with Barbies, was asking. Damn you, TDH. Even so, it got me thinking - especially when the actual episode didn't get the characters far enough for there to be interruptus.

Now, admittedly, I didn't outright think they were having an affair, because, hell, I was 13, and still believed in truth, justice, etc. I figured that some if it was probably wishful thinking because I was so mesmerized by the love story between RS and TDH's characters. But I did comprehend the significance of buying body oil and wearing it to work because your sexy-as-hell co-worker likes the scent. Like I said, perception, perception, perception.

By the time The Show's third-season finale was in production, it seemed I wasn't the only one contemplating the allure of salad-scented bath products, because the camera crews were on their way back to Burbank. But this time, they were taping TDH, RS and BPB, who had landed a guest-starring role (playing a smarmy ass, no less). And they sure as hell weren't there to talk about The Show - they wanted to know if there was any truth to the rumors that RS and BPB were on the outs because TDH and RS were having rehearsals à deux.

By this point, Even BPB seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that his marriage was about as shaky as TDH after a weekend in Vegas, because when asked about it, he shot back, "Why would anyone want to know?" As for TDH and RS, they went out of their way to allay the rumors - that is, when they weren't teasing each other and pretending to make out. You know, the kind of stuff that friends do.

Wishful thinking? You be the judge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Moments of irrationality

Ah, the walk of shame down Memory Lane.

For as good of an influence as the The Show was on me, there were times when it didn't exactly bring out my best side.

(And no, I am not talking about the time during the second season when we had to go to dinner at a family friend's house and my mother said no, I could not set the VCR, because it could burn the house down (?!), and besides, we'd be home long before The Show started ... and we weren't. You'd think the world had ended, and wow, was that an icy ride home, mid-May weather aside.)

No, I'm talking about the long, hot summer of 1996, also known as my most infamous, irrational action as far as The Show is concerned. While TDH and RS cavorted around the Midwest (Alone? Together? Your call.), their fans were left in turmoil over The Show's third-season cliffhanger. You see, this was long before, when you can find out what's going to happen on your favorite show before the cast is even finished with its table read. Nope, these were the days when you were living on a prayer that TPTB weren't going to screw with your night, your show -- and your emotions. The Show (or more accurately, The Network) had already put us through hell that winter, and as a result, the fans were understandably wary as May sweeps approached.

And lo and behold, the sky came crashing down on our beloved duo. She cried, I cried, he left, she cried more, I cried more ... it wasn't pretty. (Damn scene still makes me cry to this day.) And when the dust settled, I was pissed. Being a typical teenager, I was in the midst of an emotional upheaval as I prepared for the big show: High school.

The ensuing months had been really hard for me, and I looked to The Show for some form of stability -- and proof that people, namely my hero, could be happy. But, to my utter chagrin, the reassurances vanished as fast as RS's curves. (Hmm ... Now that you mention it ... maybe I wasn't the only one who wasn't happy ... Wait, no, that wasn't possible. Drama was reserved for teenagers such as myself, not beautiful, successful actresses who got paid to kiss TDH, and had an adoring husband waiting at home to rub their shoulders.)

So I did what any (ir)rational person would do: I went on strike.

The Show had abandoned me, so I was abandoning The Show. The tapes went into a drawer, the drawer was slammed shut, and from the day after the third-season finale aired until the day before the fourth-season premiere, me and The Show had an acrimonious split, with me playing the role of the wounded party. High-school zoning boundaries had already taken all of my friends away, and now The Show was messing with my emotions, too?

The irony was, I couldn't escape The Show. What had started out as The Little Show That Could had become a Nielsen powerhouse in its time slot, and RS and TDH were everywhere. And I mean everywhere -- from commercials (I can still remember the rug burn than I got racing -- and sliding -- into the living room when my friend hollered that RS was on TV at that moment) to talk shows to People magazine's Star Watch to movie posters to the cover of TV Guide. (And back then, that was a big deal.)

And even though I was beyond furious with The Show, I couldn't help but be proud of what it had become, and how it was influencing my life.

And all too soon, summer -- and my strike -- was over. The Show's fourth season was starting, and order had been restored to my universe. High school was going to be just as awesome for me as it had been for RS's alter-ego. Hell, she wrote the episode herself! I needed no further proof that anyone who wanted to be just like her was going to lead a blessed life, and like The Show, I would become an invincible force.

Or so I thought ...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I need a hero 'til the end of the night ... or at least nine o'clock

Ahh, the formative years.

No, not the ones where we learn to walk, talk and tie our shoes.

I'm talking about the years where we begin to learn who we are -- and who we want to become. For some people, those years don't come until late in high school, or even college.

And for some of us, they come much, much earlier.

Growing up is hard. Along the way, we learn that our parents aren't perfect, our friends aren't as loyal as thought they were, and that people change, move away, and, in the worst-case scenarios, die. There's no guidebook to tell us these things, either.

One of my friends has pointed out that people become entrenched in fandoms because they want to avoid dealing with their own issues. It's a lot easier to ignore everything that's wrong with your life when you dedicate hours and hours to watching a show, discussing it, reading about it, etc. Well, back at the end of sixth grade, I didn't even know the Internet existed, let alone fandoms -- and I definitely didn't know that The Show would become a major force to be reckoned along my road to adulthood.

My grandmother, was, for all intents and purposes, my hero. Not in the cape-and-boots sense, but she made the world's greatest grilled-cheese sandwiches, let me play with her good jewelry, and never criticized me for staying indoors to read instead of playing with the neighborhood kids. In short, she wasn't judgmental. And in short, when she died, I was shattered.

So, in retrospect, it comes as no surprise that I fell for The Show so hard, and so quickly.

I needed a hero, and fast. I found two. And they were the same person.

The lead actors of The Show had off-the-charts charisma. He was tall, dark and handsome. She was real and spectacular. It took all of 15 seconds to determine I wanted to be her -- and marry him. And somehow, as I attempted to navigate the turbulent waters of junior high, with all-too-unfortunate glasses and knock-off Converse All-Stars, I found myself relating to their characters. TDH played the accidental hero who longed to fit in -- and didn't know if he ever would. RS's Type-A career woman was fearless, daring -- and had self-confidence issues underneath the bravado.

They became my lifelines, and in return, they got my loyalty as a viewer.

And by the beginning of The Show's penultimate season, they had become the foundation on which I had built some great friendships -- and even greater ambitions. TDH's looks had caught the eye of pretty much every teenage girl in Algebra I, and RS had the kind of drive they weren't brewing up at the Central Perk. We'd discuss everything from how lucky she was to be paid to kiss him and how good he looked in a business suit to how cool it would be to work alongside them. The Show was cool -- and watching it made me cooler by association.

So by the ripe old age of twelve, I had decided I wanted to follow in RS's footsteps -- and no one was going to stop me. The Oscar, the Pulitzer, the Nobel Prize ... who said I couldn't have it all, too? All I had to do was watch The Show, apply it to my own life, and I'd live happily ever after.

What I didn't know is that what I was seeing during that sacred hour, 22 weeks a year, was nothing like what was actually going on when the cameras stopped rolling. That there was a big difference between RS, TDH and their alter-egos. That perfection was nothing but a word, and success was ephemeral.

I didn't see any of it. The Show could do no wrong. It was the guiding light of my adolescent years, and I couldn't imagine what life would be like without it.

But I was about to find out ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Show ...

You know that show. We've all had one. It's the show over which you'd just perish if you missed an episode. It's the show that had you staying home on Friday night to tape the previews and watch the entertainment shows, just in case they happened to mention that weekend's episode.

And, when it ended, it was the show that broke your heart.

But life goes on, and the years go by. To everything there is a season -- and when fall rolls around, it comes with a plethora of new offerings designed to steal your heart and replace The Show as the love of your TV-viewing life.

Only it doesn't.

So slowly, almost unconsciously, you start thinking about The Show again. Simpler times and all. Still, that was then, and this is now. You're all grown up -- and you don't need The Show to act as your guiding principles on life, love and, oh yeah, your chosen career. But funnily enough, that dream job has you sitting in front of a computer with the Internet at your fingertips. So, one day, you take an oh-so-casual gander to see if anyone out there is still interested in The Show. Not that you are or anything. Nope, not you. You've moved on.

But wait ... what's this ... The Show is coming out on DVD?!? Seriously ... there's a Web site where people write fanfic about it?!? Look ... a message board full of people just as pathetic as you! And ... ohmygodlookathepictures ... they've reunited!?!?

In an instant, the days of missing The Show are over. You're back, baby! And, even better, now you have company in that place somewhere between heaven and your own private purgatory.

And some 14 years after you first fell in love with The Show, you're on a plane to Los Angeles, wondering what the hell you're doing.