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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
I am lying in bed right now sobbing, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, and writing to get these twisted feelings out of my head and onto paper. I’m graduating college on Saturday … wow, great, such an accomplishment. Did you read that in a monotone voice twinged with sarcasm? Because that is how I feel about it. Literally, whatever. I had so many hopes for this semester and everything has fallen apart.
I spent six months in 2012 traveling in Central America. Some of it was for school, some of it was because I wanted to throw a middle finger to everyone who has ever told me I couldn’t do something. I planned the whole trip on my own, decided my travel itinerary, applied for an internship, and designed my senior thesis so I could do field work abroad on poverty alleviation, (I’ve had grad students tell me my undergrad senior thesis sounds like a grad level thesis). It was a monumental test of my independence and a challenge to all the fear I feel in my life. I wanted this trip to not be a generic study abroad experience; I wanted to break away, completely on my own and not rely on anyone else.
And that did happen, to an extent. I traveled alone, swam with wild sharks and stingrays alone in the ocean, napped in hammocks, went bungee jumping, saw unforgettable sunsets, spoke Spanish, lived out of a backpack and it was really remarkable.
But I have so many regrets. I didn’t live every moment hard enough. I didn’t push myself enough. I could’ve learned an indigenous language, but nope, I sat on my computer and got obsessed with Pinterest instead. I only made a few friends. I got homesick.
And I came back to the U.S. revved up to finish my last semester, get a 4.0, direct an outstanding theater production, write a 200-page senior thesis that wins me the “Outstanding Senior Thesis” award, have a job lined up in a state far away and be on my way to being so much better than I am now. This is not what happened. I may not pass all my classes this semester and my good GPA is gone. My senior thesis isn’t anywhere near done, so I’m staying for the summer to finish it. There’s no job, and the theater production did not meet my expectations.
I’m self-critical and I know it, but everything slipped away from me this semester. And I have more regrets for all the things I didn’t do and for all the improvements in myself I didn’t make.
I was recently diagnosed with major depression, got on medication and started seeing a therapist. I’ve been paralyzed by my depression this semester. Therapy has not been easy, it seems to make everything worse because now I’m forced to deal with all this crap I’ve repressed for years. A few weeks ago, my therapist helped me realize that I grew up in an abusive household and I’m damaged by it in so many ways. I didn’t even know the terrible fights and emotional manipulation and the short tempers were abnormal. For 23 years of my life, I thought this was just how all families were.
I feel like the past four years have been a waste. My life has been a waste. I haven’t accomplished half as much as I thought I would, and I’m terrified of the future. All the debt, all the uncertainty, all the thoughts of what I’m not and how I’ve failed …
I nearly took every pill in my apartment last week because I can’t deal with it anymore. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to risk being admitted to the psych ward and have everyone know about it.
I’m so lost. How can I make my accomplishments feel like accomplishments when all I hear is my critical voice telling me I suck? Has college been a waste? And how can I transition into adulthood with at least a tiny shred of confidence that I’m worthy of getting a good job? How do I stop feeling completely paralyzed by life, by my depression?
I don’t want to die. I want the opposite: I want to suck out all the marrow of life and be incredible, interesting, remarkable, loved. I just want this pain, doubt and self-sabotage to end.
Thanks for all your help.
Dear Lost 20-Something,
If you were an Olympic athlete and a Fulbright scholar, would that erase your memories of abuse? Would it give you the sense of fullness and serenity you crave?
I doubt it. Achievement brings momentary satisfaction, but chronic anxiety operates until we make peace with our past.
Before I get into my spiel, I have to suggest this to you: Please tell your therapist you made a suicide attempt. You and she can decide what it means and what to do about it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be admitted to the psych ward. It just means you have to participate in your therapy for it to work. That means being honest with your therapist about what you’re doing.
Now, you’ve got a long road ahead. I wrote an awful lot in response to your letter, but I’m leaving most of it out because most of it was about the society we grow up in and how it conditions us to believe that succeeding in competitions will bring us happiness. But I want to focus on your particular moment in time and how you can best direct your life from this moment forward.
There comes a moment of reckoning in early adulthood when you see that the world you live in has been hiding its true nature from you. You see that the rules you have been living by will not bring you happiness. You see that the rewards you seek are not necessarily going to be given to you no matter how well you do on tests. You see that the world is full of competition and willful misdirection. And you must then seek a new basis on which to live.
You had a hard time in your family and have looked around for the right way to address that. And it seemed to you that the best way was to achieve. To show your stuff. To excel. To win.
That is the message one receives in this culture.
But it is not going to help you.
So we must find ways, within this ravenous system of labor exchange, to live at peace with our own hearts and our own histories. How do we do that?
We spend time examining how we have reached this current moment. We find a wise person and a safe setting in which we can view ourselves with detachment and ask whether our received beliefs are true. We ask what we assume. We question whether what we assume is true and whether it will bring us happiness. We do this over a long period of time because it is a slow and detailed process.
It sounds like that is what you are doing, or what you are beginning to do. You fell into a depression and had to seek help. I fell into a depression as well, and had to seek help. And now I am on the greatest journey of my life. Now decades of dark, unexamined assumptions are peeling away and I am beginning to see many things about myself and the world I live in. I think you can do the same. I know you can. All you have to do is participate in the process.
Life is long. Slow down and pay attention to what is happening in your therapy sessions. Do the things that matter today. Let the rest go.
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.
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