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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Ahmed Kathrada, a warhorse of the anti-apartheid struggle, was allowed just a few minutes at the hospital bedside of his critically ill comrade, Nelson Mandela. It was, he said, a traumatic experience to see the former president, physically robust during their prison years together, in such a fragile state.
Mandela could not speak but his face “changed” and he recognized his visitor “through his eyes,” Kathrada said of the July 1 encounter, which was overseen protectively by Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel.
This is the image of Mandela that South Africans, and many people around the world, find hard to accept. The man who withstood 27 years in jail and led his country from conflict toward reconciliation, is as vulnerable as anyone his age, and monitored around the clock by doctors.
The 94-year-old was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 for a lung infection. The government said Thursday he is in critical but stable condition, and responding to treatment. Legal filings by Mandela’s family have said he is on life support.
“All the years that we knew him, we knew him, somebody who was very conscious of his health, somebody who exercised in and outside of jail, regularly, and here you see a person who’s different. A shell of himself,” Kathrada, 83, said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
“It was an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and of course the unrealistic wish and prayer that he can be with us for longer and longer,” said Kathrada, who joined Mandela in pivotal events of the early campaign against minority white rule. The two first met in 1946, before apartheid was even implemented.
Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 raid on the Liliesleaf farm in Johannesburg that netted most leaders of the African National Congress, then a liberation movement and now South Africa’s ruling party. Kathrada was among those arrested there, while Mandela was already in prison at that time.
Then followed the “Rivonia” trial at which Mandela, accused of sabotage and plotting to overthrow the government, declared that he was prepared to die, if necessary, for his belief in racial equality. He, Kathrada and others were sentenced to life in prison and sent to Robben Island, near Cape Town.
“He was a boxer, he was a gymnast, he was a very strong person,” Kathrada, a member of parliament after apartheid, said of Mandela. “In prison too, when we were working at the quarry with pick and shovels, we found difficulty… but he was strong enough to adjust to that quickly.”
He described Machel as a gatekeeper who makes sure visitors, including relatives, old friends and President Jacob Zuma, don’t stay too long during trips to see her frail spouse. Her first husband, Mozambican President Samora Machel, died in a plane crash in 1986.
Human rights lawyer George Bizos, a member of the legal team that defended Mandela and others at the Rivonia trial, said Machel invited him to see Mandela in the hospital last month. The visit was canceled when the health of his friend deteriorated.
“None of us are immortal, but I can’t really come to terms that he may pass away in the near future,” Bizos said in a telephone interview.
He recalled a visit to Mandela in Johannesburg a week before the hospitalization at which the two men, along with Machel, chatted about “many things” for more than half an hour, including talk of their days together as law students in Johannesburg.
“He would ask me, ‘Do you remember ‘so-and-so,’ is he still around? When did you last see him?’” Bizos said. Mandela sometimes repeated questions, like many elderly people whose minds are no longer sharp.
“They may not remember what they said 10 minutes before, but they remember what happened 50 years ago,” he said.
Yet Mandela still had caring instincts. Bizos had left his jacket in his car, but Mandela thought he had taken it off in the house.
“‘George, don’t leave your jacket behind,’” he fondly instructed Bizos on that South African winter’s day.
Memories pervade Kathrada’s apartment in Johannesburg, where a framed prison dish hangs on the wall. It was a birthday gift in 1999 from Mandela, whose inscription reads: “To Kathy, Best wishes to a remarkable comrade.”
A large photograph of the two men hangs in the foyer. Both are smiling broadly, and Mandela has his hand on Kathrada’s knee.
Prior to last week’s visit, Kathrada last saw Mandela in September in his rural home in Eastern Cape province, shortly before the former president was moved to the Pretoria-Johannesburg area for the first in a series of hospital stays.
Kathrada brought an album of photographs from Kazakhstan, where he had traveled for events held to honor Mandela’s ideals on July 18, the beloved figure’s birthday. The photographs showed children who had drawn images of Mandela or the South African flag with crayons on the ground.
“We went for lunch, while he stayed,” Kathrada said. “And when we came back from lunch, he was still paging through this album.”
"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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