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Dead to Me

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I did not have an easy or death-free weekend, largely because I chose to watch the final four episodes of the final season of Six Feet Under on DVD, and I had to say goodbye. I hate it when series end. I always get weepy. It doesn't last long, but while I'm under the spell of the story, losing my relationships with great characters feels as powerful as losing my relationships with real people. I am not kidding. Every time, I consider not watching—if I were the one doing the rejecting, maybe it would be easier. I don't know. I have never not watched to the end.

The existence of syndicated reruns and own-able videos and DVDs is of no help to me. I do not watch serial shows twice. They unfold in time, and this is why I love them, even when they are terrible. They can never be transferred to another period in my life. In a way, I suppose, I'm mourning my own ephemerality through television. It isn't pretty. In the spring of 2000, at the age of 24, I wrote a nearly tearful farewell to 90210 that even I had trouble sympathizing with. Yet every word of it was true.

My choice of shows has become moderately cooler, but my reactions are as maudlin as ever. This time it was even worse, because Six Feet Under is depressing by design. In a good way, I'll grant you. But that DVD cover of Claire's green hearse speeding toward some unreachably faraway place with the tagline "Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends." haunted my living room all weekend, putting a pall on the rest of the house. I wanted to hurry and watch it. And then when it was over, I cried big, fat tears that rolled all the way off my face. I said out loud that I wished I had never met the Fishers. See what I mean? I'm like a bad love song.

I believe this is a case of extreme, even pathological empathy. I lavish so much attention on the characters that I disappear during shows. Normally, as a critic, I'm attuned to the way things are made, to the structural clichés they lean on, the predictable devices they use to cheat. And the dialogue! I can howl at movies. But about certain television shows, I refuse to hear any sneering, no matter how deserved. I take in-season reruns personally, because I have few demands beyond reliability.

In death, I see myself joined not only by real loved ones, but also by characters I've been loyal to until the end. Carla from Cheers will be there, and Kevin and Winnie of The Wonder Years. (I attended the same college as Fred Savage and every sighting—even when he was not drunkenly flirting with my friends—was a horrible offense to me.) Rory and Lorelai Gilmore will hang out in a corner with Tommy Gavin from Rescue Me, all three of them mocking David Silver and Donna Martin. French music will be playing, and I will be smiling and asking people to dance.

 

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