On Sunday morning I went for my daily run/jog. I was about halfway through it when I suddenly stopped and became really, really sad. I didn’t understand it for a few minutes and then it finally hit me: this was the time when I would start to think about the next episode of Oh, Shit.
Saturday night, I did what we all dream about doing, but rarely get the chance: go out on my own terms. Oh, Shit was the 5-minute long series I’ve been making on a monthly basis for Channel 101, a contest to make small TV shows. It started as a joke, a one-off idea that I pitched to my friend Mike Manasewitsch in January. My mandate was to shoot it in as short a time frame as we could (90 minutes) and as close to our close houses as possible and have as much fun making it as people would have watching it.
10 months later, it was still running. And with the exception of the miserable rain episode, we met all my demands.
It’s over now, so I get to be retrospective and say that this was one of the most creatively fulfilling things I have ever done, barring nothing. It was me bringing in every ridiculous idea and mashing it with every great idea I could think of. It was graduate level sophistication with the lowest common denominator of stupidity. It was presentational, Brechtian, deconstructionist, Muppet Show, Monty Python and Candid Camera all in 5 minutes. It was me venting on things that bothered me and elevating things that I loved. It was the sum of my parts, in on display, in short film format.
Somehow, it all worked. People laughed and loved the show. 20 year-olds quoted me, my Dad flew out to be in an episode (!) and I snuck my kids in on more than one episode. Even Dan Harmon, czar of scripted television (and friend), pulled me aside after a few of the screenings to tell me how much he loved the show by analyzing the meta narrative and deconstructing every beat. Success is an uncomfortable suit jacket for me to wear, but every one seemed to be trying to place it on me.
But October was time to call it quits. Channel 101’s competitive screenings run from January to October. We had gone a full year, coming in 1st or 2nd the past 8 months. The last thing wanted to do was start to see a slide in creativity. I didn’t want to linger for a few more episodes in 2013 and then unexpectedly get cancelled. It’s better to go out on top, on your own terms. Especially since this doesn’t pay.
So this bonus-sized episode is the result. It’s a celebration of the show and at the same time a rebuke against the the maudlin finales that most shows tend to go suffer from. Nothing weirds me out more than a sitcom’s last episode that suddenly has everyone hugging and crying for 90 minutes. I get it that we want to say goodbye to the characters, but at the same time, it seems to invalidate everything that the previous 100-200 episodes stood for. Suddenly all the character become reflective and discover meaning to their existence. The creators drop a huge “THIS WHAT WE WANT THIS SHOW TO MEAN TO YOU!” sign that may or may not jibe with what you (or anyone) thought it was about. Oh, Shit #10 was grand and epic and was built to fiercely resist any imposed ‘meaning.’
Of course, my partner in all of this, Mike Manasewitsch, did add a little tag that dId convey meaning. But after thinking about it, I deferred to his excellent editorial judgement. To me, the only message of Oh, Shit was that we all had a fun journey, on and off camera. Each show ended up exactly where it started, with me on my back porch hoping that you all “had a good time.” And the last episode was the same, but now with a full bluegrass band and about 15 cast members from the various episodes dancing to the closing music. Epic and consistent. I tipped my decimated straw hat and Mike walked the camera out of the backyard. When he has completely left the party, he pans up to the white/gray sky. The music grows hollower and fainter until it fades to nothing. We fade to black and that’s the show. We both agreed that it was a fitting final moment: It’s not Desmond and his friends who are forced to leave in tears, but instead us, the audience, that must depart. We leave Desmond and his party in full swing, where he will continue to be chased by monsters and learn about art and culture for as long as we can imagine. The world that audience and show creators collaborated on for 10 months remained intact and perfect.
And that’s the vision that stopped me on Sunday morning. The bittersweet last image and final chords of the a show with an interjection and an explicative for a title. The show that was self-described as “silly,” “nonsensical” and “dumb.” literally stopped me in my tracks. I had fought so hard to keep the characters from being sad and dour, and in doing so transfered to me in my world on mile 2 of a 4 mile loop. Desmond stopped running and so did I. That’s irony, right? An analogy? A modern parable? Whatevs, yo, I wuz sad.
After the final screening, I lingered as long as I could. People kept asking me what I was going to do next, and I had no answer. I still don’t and maybe I need to just marinate in that uncertainty for a while. I know that I eventually will saddle up, call Mike and Mike and make another silly short film. I know it because the last 10 months I’ve been telling all of you that it’s the journey, and not the end, that’s the fun part. And for a while I can be sad, but sooner or later I’ll stop and say, “Oh, Shit! It’s time for another adventure!”
And I’ll start running again. Away from the monsters, and toward the fun.
Enjoy the finale, and thanks for watching!
Oh, Shit!!! It was an immense honor to be part of this show. Cannot wait to see what my pals Mike, Mike, and Mike do next! :)
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