I am however pretty content with the showrunners’ decision to not reveal the circumstances surrounding his death, but instead focus on celebrating the life he lived and allowing his friends and fans to grieve. Suddenly Susan’s tribute episode for David Strickland, too, chose not to reveal the cause of death, but instead brought into focus the life Todd had lived away from the eye, the one full of good deeds and compassion. They spotlit a life fully lived, finding contentment and allowing him to live on as a memory to the people whose lives he had touched.
Tribute episodes, much like any other funeral or memorial service, are a way for the people left behind to find some control over the emotions that the shocking and unexpected death evokes. The Suddenly Susan approach to celebrating the David Strickland they knew away from the public eye was an important, poignant way to honour his memory. However, NewsRadio chose a different approach. The anger over Phil Hartman’s death was palpable in the episode that dealt with the passing of Bill — almost everyone finds it hard to accept his death, even to the point of physical rage. Andy Dick’s character is so far in denial, he chooses to believe in fantasies thinking he’s still living off the grid. The character left behind letters for his colleagues to say goodbye, but that isn’t enough; at the end of the work day, they secretly take away something from his desk as memorabilia. It was a touching way to see him disappear from the show, but with each cast member trying to hold on to his presence however they could.
Some shows are not as successful at dealing with such a situation. Though 8 Simple Rules tried valiantly to deal with John Ritter’s death, the show never really recovered from his loss. The shock of his passing continued to affect storylines throughout the rest of the run of the show, mostly showing how his children felt completely adrift after his passing. The episode that focused on his death, a sudden collapse at the grocery store (much like his collapse on set) let the show’s characters speak of their last conversations with him, both things left unsaid and words that could not be taken back (Bridget’s last words to him were “I hate you.”). The show knew that the death of a family member can never truly stop being a part of the family’s life. Even if they do learn to move on, his absence never stops being noticeable.
I would love for Glee to find a way to incorporate all of these things into its tribute episode. It’s a tough task, but I know somewhere inside Ryan Murphy lies a genius who can make it happen. I don’t want to be flooded with songs that hammer at my conscience, I only want to see the original cast, his immediate circle, and none of the newbies. I want the cast members to have a voice in the writing of the episode. I don’t necessarily want just closure, I want to feel anger, a sense of betrayal at a talented person’s life cut short, and I want to feel just a little bit of despair too. I go back and forth on if I want to hear a replay of his first and last iconic track “Don’t Stop Believing”. Some days I think the show has overused already and nearly lost all poignancy, but then it feels like nothing else would feel as appropriate a tribute to Finn Hudson as that song. All I know for sure is that while making the episode can’t be easy, its going to be pretty damn hard to watch too. Who knows, maybe I’ll just skip the whole thing and let the cast of Sesame Street comfort Big Bird and I, explaining why someone can’t be around anymore.
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*What would you rather have Ryan Murphy handle more delicately, the death of Finn Hudson, or the Trayvon Martin-inspired episode? Yes he only has the capacity to execute one of them with the grace they deserve. Frankly, can we just not have the Trayvon Martin episode? Because that is a truly terrible idea in the hands of Ryan Murphy.
Shazia is part bionic, part crazy (parts not mutually exclusive), and would be happy conversing solely in TV quotes, forever hopeful she’ll be one-upped in her obscure TV references. She blogs here and microblogs here.