iCarly—“iGoodbye”

The sitcom series finale is a rite of passage. Though sitcom tropes and traditions are plentiful—the bottle episode, the season-ending cliffhanger kiss, the birth episode—the series finale is separate from these. It’s a way for a successful show to rest on its laurels, to say goodbye on its own terms, to, as George Costanza might put it, go out on a high note. It’s when the show has so many fans and so much sway that the choice to bow out has nothing to do with money, quality, or viewership. And only the most successful sitcoms get the opportunity to turn their series finale into hour-long special events.

iCarly, apparently, is one of those shows. If you haven’t been watching Nickelodeon in the past six years, you could have missed it—I certainly did. But iCarly is a Dan Schneider production, from the celebrated creator of All That, Kenan and Kel, Drake & Josh, and more. It pulls in millions of viewers a week and has an enthusiastic, even rabid fanbase. "iGoodbye" is, through that lens, a television event.

There is something so sad about seeing a sitcom end. It’s always for some kind of practical reason that most fans are acutely aware of—pay disagreements, boredom, someone’s pregnancy, another’s addiction. One thing leads to another, in unpleasantly real-life fashion. In the world of the sitcom, though, no one wants it to end. Parting is only the result of the inevitability of life change—a move, a wedding, a birth, a funeral. The characters say goodbye to each other on the show, but what the show is ultimately doing is saying goodbye to the fans, providing them with a last moment to be remembered by.

There is a painful need to say goodbye to something that grew with you, episode by episode, over the course of years. It’s especially hard to say goodbye to something you were attached to as a young person. The end of Friends, for example, felt like (pardon the expression) the end of an era to me, even though I’d never really watched it. The end of 30 Rock next year will be another. These are shows that, even though I have never watched them week-to-week, defined not just the landscape of television but the zeitgeist of a micro-generation.

And yet, I doubt that anyone below the age of 18 truly understands what it means to have been a fan of iCarly. Sure, many of us have grown up with and said goodbye to childhood franchises: The Adventures Of Pete And Pete, Beavis And Butthead, Daria, Lizzie McGuire, Doug. And many of those, in turn, have managed to capture the wistfulness of teenage (or "tweenage") life, with its minor heartbreaks and triumphs. But few, I think, have been so aggressively situated as a mirror to the generation they address and portray. Other wildly popular young-adult franchises are nostalgic for the past, like the Harry Potter series, or watchful for the future, like The Hunger Games. But iCarly is firmly in the present, living the sitcom-ized lives of its viewership.

Often, when we’re kids, we watch sitcoms we really don’t understand—and worse, they don’t understand us. So many of us grew up watching shows about adults. Meanwhile, iCarly, like much of Nickelodeon’s masterful television programming over the past 20 years, makes a phenomenal and largely successful attempt to understand and speak to its audience. It’s probably the only show with a consistent, working understanding of current technology, rather seamlessly integrating iPhones, text messaging, Twitter, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 (or as they refer to it, the "Maxi-Pad") into a traditional multi-camera sitcom format. It’s also a show that embraces the realities of the world kids live in without nostalgia—Carly’s older brother Spencer is a largely unemployed law-school dropout, either facing the realities of the recession or wallowing in the Millennial post-grad anguish that has threatened to consume us all. Carly’s father is a Colonel in the Marines and is stationed overseas for the entirety of the show’s seven seasons, presumably to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Carly herself occupies her time with a webcast she and her friends make up on the fly, “iCarly.” The backdrop of war, recession, and technology, a strange poverty in some areas of life and a richness in others, is central to not just the plot of iCarly but the values it espouses: A form of free creative expression for the audience trumps the valuation of money, academic success, or social success. Or if it is social success (because, after all, the fictional webcast has thousands of fans), it’s a far different kind from the familiar popularity contests of John Hughes films.

In its final episode, “iGoodbye,” the show hits on all of this, in an episode that stands pretty well on its own while providing the kind of age-appropriate closure necessary for maturing fans of a long-running tween hit. The major conflict is that Carly wants to go to a military father-daugther dance with her father, but he’s still on-duty abroad. In the second act, after Carly has finally come around to accepting that this thing she really wants isn’t going to happen, her father does in fact show up, the first time that he’s ever been portrayed on the show. He takes her to the dance, but then breaks the news to her gently that he still has to go back overseas in the morning. But she can come with him and live in Italy. Of course, she chooses to do so—how else to end the show?—and the last third of the show is a denouement of goodbyes, ranging from silly to romantic. (Oh yeah, Carly kisses Freddie—finally?!—in an episode where he and Sam contemplate getting back together!)

Considering that all of the viewers knew going into it that this was the last iCarly episode, the front half of the episode drags on too long, putting us through some predictable physical gags from Spencer to take up time. The boys have their own plot, which could have stood alone in any other episode; it’s really only Carly and Sam that experience something truly life-altering. Because as Carly takes flight, Sam does too—acquiring a motorcycle she’s always wanted. It’s the right end for this friendship, a coda that offers a new path for each character. At the episode’s close, Carly watches some of her favorite "iCarly" moments on her computer, and it is shocking to see how much these kids have aged since the pilot. In “iGoodbye,” Sam and Carly take the time to record their final webcast together, and it is both touching and funny, as it ought to be.

The finale also expresses one of the show’s interesting quirks, which is that Carly has never been the most interesting character (though perhaps she is the easiest to relate to). iCarly is essentially about its supporting cast, a strong ensemble that all manage to deliver cutting lines, well-timed jokes, and physical comedy. Miranda Cosgrove herself is now on some kind of path to stardom, but hopefully, she will draw on a wider range of emotion and delivery than she does in “iGoodbye.”

But then, that’s the other thing—perhaps the subject matter is slightly less sophisticated than a network multi-cam sitcom, but not by much. And in every other area, from production to acting and writing, iCarly’s seven seasons have been on par with, if not better than, those sitcoms. The only difference is the audience. Cosgrove probably has a decent future, because the work she's doing is basically status-quo. As the plausibility of the set-piece disappears (the crucial anchor for any sitcom is whether or not everyone can justify being in one place all the time), iCarly leaves with a goodbye that is sweet without being noxious and self-referential without being a long inside joke.

Stray observations:

  • Check out Marah Eakin’s interview with iCarly creator Dan Schneider: He discusses the legacy of iCarly and his attachment to the show.
  • Gibbaayyyyy!!!
  • That kid who plays Freddie is a surprisingly gifted actor.
  • If you want, you can enter some kind of sweepstakes to win iCarly's set furniture, which is legitimately some pretty awesome stuff. There is an ice cream sandwich ottoman/coffee table dealio that I'd be down with.

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