Damn. Where to start?
Well, it feels very faithful to the spirit of Dispatches From Elsewhere to approach the finale with a personal story, so here goes: Back in January 2020, all those years ago, I got to sit down privately with Jason Segel at the Television Critics Association press tour, because I was writing an article for the L.A. Times about the show’s initial inspiration—an alternate reality game called the Jejune Institute, which was run on the streets of San Francisco for several years.
A fun fact about journalists is that we have a habit of spreading the word if someone is a tricky interview subject, and thus I’d heard tell that Segel could be hard to talk to. But in reality, the truth is that when a person is genuinely excited about the project they’ve made, they are a joy to interview, and in that hotel conference room, he was just that—open, honest and making it clear with every word he said how deeply personal this show was for him.
An actual quote from that interview: “I’ve promoted some things that are really easy to understand, that I didn’t like. And so I took no joy in it, and communicating the premise didn’t really help those projects. What I know about this is that I care about it so much. And it’s so personal and I love it so much and genuinely think that I’ve accomplished what any person making a piece of art could hope to accomplish—that I look at it and I think ‘that’s me.’”
At that point, I’d only seen the first four episodes, so I had no idea how far things would go, how true that statement would be. This last episode of the season (perhaps the series as a whole)... Choices! Are! Made!
For one thing, goodbye Peter, that soft sweet goofball, and hello Jason—yes, actual Jason Segel, literally playing himself, and not shying away from some real life details, including his addiction issues and poor career choices. They all add up to how he feels like he’s floundering through the world, until he meets a woman named Simone at AA, and she gives him a postcard that sends him on a quest that echoes what happened to Segel in real life.
Floundering Jason isn’t the initial focus, though—instead, that would be the titular “Boy,” spotted in previous episodes, who we come to learn is the younger form of Jason. Rather than dramatize his early life of starring on Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, we have the metaphor of The Boy, determined to become an actor after watching The Muppet Show and It’s a Wonderful Life, doing stage shows mimicking Donald O’Conner’s classic routine from Singing In the Rain devoted to making people laugh.
Unfortunately, no matter much money you earn while people wait to learn How I Met Your Mother, it doesn’t bring happiness, and Jason feels hollow inside. But thanks to Simone, he discovers new purpose, literally crawling at some points to play a new alternate reality game he’s been exposed to. His quest makes up a large part of the episode, and it inspires him to write the script for a TV show called Dispatches From Elsewhere.
Thanks to his friendship with Simone (only Jason Segel is present here as himself—the other series regulars only appear as their named characters from the show, which is, again, A! Choice!), Jason realizes he needs to build out the community aspect, which is when things hit a whole new level of meta.
“Let’s get you some help,” Fredwynn (presumably) tells Jason, and we see Jason’s vision for the series unfold. And that’s eventually when we find that the fans of the series, we find, have been given the opportunity to send in their own videos (which would probably have felt different to watch if not preceded by over a month of TV shows like The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live filming remotely). It’s a sequence that is only just one of the show’s breaks from reality, as Jason Segel not only addresses obvious criticisms of the show directly to the audience, but invites the crew of the series to hang out on screen.
Yes, this was a bit self-indulgent, but yes, it also did bring with it much beauty. This is a show, ultimately, about how a story can be the thing that changes your life, can heal you in some small way. It’s a show that wants to make you feel happy, to feel whole, even though that may not be possible. And it ends in such an undefinable way—not really a drama, not really a romance, not really a mystery, just... a show about people, doing the best they can.
Would it make such an impact, if it was coming out at a different time? Maybe not. But these are the times we live in, and I for one am glad that it came about now. It’s so rare to have a finale of a show reveal so much and make such wild choices in such a short period of time. This was so clearly Jason Segel’s show. But it was also mine. And it was also yours.
Snap your fingers. Return to reality. But never forget, that magic can happen, inside and outside of a TV screen. Because we are we.
- All the mentions of the Muppets are an impressive reminder that while some poor choices were made when it came to the conception, Segel’s The Muppets is a weird, flawed, but overall fun film.
- It’s a bit of a shame that the finale didn’t include more romance. The Peter/Simone relationship was groundbreaking and beautiful.
- Also, please, god, let Eve Lindley get more work after this—she’s amazing.
- Thank you so much to everyone who has read these recaps! This has been such a pleasant, sweet show to write about the last eight weeks, and it has been a pleasure to be on this ride with y’all.