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Why good TV networks do bad things

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Keri Russell, Felicity
Keri Russell: Richard Cartwright

Why good TV networks do bad things

I know, I know: It all comes down to money. It’s the way the TV business — the pop-culture business — works. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t be appalled at this nauseating irony: ABC has cancelled its most engrossing, moving show, ”Once and Again,” due to poor ratings, while the show that precedes it on Monday, the disgustingly smarmy ”reality” show ”The Bachelor,” gains viewers and will probably live to leech more morality from the world for a second season.

There’s more reality in an hour of ”Once and Again”’s fictional depiction of divorced-family life than the entire run of ”The Bachelor”’s Playboy-magazine fantasy of a game in which a guy chooses a potential mate from among a gaggle of obsequious women.

”Once and Again” is — and that’ll be ”was” after Monday, April 15, ? emotionally rich, funny, bittersweet, and occasionally infuriating in a way that good entertainment should be: It forces you to care about all its varied characters, even the ones whose behavior sometimes drives you crazy.

I’m talking about, to take just one example, the way Susannah Thompson’s Karen (ex-wife of star Billy Campbell’s Rick) is so emotionally closed-down, she can’t let anyone, even her children, deep into her heart. (Thompson’s performance is maginificently, heroically icy and brainy, even as her eyes and hands communicate her character’s repressed emotionalism and a sexiness the gals on ”The Bachelor” can’t even imagine.) And Karen is just one of a slew of characters here whose only similarity is their complexity and capacity to surprise us.

”Once and Again” is going to go out with a terrific episode that’ll tie up lots of loose ends, open up utterly unexpected plot turns, and conclude with the cast talking directly to the audience about how the series has affected them. I’ve seen the episode, but won’t give anything away to those of the faithful among you; you won’t be disappointed but you may cry a little.

I find the cancellation of ”Felicity,” over on the WB, slightly less of a tragedy — Keri Russell’s put-upon innocent is a senior in college, and concluding the series now may even be something its extravagantly talented cast and producers need, so that they can graduate to other projects. But as a viewer, I look around and think, The WB is booting ”Felicity” but is still giving a publicity push to the show that precedes it, the returning ”Dawson’s Creek”?

”Felicity” is going out in great form; fans should be sure to catch upcoming episodes in which Scott Speedman’s Ben pays a heavy price for taking responsibility for the pregnancy of his one-night-stand, Lauren (Lisa Edelstein); Sean (the beguilingly nudgy Greg Grunberg) finds his ad-agency job imperiled; ”Alias”’s Jennifer Garner returns as Hanna, ex-girlfriend of Scott Foley’s Noel (and now Foley’s wife in real-life). And our gal herself gets in a fine pickle due to some highly atypical behavior involving a 30-page art-history report assignment.

In fact, the more I think about ”Felicity,” the more peeved I get at its imminent departure; you can’t tell me that winsome dip Dawson is a more intriguing take on guilelessness than the character of Felicity.

I’m sure you have shows you wish would live on, and marvel at the dumb stuff other people watch. It’s the way it goes in a pop-culture democracy. I suppose I should be glad that ”Once and Again” lasted as long as it did. But… y’know what I mean?

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