Making the world a better place, one show at a time.

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Washington, DC, United States
I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Make Me End Where I Begun: Is There Any Way To End a Show Well?

I got a lovely shout out yesterday from my friend Calah on her blog (yup, I am the Andrea who couldn't manage to get along with a three year old) and it made me think "wow, I haven't blogged anything in FOREVER."  (In my defense, I have that thought every day, there have just been more important things in my life for the last year.)

So, the conversation Calah and I were having about all the failures of the BSG final season has got me thinking: is there any "good" ending to a show?

When shows end suddenly or after an unintentionally short run (Firefly being the prime example) viewers are often left with questions about storylines that never get answered, relationships left eternally in limbo, and bitterness towards TV executives who seems to find joy in the pain of the poor and innocent.  It hurts when you love something and it ends because not enough people out there are smart enough to love it too.  Couple this natural disappointment with frustrated curiosity ("wait, what would have happened if they had been given more episodes?") and suddenly you're sitting there mired in bitterness over the "terrible ending" of a beloved show.

Conversely, when a show has a good long run it can work itself into a corner ("tell me you have an exit strategy!") and when the planned and expected final arrives all the threads of the show are such a jumble the ending makes no sense.  My friend Alissa once quoted our friend Katy to express her own anger on this subject: "sometimes I think everything is fine, and then I remember how Lost ended."  I haven't gotten around to the end of Lost (the last 13 episodes have been sitting in the back of my mind for like 2 years), but I know what she's talking about.  There is nothing quite like watching a show for YEARS, waiting impatiently while it is on hiatus, revolving in your mind the various possibilities of how things will turn out, discussing the characters to the point where you forget that they are fictional, only to get to an ending that seems to be "well, sorry folks, we fucked ourselves royal and then just gave up trying."  I have professed many profanity-riddled diatribes against the sense of time-waste and emotional manipulation that spews forth from the soul when the screen goes black on a much anticipated finale that amounts to little more than a middle finger to my devotion.  The ending of Felicity still makes me livid.  (J.J. Abrams was disappointing me long before any plane crashes.)

Is there no solution?  Is there no way for a show to end that doesn't leave a scorched earth of angry viewers and backtracking writers?  Are we all doomed?

Well, no.  The easiest solution would be for me to care about TV less.  Don't care as much means won't be as disappointed.  But since that is NEVER going to happen, let's look at realistic solutions.

I think that the ending of a show is satisfying to the viewer when the show fulfills the promise made in the pilot (or I suppose we should say, at the outset, since not all pilot episodes are equal and sometimes it takes shows a few episodes to find themselves).  I am not necessarily talking about promises made by writers and producers in interviews and at conventions, though sometimes that factors into things.  I'm talking about the expectation evoked in the viewer based on premise, plotting, characters and the underlying moral and metaphysical perspective of the created world.  In a great pilot all of these elements are present, while in an excellent pilot all of these elements are fully developed and integrated into a whole (Supernatural is a case in point).  People are quick to scoff at the idea of "well, I guess we know what we are going to get for this" without acknowledging that it is completely natural that when we are confronted with a certain set of circumstances we expect a certain outcome.  It's not a bad thing.  (Although since this principle doesn't discriminate by taste, this does account for the continued existence of such crap as The Bachelor and Grey's Anatomy.  Those viewers get exactly what they were promised, even if it's garbage.)

So, do any shows actually worth watching live up to my high standards?  You might be surprised to learn, yes.  For example, Spaced.  The promise at the beginning of Spaced is that together Tim and Daisy will help each other towards functional adulthood by forming a loving bond that creates a family.    And they do.  Tim and Daisy work to bring out the best in each other, providing both friendly distraction and frank reality, so that neither wastes their talents in fugue state of a post university haze.  Behind the fake sexual relationship Tim and Daisy present in order to rent their apartment (man, Britain doesn't make any sense to me) real intimacy develops and that intimacy does exactly what it should: opens Tim and Daisy up to connecting with others, through which their friends and neighbors become kin.  The ending of Spaced isn't satisfying simply because Tim and Daisy are "together" at the end.  It's satisfying because they are both better people for loving each other and while understanding the joy and responsibility their relationship will require they both choose it.  The ending of Spaced is perfect because it is Tim and Daisy sitting on their couch, as they have for the whole show, but a little wiser and a great deal happier because they are the center of a community and no longer isolated individuals.

The ending of The O.C. is also great.

The TV Girl

6 comments:

The Rowles said...

Did you watch Awake this year? Chris and I LOVED it. But they cancelled it in its first year ;(
I was really happy with how they ended it though. It seemed to tie up most of the loose ends, which with it only being one season was probably not that hard. I still get annoyed when I think about the LOST ending. Still so many DURN questions un answered!!!

The TV Girl said...

I've heard really good things about Awake from tons of people, and tons of sorrow that it got canceled. I think when I have a free weekend I'll watch it. I just wasn't paying attention and it was gone before I noticed it.

I have actually never talked to an actual live person who LIKED the Lost finale. I read some reviews that were semi-favorable, but every friend has the same reaction of frustration over unanswered questions. Probably why I'm not bending over backwards to get around to it :)

KayPea said...

The end of Chuck was pretty damn good. Kinda bittersweet.

The TV Girl said...

Oh KP please don't hate me when I say, I haven't gotten to the end of Chuck yet. It is on my list of "Shows to Finish, Dammit!" What I know about the ending, from you and from others, makes it totally seem worth it.

Katy said...

I'm so flattered to be quoted on here. Good work! I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the ending of FNL.

The TV Girl said...

Thanks for the quote Katy! I think it sums up pretty much all opinions about that finale, and many other finales in general.

And now my deepest shame. I haven't finished FNL.

I know, I'm the worst. I watched the first episode of S5 and couldn't handle how it was soon to be over. It is the top of the "I need to finish that show" list.