Tuesday, 15 May 2012

When Will It End

So, how else should we start this blog other than with the first question man pondered after departing from his monkey brothers? No, not “Is there a God” or “Who started that fire”, but rather, “does length matter”. And I am here to bring light to the fact that of course length matters, but the shorter the better.

This is my formal request for television and movie producers to put a stop to the never-ending onslaught of sequels and subsequent seasons of great stories that many of us love. For the past fifteen years there has been a writing epidemic infecting the minds of the creators of great American television shows and film series. This epidemic, which I refer to as “well-somebody’s-gonna-watch-it syndrome”, has changed the way we think about series as a whole. The idea is that if we even slightly enjoyed the last episode, no matter how long the show has gone on, then it’s worth making another one. So, only once we reach a point of complete hatred with a show or film series do we finally get the satisfaction of removing it from our screens.  

Think about it. This is why we get storylines that feel like cancerous growths on the side of what was a beautiful and heartwarming face. The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is one of the best action/adventure series in the last ten years and because of that success, producers birthed On Stranger Tides, a story that clearly lacked all the charm of the earlier films. The writers of The Office, even after losing the main character of the show (let’s face it, Scott was the nucleus), are attempting to create an ensemble piece that feels more like bad improv than what used to be one of the wittiest shows on television. Two and A Half Men, much like The Office, lost its main character and yet still yearns to extend its life at the feet of out-of-place Ashton Kutcher. Futurama was a pound-for-pound better show than even The Simpsons up to the ending of the fourth season. However, after the introduction of the four films and now season six, the show is largely listless and forgettable. And while I’m on the subject, although I don’t want to enter into a discussion about the monstrosity right now, The Simpsons has probably reached (I mean passed) its expiration date at season 23.
The epitome of the never-ending series
The list I’ve just provided is very thin compared to the one in my head (which includes Big Bang Theory, Dexter, Lost, In Treatment, Heroes, 24, The Shrek Film series, Family Guy and more) but I think the point has been made. American television is obsessed with length, even to the point of ruining the quality of the show or the film.

Now the difficulty with bringing up this subject with the lovers of long-running series is the ‘occasional classic episode’ complex. If I say Futurama should have stayed off the air after it was cancelled, someone will mention the time machine episode in season 5 (a worthy addition). If I say The Office should have ended with the departure of Michael Scott, someone will claim the show wouldn’t be complete without the brash eccentricities of Mr. California. My only answer to these complaints is that ending a show will always cut short a few great episodes or moments in the show’s possible future. However, I don’t think that watching what will most likely be a lot of sloppy writing just to get to one good episode is worth the trouble. I would much rather have a short series of two to three seasons, containing all amazing episodes, rather than a long run of ten seasons whereby the majority of episodes I wouldn’t watch again.

Shows and film series must be treated in the same way that any other art form is understood: too much of a good thing ruins the good thing. And although even I have the desire to stay with characters for years on end, I appreciate the balls producers need to have in order to cut a show short, even at its height, so the quality doesn’t deteriorate, even at the expense of their wallet size (eg. Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie, The Office (British Version) – oh wait, none of these are American Shows).

The error in thinking about this subject is believing that this strange process is the natural progression of shows: they start off okay, become amazing pieces of social satire and witty banter, lose their grace and fall into a pit which balances between cancellation and outright failure. It’s as if producers treat their audiences like addicts, knowing that even if the high isn’t as good as it was with the last product, hey, at least you’re still getting high.

If any of my observations seem paltry or short-sighted, perform this test. Take one of your favourite long running shows. It doesn’t matter what it is. Watch a recent episode that’s pretty good, perhaps one of the ‘occasional classic episodes’ that I mentioned earlier. Take a moment. Now watch one from the second season, after the show has figured out what it is, and compare the quality. I won’t hold any judgement if you enjoy the newer ones more – I’m glad someone can find comfort in the change – but if you do notice a great difference, think about how the characters have changed, or the wittiness of the jokes, or the coherence of the story, because that’s usually what’s no longer the same. And it’s only when you return to when the writing was new and without any fat that you see the recent episodes from a fresh perspective.

The point I’m trying not to make is that these shows are terrible. In fact, these are some of my favourite, containing classic episodes that I quote and reminisce on lonely nights by the fire. But just because I love them so much doesn’t mean I never want to leave them behind. I don’t want a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 2 just because I loved the original so much, or four more seasons of Battlestar Galactica since its one of the best shows ever made. The reason these stories are so good is because they’re tight and every episode, every moment is needed. Once a show starts making filler episodes, that should be the sign to cut the cord. Don’t end on the bottom, end on top.

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