Television shows should quit while they’re ahead

| Senior Cadenza Editor

There’s a sense of anticipatory dread I feel about endings. I want them to arrive, because after all the shocking and thrilling plot points, after all the twists and turns, I want to see the loose ends tied up. I want to see how the themes threaded through the work come together, and I want to see the characters I have grown to love find a fitting end. And I dread them, because once the ending comes, there will be nothing. I won’t get to tune into another episode next week, won’t look forward to the next film hitting theaters in the summer. 

Over the last decade, I have grown attached to a truly staggering number of franchises. Right now, I can only think of one that truly ended well, and another two that ended acceptably. 

I put off watching the series finale of “The Good Place” for over two weeks. I would open Netflix and look at the final episode, tempted to click ‘play’ but knowing I didn’t want to see it end. But in February of this year, I finally gave in. The finale was beautiful. It made me laugh; it made me cry. It took the character arcs and the moral themes of the show and presented them, completed, to me on a silver platter. 

The reason for this is the length of the show. “The Good Place” ran for four seasons, and before the final season began, everyone knew it would be the last. The show was allowed to run for long enough to explore the questions it had posed, and no longer. Its popularity did not save it from its end, so there was no stuffing extra seasons into the show just because a network knew it would get viewers regardless of the quality of content. The same is true of my two ‘acceptable’ shows, “Hannibal” and “Legion.” Both ran for only three seasons.

The same cannot be said of other franchises I have enjoyed. I invested seven years of my life into the X-Men franchise, movies that only continued to get worse until I began to regret having seen them. The most recent seasons of “Stranger Things” and “The End of the F*cking World” were fun, but I wish they hadn’t happened, as their very existence undermines the power of the original limited series concept. (Sue me, I liked it better when I thought James died at the end.) 

I’ve spent a lot of time in my Episodic Television class this semester being told that the ultimate goal of a television series is survival. The gaining of more and more seasons, the retention of viewers. I wish that wasn’t the goal. Shows need to end. Movie franchises need to end. We shouldn’t fear the concept of the limited series, we should embrace it; the limited series, regardless of whether it is limited to one season or three, has a clear endpoint. Keeping the show on, continuing to debut movies that exist solely to make money and not explore a new aspect of the franchise, only weakens the franchise as a whole. Sure, it makes more money in the short term. But in the long term? Before January of 2017, I rewatched “Sherlock” episodes often. I haven’t seen one since then, because what is the point when I know the series ends in a confusing, convoluted mess? I refuse to even start “Game of Thrones” because of its ending.

Currently, I am in a similar predicament with “Supernatural.” I would never claim that “Supernatural” has, in any point in its 15 years on air, been the peak of television. It was, however, something I grew deeply invested in and watched 12 seasons of a few years ago, so I wanted to see it end, which it did last Thursday night. (If you were on Twitter on the night of Nov. 5, you probably know another reason I wanted to watch the finale.) No part of the finale did what “The Good Place” did. It ignored character arcs, and indeed entire characters. I could see the show’s main theme if I squinted really hard. I am significantly less excited to catch up on the show, which I had planned to do over winter break, than I was before the finale aired. Sure, the finale had more viewers than the show had gotten in the last year and a half—but that wasn’t because of the quality of the episode.

These failures are symptomatic of a larger problem in the entertainment industry. It isn’t truly there to entertain; it exists to make money from a concept that it knows will intrigue us. A movie doesn’t have to be good to make money, only its trailer has to. A TV series doesn’t have to be good, it only has to trend on Twitter. “The Good Place” told a story, and it stopped when it was done. I’d like to see more shows and movie franchises like that. 

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