23 February, 2011

The Story That Should Have Ended

Last time, I had a short look at Lost which, despite its flaws, still is probably my favorite series of recent times (Just in case you were wondering I would say Twin Peaks and M*A*S*H from the old guard). So now I propose to take a look at the context, and why it sucks less than others. The answer to me seems pretty much straightforward: American TV shows are always a neverending story. You have a story to tell (or not even that) and after you are done you attach a new season, and a new one and a new one, just because it had the misfortune of attracting an audience (Luckily Firefly suffered no such problems, that's why it is pretty much perfect).

So, first category of stories gone bad: the ones with good intentions. They had a story to tell, they told it well, but they just couldn't stop. The most famous examples of this category would be Prison Break and Heroes. Heroes has a pretty light tagline: Save the cheerleader, save the world. It tells a story about impeding doom, while crafting a pretty good apocalyptic atmosphere, and some pretty solid character backgrounds, while leading them to a fulminating conclusion where they all meet and we find out how each of them was relevant to the story. The detonation sort of happens, the good guys sort of win, ok everything is the way it should be. So why did they have to end on what I can only call a fake cliffhanger? To milk the cash cow of course. Not that it was immediately bad. No, season 2 was pretty good, while exploring some more of the character backgrounds and telling the best story of all: Hiro's childhood hero. It also features probably the darkest ending I have seen in a TV series and it would have made an awesome season finale, but no... they had to make more. And now jumping on to the second even more relevant example: Prison Break. The whole pith of the show is that you have a genius who has a brilliant plan covering all the details and craftily disguised as a whole-body tattoo to get into jail and break out with his brother. Because of this idea that everything is planned for ahead it is the best action series I have seen and that's why it attracted such a big following. However at the end of the first season the plan is fulfilled, it is done with and the 'Prison Break' is over with. Why drag on? Again, not that it immediately seems like a bad idea, the plan seems to have been crafted for situations on the outside as well but it quickly crumbles and I had to abandon it after just a few episodes because of how worthless it had gotten. And that's just sad. I think it is way better to leave people thinking 'just a little bit more would have been perfect' than 'this should have died a long time ago'.

On to the next category. About this one I am not really sure what to say. The formula is episodic so it doesn't really feel it drags on, and it has some links between episodes but those are mainly character back-stories, or a background for the action of each episode. For this I will chose as prime example House M. D. Of course every programmer (or other profession that is paid for intellectual work, but it's just speculation to generalize) on the face of the Earth idolizes Doctor House. Because of his brilliance and competence. The personality, although not to be envied we have to admit makes for a great comedy show, and if you put that on top of a serious drama show you got a great winner. Sadly, I got tired of the formula, and the writers seemed to have lost inspiration of great jokes after the first two seasons. When you add to the mix that it pretty much had an ending with season 3 when his team leaves him, you can add it to the list of shows that should have ended. But arguably this is still good (I don't see how they could have messed it up), and watchable ad infinitum.

And we get to the final category: shows that have a story arc spanning one season. This may or may not be combined with each episode having some stand-alone story (e.g. Veronica Mars). My favorite example is America's favorite serial killer Dexter. Like House, this show can pretty much work forever because it is mainly not story driven. It is driven by a very strong lead character, and as long as the actor's performance doesn't disappoint you have a recipe for success. The question is how long should you keep going? I already feel the show's strength has been diluted over too many seasons. 1,2 and 4 were great (it's such a pity, this show comes really close to being genius, but always shys away from the last step) but the other two were pretty much useless. Especially the last one: how can you give such an unsatisfying ending to a story? Man finds the closest thing he can have to a soul-mate (and there is reciprocity) and she leaves because... ah, just no reason. I'm glad it is still going on just because it deserves a better end than this. How would it have been if it had ended after season 4? I think it would have been brilliant, the story would have come full circle and also left and open end. How can they even think they can improve on that? We'll just have to wait and see, and analyze the blood patterns.

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