Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I'm Watching: Start and Stop

As the TV season comes to an end, I find myself pondering the world of beginnings and endings.  So many shows are bowing out now, winking out for the summer in hopes that people will go outside and see the sun.


Or just because the people making them need a break.  That could be it, as well.


I’ve been thinking that these write-ups are unwieldy generally, but with the TV season coming to a close, I do want to talk about what’s on and what’s back and what’s leaving, maybe forever.


So… let’s talk about what’s gone and what’s back.




A friend of mine once claimed (I can’t remember the reason we were talking about it) that every TV show, without exception, should end after five years.


Since that conversation, I’ve tried to come up with examples of shows that would prove him wrong.


And the truth is that while I can think of really excellent individual episodes that would go missing from history, I find it hard to think of full seasons that don’t fit his particular bill.


(In fact, I hate to say it, but even going past season three can brutalize shows…)


To give an example: While I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it weakened in season six and seven.  But without those seasons, we never would have gotten that musical… so maybe it’s a wash?


Community exists in a magical space, I think.  It keeps getting almost-cancelled, only to come back for another go-round.  And the fans, the true blue among them, anyway, cry out for more, in particular for six seasons and a movie.


Because… well, if you don’t know, explaining it isn’t going to help you.


And yet, as the show stumbled to the end of season five, I realized that I was pretty much okay with it ending.  The show has produced solid, wonderful, episodes the likes of which we’ve never seen on another TV show.


But it’s also produced its fair share of clunkers.  And this year, it’s started going back to its own well and offering up sequels and semi-sequels to earlier episodes. 


If they had 22 or 24 episodes to create last year, I could have understood that.  You have to fill that air time as best you can.


But they had 13 half-hours to fill.  And they didn’t even have to go on the air until the beginning of 2014.  They had time to craft, to prepare, to mold.


And what we got was mostly reheated.


I’m not going to argue that there were no bright spots.  The lie detector episode was a wonder – a demonstration of what strong writing and well-loved characters can do stuck in a room together.


But the rest of it?


I’m not sure what I can say about it.  I could tell they were working hard to get their new characters into place.  They were trying really hard to get through their character arcs and bring the show to a real resolution, since this is supposed to be the “last” season.


And in the end, I guess they more-or-less managed it.


But with such a small number of episodes, it’s become clear that there aren’t that many more stories to tell, only the same stories in slightly new ways.


If there’s another season, I’ll watch for those great episodes that will certainly appear.  But the show has gone from new and fresh to just good TV, and if it ends now, I think it will be better remembered and loved than if it ends one more season and a movie from now.


Warehouse 13:


Warehouse 13 had an interesting time of it last year.  After a few shorter seasons, last time they got 20 episodes, and I got the sense that it almost killed them.


The first half of the season was an absolute beast, raising the stakes to impossible levels that the show couldn’t possibly top.  Or so I thought.


And as it turns out, I was right.  The fate of the world was hanging in the balance at the end of episode ten, and a few episodes later that was mostly forgotten, though they tried to leave some lingering effects wandering around to keep the latter half of the season interesting.


The arc of Warehouse 13’s quality, therefore, went a bit like this:


Pleasant watchable show.

Good show that every once in a while achieves greatness.

Appointment watching.

Pleasant watchable show.


As we were going into season six, it was with the knowledge that we’re down to the last six episodes, that one character has cancer, and another just learned about a long-lost sibling.


As  a writer myself, I spent weeks pondering how they would make that all come together in six episodes, paying it off and ending the series as well as they possibly could.


And… uh…


I guess they got a little lost in there, too.


I’m guessing here, but it seems like they realized that with twelve or thirteen or twenty episodes, they could handle a lost family member and cancer.  But with six, there was no way.


So they quickly walked the cancer back to, “Hey, it’s not as bad as we thought!”


The missing sister, however… well, they’re trying.


As I type this, the season is already half-over and I get the sense that if this were another year, we’d be six episodes in and the stories we’re watching would have a stronger emotional resonance.


Instead, we’re four in and these stories just don’t have the necessary time to land.


Truthfully, I’m happy to hang out with these characters some more, and I think that’s enough for me.  We got this last season to say goodbye, and so, much like you try to spend every waking minute with your college buddies before you head off to the real world, well…


You try to enjoy every second.  Even the dull ones.


If Community excited me by bringing back its original showrunner and promising all the old joy would be back, Warehouse offered us less and, in doing so, has given us a more.  A real chance to say goodbye.


Game of Thrones:


Game has already been renewed for two more seasons, which to my mind is both wonderful and terrible. 


Wonderful because even if something goes horribly wrong, the writers can cobble together an ending.


Horrible because the end of the line is coming, in so many terrible ways.


These are the facts we’re facing.


First: It’s time we all owned up to it and admitted that George RR Martin isn’t going to finish the books on time. 


I heard a hilarious, wonderful theory that even now, George is practically done with the sixth book, and the publisher will slam it together and get it out by Christmas.


This is wrong.


George has put this off too long now.  He bought a movie theater, he cobbled together and edited anthologies, he… I mean really, he did everything BUT write the books that turned him into a household name, and now it has come to bite him, and there’s nothing he can do.


The series cannot vamp.  There can be no prequel years.  The kids are aging out of their characters all too quickly, and this is TV, where if people don’t have contracts they leave shows and don’t come back.


Actors have to eat, after all.


No. We are going to get the TV ending, and then if Martin lives another ten years, which he probably won’t, we’ll get another book out of him.  Maybe even finish the series. But I’d be shocked if that happens.


Which brings me to –


Problem the Second: We’re about to get into the “bad” books.


I have known fans of the series, and super-fans of the series, and I have yet to meet even one who really enjoyed the fourth book of the series.  I have found some that liked five.


There are a lot of words in those books, but not much in the way of forward motion.  And so they will be slashed and shortened and condensed and if the TV writers are smart, we’ll get two good seasons out of those books instead of three or four dull ones.


Those two seasons are important, because…


Third Issue: If things fall apart, we’ll never get ANY kind of resolution.


Thrones is doing well for HBO, but let us be honest – it is also the most expensive show on television, and even more dangerously, it is a channel that has been known to cut its losses in the past.


So if these next two seasons are boring, and everyone knows there isn’t a real ending, just whatever the creators can cobble together from George’s notes, well…


Suffice to say, things might get extremely rough in a hurry.


That’s my fear, really.  Two mediocre seasons the ratings go down, the budget gets cut, and the final two books of material are crammed into ten episodes, with an ending put together by new showrunners brought in when the old ones ran for the hills, claiming they didn’t have enough time to finish the story to their liking.


Which maybe ties back to that five seasons thing I started talking about.




The new season of Thrones is great.  There are parts people don’t like, discussions about screwing up characters, but it is an amazing show with a huge budget and it’s doubtful that something so impressive, expensive, and immersive ever gets made again.


More to the point, if this boat crashes and burns, welp, why would anyone put the money again?


They won’t.


And so I sit, and I enjoy this season, and I think about what is to come, and I cringe.


Though maybe if that Christmas thing is true…

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