The special relationship each of us has with our favorite TV show is just that: something inexplicably unique that maybe we can’t exactly articulate or express. Not everyone is into TV and that’s OK but for us who connect with it on a passionate level it’s sometimes unwarrantedly important to us.
Let’s get something out of the way, television isn’t trash, it’s art. There are many ways to look at it in this way. The easiest is to say the most popular television shows, whether they be Duck Dynasty, The Walking Dead or The Big Bang Theory, can tell us a lot about our culture because it is a barometer for what appeals and resonates with the majority. This is the reason why I study and discuss pop culture. Its mass appeal says something about our common knowledge. There was a Black President on 24 before Obama was elected, some speculated that this portrayal got us comfortable with the idea. The portrayal of same-sex couples on television is also a factor in the nation’s shift toward acceptance. This is why representation matters. It’s why television matters. The other way to view TV as art is to examine shows on an individual basis and try to understand what they mean to achieve in storytelling. Series like The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights are considered “Greats” for that very reason.
People love television, it’s why there are so many fandoms and shippers out there. When you fall in love with a character you fall hard, when writers change that character you feel betrayed. When you hate a character, they can make your blood boil the same way any flesh and blood frenemy can. Being a viewer is a visceral practice. You’re welcoming these people into your home, welcoming their stories, their lives, their lies and mysteries.
When a television series ends you’re left with this momentary void. It’s a real one. It’s that, “Oh, man,” feeling. First you’re excited about the series finale. Depending on the show that can be infuriating or grossly dissatisfying. The kind of anger that makes you actually want to comment about it on the internet, tweet about it, Facebook your disappointment. “How could they do this to me?” I thought when watching the Lost finale. It felt cruel. It was like getting broken up with by somebody you thought was a good guy but then turned out to have a second family the whole time. It was the ultimate betrayal with no closure at all. Rarely are endings as personally satisfying as that of True Detective, Six Feet Under or Breaking Bad. Even those were still polarizing.
The only thing worse than an unsatisfying finale, is an unexpected cancellation. For me it was My So-Called Life, Dark Angel, Happy Endings, Dead Like Me and for others, Firefly, Deadwood, Pushing Daisies and Freaks and Geeks that created a fury at television networks who seemed to value quantity of viewers over quality of content. In the Darwinian ratings world some shows just cannot survive no matter how much heart they have or how well written they are. Characters are left in purgatory never to resolve their ongoing existential crisis, comedic wackiness, plot driven adventures or self-actualization. And much like them, the viewer is always left to wonder, what if?
More satisfying than a well-written ending is finally having the dead horse beaten to . . death. There is nothing more I hate about American television is when a story goes on longer than it needs to. After a certain point there isn’t that much story left to tell. We’ve all experienced that with sitcoms mostly, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, 30 Rock, all dragged things on for as long as they could until you were begging for a finale, even if it was brutally disappointing or the one it had earned. Just yesterday I found out my favorite sitcom of all time, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was renewed until its 12th season. You’d think I would be happy but no. After watching 9 seasons of the gang get into trouble, I was probably done after 5. I won’t stop watching because I love the show too much but I hate that I am going to watch my favorite funny characters become eroded and exacerbated by longevity. I’m going to have to watch them tortured by time into utter unfunniness oblivion. Then when it’s over, like a pulling out an ingrown hair, it will be painful and oh so, satisfying.
As I begin Twin Peaks to get the bitter taste of Scandal’s third season out my mouth, I go in terrified. I know it isn’t going to have a proper ending as it was cancelled in two seasons. I know it will notoriously spiral out of control into esoteric nonsense but I still go all in. Committing to a TV series it’s a gamble. It’s a gamble with your time, your emotions and your money. You make the investment and hope the returns won’t diminish. Why do so many people do it? I don’t know but it’s an adventure very single time.