Saturday, May 21, 2016

Guest Post: Jeanne on "The Long, Long Road to Conclusion—or Not"

We have a Saturday treat as Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Library is back today with a guest post regarding the ending of a series…..

The Long, Long Road to Conclusion—or Not

Kevin has been kind enough to indulge me in some rambling thoughts on subjects.  These are things I usually think out when I’m out on my walks as a way of distracting myself from thinking about how much I don’t want to be out walking. This time I was considering television instead of books because of a current thread on the mystery listserv DorothyL.

The recent cancellation of the ABC series “Castle” has sparked a number of posts.  While viewers are divided as to whether they’ll miss the show or not, one thing seems to hold true for all:  no one will miss the Locksat storyline.  This is part of the multi-season story arc about Kate’s investigation into her mother’s murder, which of course had to turn into an entire conspiracy with global implications. When the show began, it was a charming mystery-romance with single episode stories. I could miss a week or two and still be entertained.  As the series progressed, more time seemed to be devoted to the twists and turns of this subplot and less to what drew me to the series in the first place.  I found myself totally bewildered by some episodes which didn’t do anything to encourage me to watch next week.

This made me consider other long-running TV shows and their story arcs.  I was a fan of “The X-Files” for several years.  I really enjoyed the creepy episodes which more or less resolved the mystery but left a hint of something unknowable, some loose end.  Unfortunately, what started out as one conspiracy seemed to grow more heads than a hydra and branch off in different directions.  How many different solutions were we given for Samantha Mulder’s disappearance?  How many pseudo-resolutions were we given for the grand conspiracy of aliens? If you missed a few episodes, the show became nearly impossible to follow.  I finally gave up.

I see the same thing happening with “Grimm.”  In the beginning the episodes were self-contained: a new wesen would appear and our heroes would struggle to identify it, then decide how to handle the creature.  Now many of the storylines center on the various wesen Royal Families who are trying to seize power or else on the Black Claw movement which aims to do something or other.  I’ve lost interest, sad to say. I still watch for the occasional standalone episode but for me the show sags under the weight of the continuing storylines that seemingly never end. Ironically, I loved the folkloric aspects that the earlier episodes featured, drawing creatures from many cultures; but this artificial mythology just bores me.

A show that I thought handled things well was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Between standalone episodes, there was a season-long fight with a Big Bad, which gave regular viewers a nice story arc to follow but that arc did indeed conclude.  It didn’t drag out for years.  “Buffy” also did a wonderful job of letting its characters change and grow, of introducing new creatures and concepts, but it didn’t continually tease viewers with promises of endings that weren’t real endings. 

Of course, the perfect ending was “The Fugitive” with David Janssen.  For those too young to remember any version except the movie with Harrison Ford, this weekly series had Dr. Richard Kimble traveling from town to town in search of the one armed man who murdered his wife. For quite some time, “Fugitive” held the record for most watched TV episode when, at the end of its four year run, Dr. Kimble actually found the one armed man and was exonerated.

Which brings me to a related question.  While story arcs can draw fans to a series, keeping them on the edge of their seats week after week, they can also turn viewers off.  Fans may not like a particular direction the arc is taking, and people who aren’t fans can’t follow the story line because they don’t have enough background.  I’ve wondered if such things can play a role in syndication. Do long story arcs make a series less desirable?  Series such as “Perry Mason,” “Murder She Wrote,” and “Matlock” which are staples of syndication.  Is it because they’re casual viewer friendly, with self-contained episodes? Or it is because these series had particularly good mystery plots that have stood the test of time?

What do others think?


C. T. Collier said...

I enjoyed those long-ago series like Checkmate and Perry Mason because they were self-contained episodes with some continuing elements, multiple high-quality writers, and variety of theme and setting. Very interesting post, Jeanne!

BPL Ref said...

Thank you! I'm afraid that some series are too enamoured of character and forget that a reasonable plot is crucial. Some are more interested in creating angst for the characters no matter how far fetched. High quality writers are a must. They make the shows stand the test of time. Again, thank you for taking the time to comment! Jeanne