Thursday, October 27, 2011

Knowing when to say goodbye (Chuck and the Simpsons)

On the latest Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast, critics Ryan McGee and Mo Ryan discussed the final season of Chuck (which starts Friday night). Both are fans of the show, and were on the one hand pleased to get a fifth season (they'd seen screeners for the first three episodes at time of recording), there was still that extent to which everyone was surprised that NBC had renewed the show at all.

The ratings have never been great, and it's only through fan outpouring that it lasted as long as four seasons. Given the way the fourth season concluded, with resolutions for the major character situations, it seemed pretty clear that the producers figured they needed to wrap it up; there was little interpreting that they expected a fifth season. And as such, the show did a good job of wrapping it up.

Let them go, Chuck fans.
Ryan mentioned how fans have already asked if there was any chance that NBC might extend the season from the 13 episodes that were ordered. At that, McGee admitted he hoped that didn't happen; conceivably the writers came up with an outline for where to take the season, knowing that they had 13 shows and a definite ending, and to reconfigure that to come up with another ending or to pad out the middle ultimately might not be what was best for the show. As he put it, at some point the desire for more episodes (while understandable) becomes merely selfish.

I have long held the opinion that I'd rather see a well done story with a satisfying ending, where the creators tell the story and then get out. I grant that if a network is willing to dump a pile of money at you to keep going with the show even after you'd told that story then there's little begrudging a creator from taking it. There's always the possibility that another good idea might come up. However, and I concede this is overly idealistic, there's still that part of me that wishes the creator would have the good idea first and then take the pile of money for it. That's not how the system works, but a guy can dream.

The one unarguable thing, in my mind, is that a show that drags on longer than the creators have good ideas only serves to denigrate the time when the show was strong. I think every show has an expiration date, and the wise ones grasp when that is and wrap up the story before passing that point. Those shows that don't heed it then require talking about them with an asterisk; referencing them as "good" involves the tacit caveat that one is dismissing the latter part where the inspiration wasn't as strong. It doesn't have to involve "jumping the shark" (as in where the writers clearly have hit rock bottom, idea-wise) but merely that discernible lowering of the quality of inspiration, episode after episode, for the whole season.

Not that I'm saying this completely applies, but I can't help but think of The SimpsonsI still consider myself very much a Simpsons fan, and have seen every single episode since they started, and will keep watching every week as long as they keep airing. It's not that I have grown to dislike the show; there's still some element of genuine enjoyment I derive from it.

But if I'm completely honest, there's a part of me that wishes it wouldn't come back, that when Fox announces their fall lineup that it won't be there anymore; its heyday passed several years ago. (I haven't done an analysis to say when that precisely occurred, nor do I find myself inclined to deconstruct it thusly; it's merely that general sense of how long it's been since I watched a new episode and was left with the impression it was a really strong one (I may draw caveats for the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, the latest of which premieres this Sunday).
As a person who cares about the show, I find myself not wanting it to carry on to the point where watching becomes a chore, done out of a sense of completist obligation only. I don't think it's going to have a renaissance—no offense to the current creative staff—and I'd prefer they figure out how they'd like the series to go out, and have that finale on their terms.

They can keep making movies every few years, and I think continuing the "Treehouse of Horror" ones as a special each Halloween would be great, but as a weekly series I would prefer they stop sooner than later; they're already the longest-running comedy and animated show, so there's not really records left to break.

Fox will keep renewing it as long as it's profitable, and when it's not they'll pull the plug without remorse. I'm sure there's more to it from a legal standpoint, but I'm not an attorney or accountant for Matt Groening; I'm a fan, and that's the perspective I have on it. I'm not suggesting I expect any of this will happen, but I can still hope.

Eventually I'm sure this may work itself out, as the era of broadcast networks merges into the era of DVR viewing and TV mingling with the internet as the delivery method. The notion of a fall season with a 22-episode commitment may become archaic to future generations. It's already becoming common for networks to have midseason replacements of limited runs, and perhaps someday what's the sort of BBC model of short-but-inspired seasons that come up when the creators have them ready may become a standard. That also might allow networks to allow shows to finish their runs without panicking and pulling the plug after initial sluggish ratings, as it won't be long until they can replace it with some crappy reality show that pulls in a reliable viewership for a while.

But whatever the future holds, that won't change my preference for a show I like to find its high note to go out on… and for the creators to have the brains and integrity to go out on it.

(Silly idealism. Where did I get this? Clearly not from watching TV.)

But let's start a trend now, Chuck producers, and don't do it, no matter what NBC may offer. Take your 13 more episodes and ride off into your sunset. Don't pass the intersect on to Lester (or Jay Leno, as they may suggest), no matter how big the pile of money, no matter how the fans may petition you (or offer to buy more Subway sandwiches). Just go.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you on both those shows. I loved them both, but they both got stale. It's time to let them go. "Chuck" just got annoying. I love all the 80s references and 80s actors, but the show overall was just a little too silly for me. I quit watching "The Simpsons" back in the 90s. I like the Treehouse of Horror series, especially the first one. But I just don't care about the show.


So, what do you think?