It’s painful to watch something so beloved suddenly end. When we realize the characters we adore will no longer be with us the event itself is anything if not bittersweet. No one wants to see it all wrap-up and secretly we desire the series in question to last forever if possible but the alternative is much worse. There are a myriad of examples of shows or book series that most wish ended quite a while ago. To put it bluntly, when should it all end? After all, nothing lasts forever, it’s a natural part of life, but when is the best time for the beloved to get its continuity tombstone? Surely there must be a rule of thumb for such a thing because the only thing worse than something good ending is it overstaying its welcome and then some.
Recently the announcement of the final season of The Walking Dead gummed up the expected response of half sad, half glad for the ironically named undead AMC series. People posting about how the show should have ended five seasons ago yet equal parts of fans wish for the show to continue, even the executives have remarked that the show could practically last forever. It makes perfect sense for further development and production from a monetary perspective. The studios have every right to but that’s not necessarily the issue here. The issue resides in the narrative and how it suffers ultimately when a show is dragged past its prime. That’s how these big-name series lose fans between installments or worse have fans theorize if the series was good to begin with.
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Characters are everything when it comes to what makes a show worthy among the titans of their respective eras. Walter White, Jax Teller, Rick Grimes, Dexter Morgan, Tony Soprano, and any of the vast members of the Game of Thrones pantheon: people connect with characters because they have an interesting arc or arcs to go through. These characters are enthralling because of the power couple that is good writing and performances leading to this lightning in a bottle quality. I not going to argue how it comes to pass just what the longevity of “Good” a series can produce. The shelf life of the prime of a series retaining this quality is very case by case considering how genres and production works, but it’s quite difficult to tell when a series turns sour. Regardless, that lightning, as it were, can only last so long in the proverbial bottle before it starts to dissipate.
It only takes so long before the tension in that journey starts to wane and the once-loved protagonist(s) start to lose the gusto that reeled people in. When the characters aren’t given anything particularly interesting to do they begin to become props as opposed to being a flesh and blood part of the series after that tipping point. They’re relegated to reacting to other supporting characters and actions that over time feel more distant and wart in comparison to what they were before. This makes the leads feel like extras in the background being brought to the foreground unannounced to the audience.
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The solution, if artistic integrity is the sole factor, is to recognize the beauty in finality. No fan gets peckish when they read “Series Finale” or “Cancellation” being attached to their favorite works but growing to hate something you once adored is infinitely more tragic. I’d compare it to the feeling of eating good Thai food as opposed to eating subpar Chinese food. Thai Food is very finite but the quality is unprecedented leaving you satisfied. The Chinese food, while uniquely good, can over saturate very quickly so you drudge through each bite and by that last painful slog, you’re stuck feeling as empty as you did beforehand. It’s not a matter of taste its a matter of how much you’re willing to swallow before you look for the nearest garbage can.
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