I had a rough day yesterday, TV wise. I finished off the last episode of Veronica Mars at the gym in the morning. This turned out to be a fantastic show that critics absolutely loved but went the way of Arrested Development, etc. (Except I can’t complain because I never watched it when it was initially on TV either.) I strongly recommend this series.
Then I watched the series finale of the Shield- absolutely amazing. Talk about staying true to the characters, theme, and entire premise of the show. The Wire is the best show of all time because it was true to life and true to the characters, but the Shield really vaulted itself up the list into the coveted YGG top 10 with that finale. It was like the creators knew from episode 1 where this would end. I recall the heinous act our protagonist Vic Mackey commits in episode 1 and thinking, this show has to be a mini-series because it can’t go on. Instead, it carried this story through, and the consequences of this act hit home hard in the finale. The show had a few lurches and a digressions, but overall, there was a strong central arc. I loved this show, especially because of the ending.
IMHO, the importance of a perfect ending to a show’s legacy cannot be understated. Sopranos was a top 10 show, but it meandered too long and then told the viewers to fuck off for complaining and as punishment, wouldn’t even end the show . Artistic? perhaps. Good? Hell, no. Battlestar Galactica may make it; the first two seasons clearly merit classic status, but the ending so far is spotty. Here’s hoping for a good conclusion. Ditto with Deadwood. Six Feet Under was pretty weak by the end, but its ending was very strong, vaulting it into the top 25.
Even worse than a bad ending is the lack of an ending. All shows end (except ER, apparently, or maybe it did, I don’t know), but if you don’t know where it is going to end, the show will eventually suck (see, ER). Lost was heading down this path and the creators wisely gave an ultimatum to the network and said, we need a date certain to tie this up, and the network agreed. Lost is back on track. We’ll see how they end it, but chances are it will finish in the much coveted YGG top 10. Heroes had an outside shot after season 1, but they got so greedy to spin off series and characters, that it is now comically bad (pun intended). Clearly, to be a great TV show, you need an ending in sight and you need the entire series to move toward that ending, maybe not directly, but in some manner. Sticking with the comic theme, it’s the difference between Watchmen and Spiderman. One is a classic that sticks with you, the other is popular and may have some neat storylines between the 800 comics and 20 movies and TV shows, but it is not a classic.
Moral of the story is to have an ending in sight and aim the entire series toward it. Otherwise, the cracks will eventually show. The BBC caught onto this pretty early on, and now the US viewers (if not the networks) are following suit. BBC’s Life on Mars was a pretty good show with an absolutely amazing ending- goes to top 10. Had that show dragged on for three extra seasons and then ended like that, it would have been miserable. (Tellingly, that is probably what the US network hopes to do with its remake.)
Tying up the Veronica Mars reference with a slight digression, there is apparently a huge fandom out there crying for a movie, and it may happen. Season 3 ended without the creators not knowing if there would be a season 4, but it also ended pretty damn well. The show was about “noir in high school” (and then college in season 3), and the ending was pure noir. I’d like to give the creators a shot at tying everything up neatly, but given the themes and character, I’m not sure it didn’t end pretty damn well. (Firefly is a good analogy, it was a very good show, but its lack of conclusion due to early cancellation hurt it. The movie tied up a lot of loose ends.) I'm not a big fan of ending a show with a movie. X-Files was pretty weak (although I wasn't a big fan of the show either. I'll give Sex and the City some props for doing what it did, but again, not a big fan of the show or movie.)
Without further ado, the YGG Top 10 One Hour Dramas…obviously slanted to modern TV because TV is simply better today. Also subject to revision since I’m doing this off the top of my head while at work. Asterisks mean the series has not ended, and thus, could move up or down.
2. Battlestar Galactica*
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
4. The Shield
5. Veronica Mars
7. Dexter*/Sopranos (tie)
8. Rescue Me*
10. Rome/Life on Mars (BBC version) (tie)