Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All TV Series Must End (Warning: Yo Gabba Goes Geek)

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.

1. Wire
2. Battlestar Galactica*
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
4. The Shield
5. Veronica Mars
6. Lost
7. Dexter*/Sopranos (tie)
8. Rescue Me*
9. Deadwood*
10. Rome/Life on Mars (BBC version) (tie)

7 comments:

Restless Native said...

Full disclosure, I have only seen a couple episodes of the Wire and also a few of Rome. I watched Sopranos straight through oin DVD (remember, I was in a coma for several years). I think Dexter (seen every episode) is better than you rank it, and I have a very difficult time thinking (without, admittedly having seen it since 1981) that Battlestar Galactica can be at all good.

Aztec Tomb said...

Great post. Here's my list:

1. The Wire
2. Hill Street Blues
3. Deadwood
4. Sopranos
5. St. Elsewhere
6. Law and Order
7. Mad Men
8. Rome

And that's all I got. Law and Order is no longer great, but it has been good for so long it merits discussion. These days, I find it hard to commit to a single hour drama because of time constraints and because we don't watch television during the week (except for 30 Rock).

Buffy was way too campy for me, and it seems far to late to start watching Lost. I might find someone with the first few season on DVD and give it a try if YGG thinks its worth the investment.

EQ said...

Based on the fact that I haven't yet seen a lot on your list, I clearly have a lot of TV watching to catch up on. Since you steered me in the right direction with The Wire, I am going to take you up on most of these series (I have never seen The Shield, Rescue Me, Veronica Mars, etc.). That said, I think that you aren't giving Six Feet Under enough credit. It's been a few years and I still think about the finale from time to time.

I think you should consider whether you are harder on shows that you watch in real-time as opposed to on DVD. Having watched the first 4 seasons of The Wire on DVD and the last season in real time, I know that I got more frustrated between episodes of Season 5 than I did the other seasons, because redemption was no longer one click of the remote away but instead was a 7 day waiting period. Shortcomings are amplified when you have a week of buildup leading up to the episode and another week waiting for resolution.

I share your optimism about Life on Mars. I watched the first few episodes of the BBC series a while back and just couldn't get into it, largely because I'm not a fan of the actor who plays Sam Tyler (I thought he was the week link in "State of Play" as well, which was pretty great but ended with a bit of a dud.)

Although I recognize that it is apples and oranges comparing TV series and miniseries, but a place needs to be found for truly great miniseries like Band of Brothers, which ranks as possibly the most consistently good 11 hours of television that I've seen.

Not sure if it fits on your list as it is a bit more of a comedy, but Californication is following up a solid opening season with an even better one. Here's hoping that it doesn't devolve like other pay tv comedies like Weeds and Entourage.

EQ said...

Based on the fact that I haven't yet seen a lot on your list, I clearly have a lot of TV watching to catch up on. Since you steered me in the right direction with The Wire, I am going to take you up on most of these series (I have never seen The Shield, Rescue Me, Veronica Mars, etc.). That said, I think that you aren't giving Six Feet Under enough credit. It's been a few years and I still think about the finale from time to time.

I think you should consider whether you are harder on shows that you watch in real-time as opposed to on DVD. Having watched the first 4 seasons of The Wire on DVD and the last season in real time, I know that I got more frustrated between episodes of Season 5 than I did the other seasons, because redemption was no longer one click of the remote away but instead was a 7 day waiting period. Shortcomings are amplified when you have a week of buildup leading up to the episode and another week waiting for resolution.

I share your optimism about Life on Mars. I watched the first few episodes of the BBC series a while back and just couldn't get into it, largely because I'm not a fan of the actor who plays Sam Tyler (I thought he was the week link in "State of Play" as well, which was pretty great but ended with a bit of a dud.)

Although I recognize that it is apples and oranges comparing TV series and miniseries, but a place needs to be found for truly great miniseries like Band of Brothers, which ranks as possibly the most consistently good 11 hours of television that I've seen.

Not sure if it fits on your list as it is a bit more of a comedy, but Californication is following up a solid opening season with an even better one. Here's hoping that it doesn't devolve like other pay tv comedies like Weeds and Entourage.

Yo Gabba Gabba said...

Some follow up points:

Restless- You may be kidding, but Battlestar Galactica refers to the recent Sci-fi series which most critics claim is the best show on TV now that the Wire is done. Not even remotely like the 1980's camp classic. Absolutely brilliant reflection on a post-9/11, Iraq war plus damn good storylines.

Aztec- I loved Law and Order but haven't watched it in years. RE: my point about closure- that 'serial' admittedly has no real ongoing storylines, so it will never have a beginning or ending. Like CSI. Enjoy it but how can a show I haven't watched entire seasons of make the top 10?

Lost is probably worth the investment. Definitely better to watch on DVD than in real time.

Mad Men may make it, but I was actually a bit disappointed in Season 1 given all the hype. Just downloaded season 2, so we'll see.

EQ- your criticism is extremely valid, and I had to think that through as I wrote it. Was I so disappointed in BG's last season b/c it was week to week? I have to think that contributed to it since I ate up the first few seasons on back to back viewings. Season 1 of the Sopranos was one of the best ever; I watched it in one weekend. Some of the meandering episodes would have been far less irritating if I hit play immediately instead of waiting a week for it. I would think Sopranos suffered most from my having to wait. Veronica Mars and Rescue Me (or BG) probably benefited most from DVD watching. It makes me appreciate Buffy and Shield that much more. (Its possible Shield may have benefitted; it may have been a bit too much over the top if seen back to back- I recall being shocked by a lot that I saw on a weekly basis.)

Six Feet Under- didn't even watch most of the final season. They'd lost me by then, although I can't remember quite how. The finale was fantastic though.

To be clear- I'm pessimistic about Life On Mars in the US...I haven't given it a shot b/c I feel like I know the reveal. (Agree with you about Sam Tyler- interesting that guy got great leads in two BBC shows and didn't do much with either.)

Al Powell said...

Well-done, YGG. Good post.

IMHO, Lost is the best dramatic show ever. It's a cult show, critically acclaimed, and gets high ratings to boot. It is highly literary in nature and assumes the audience is intelligent. Now that they have set a May 2010 deadline, the crescendo should be great. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

My #2 is Edge NFL Matchup. I love watching Jaws break down game film.

VooDoo said...

Apparently I'm pathetic because I don't watch any of these shows. My limited TV viewing consists primarily of Discovery Channel shows such as Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, Man vs Wild and Survivorman, plus NFL/college football.

Although I will echo EQ's comment on Band of Brothers - maybe it's not a true TV series, but it was an awesome miniseries. Watched the whole series straight through after I got back from Iraq, maybe not the best thing to watch but seemed to help.