Monday, August 26, 2019

"Now what do we do?"

Here’s what I sort of noticed – when a TV series or limited TV series starts with a high concept premise and becomes successful, the series generally seems to wander in subsequent years.

To some degree that was LOST, although they did manage some pretty inventive future storylines (which they weren’t able to successfully resolve). But for me it was really apparent on the 2004 Fox series, PRISON BREAK. The first season was great. They broke out of prison. Season two all the convicts were just running around. In later seasons they constructed other prisons for them to escape from, but the shark had long since been jumped.

Series that are imported and Americanized often have this problem because usually the original series has a finite number of episodes and an ending. But here we have to keep the show going. A good example might be HOMELAND. Their first season was GREAT. But once the “Brody” issue was resolved then came “Now what do we do?

IN TREATMENT is another example. Season one followed the lead of the original Israeli series. In season two they were on their own and it looked it.

DEAD TO ME was renewed recently for a second season.  Everything was resolved and in fact the Judy character should go to prison.  Let's see how they wiggle out of that.  

Was MAD MEN ever as good as its first season? And even though the series remained excellent, I’d still put season one of THE SOPRANOS above all the others.

DEXTER had the serial killer of the season and other than the first and whatever season John Lithgow was on, the show never recaptured the magic.

At this point, I should say there are exceptions. For me the best one is BREAKING BAD. That series just got better and more compelling.

But for every BREAKING BAD there were five ORPHAN BLACK’s. I sooooo loved the first season of that series and by the end didn’t give a shit about anything. “Now let’s try this… now let’s try that… now let’s try something else.” The seams were definitely showing.

I can come up with other examples and I’m sure you will come up with even more.

But the latest example is KILLING EVE. The first season Sandra Oh is trying to stop a fascinating lady assassin/psychopath. They eventually confront each other, big shocking twist at the end, and it’s on to season two. And although there were some wonderful scenes and moments in the second season, here the producers had to concoct reasons to put them together; the storyline went from implausible to slightly insane. And ended with the now-obligatory shocking ending. I can almost bet the writers are sitting around right now saying, “Now what?”

It’s the Faustian contract you sign when you do high concept series. They’re not meant to be dragged-out for five seasons. So often season two becomes a whole different show. The TV version of “a sequel.” Which is fine except it’s rarely as good as the original show. You can’t beat Tony Soprano’s mother putting a hit out on him, or Dexter learning the “Ice Truck Killer” is really his brother.

I just hope that if there’s a season five of KILLING EVE, Sandra & the assassin are not running a dress shop together in Soho.


alkali said...

I generally agree although I thought the following seasons of In Treatment worked very well, particularly John Mahoney, Hope Davis, and Allison Pill role in season 2 and Irrfan Khan and Dane DeHaan in Season 3. De gustibus.

Steve said...

Mr. Robot is a prime example. First season was killer. Subsequent seasons, not so much.

Paul V. said...

Mad Men should have ended the moment that Don told Betty that his real name was Dick Whitman. The entire show was about his secret life. Once that secret was out, the dramatic tension was gone.

Sopranos was never the same after Nancy Marchand died. Without Tony's mother in the mix, the show just wasn't the same. It became this thing where every season they had to import a new nemesis for Tony.

I loved every season of Orphan Black, if for nothing else than Tatiana Maslany's performance.

Funny enough (no pun intended), Danny McBride seems to get this better than others. Vice Principals lasted two seasons, and was brilliant.

Another example is The Leftovers. I think it's the best show I've ever seen, and they smartly ended it after three seasons. They told their story, and got out of Dodge.

Doug in Dallas said...

The Man in the High Castle similarly seemed to run out of steam in the second season.

Andrew said...

I know you're focusing on TV shows, but to me The Last Jedi fits into this category. "Now what?" indeed. How many people are excited for the next Star Wars movie to come out?

I agree 100% about Breaking Bad. I have never been so completely mesmerized by a TV series. The tension was unrelenting.

Lemuel said...

That's rather the situation AMERICAN GODS is in. The first season was fantastic, then Bryqn Fuller, Gillian Anderson and Kristen Chenoweth quit, and the second season really wandered.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'd put SEX AND THE CITY in this category too - once it ran out of Candace Bushnell's original, cynical material, the show became far less interesting (at least to me).

One thing British TV does well - partly, again, because series tend to be the creation of just one or two writers - is know when to quit. I remember seeing Jennifer Saunders interviewed on Letterman years ago, and he kept needling her about why they weren't making any more of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. She kept saying no, we weren't cancelled, we're just not going to do it any more because we're finished with it. (Eventually, they did make more, and it was terrible...)

The latest example is Phoebe Waller-Bridge's FLEABAG - which you *should* see, if you haven't; it's a fascinating piece of British comedy that began as a one-person stage play and has become a 12-episode two-season TV series; Waller-Bridge, who was one of the founders of an audience-focused experimental theater group called DryWrite, could be equally successful as actor or writer). A lot of people liked FLEABAG's second season better than its first...and I'm sure she could get a third season commissioned, but Waller-Bridge has made plain that she thinks the story is now fully told, and that's it.


Peter said...

Not watched Killing Eve yet, so had to skip that paragraph.

Homeland's Brody story arc started out as compelling, then jumped the shark by going into the realms of fantasy. A soldier betrays his country, the CIA agent assigned to monitor him falls in love with him, he's eventually arrested, but then instead of being prosecuted, the CIA train him to work for them by going undercover as a jihadist sympathetic to Iran, he manages to secure a meeting with a top Iranian government official who never meets ordinary members of the public let alone an American, he kills the official and is captured by the Iranians and executed in public, broadcast live on TV.

They might as well have had a cameo by Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury.

Jim S said...

You make a compelling point. Stephen J. Cannell solved that problem more than 30 years ago with the show "Wiseguy."

For the history of TV, the villain was caught in one episode. That's just the way it was. Michale Mann then created the show "Crime Story." It had a squad of cops chasing a crew of villains from Chicago. It was cancelled after two seasons. The problem was that the crooks getting away went from tension-inducing to making the cops look lame.

The genius of "Wiseguy" was that Cannell created arcs. In season 1, there were two villains. Sonny Steelgrave of Atlantic City and Mel and Susan Profit. Each arc had a beginning middle and end.

Of course this solution created its own problems. One was creating villains dynamic as Ray Sharkey and Kevin Spacey. Two, was how was the protagonist going to always bust crime rings and not be outed as a cop? (They worked hard to keep coming up with ways to make that a reality).

But the show gave us Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Jonathan Banks, Michael Chiklis, among others.

Now that formula is standard, but in the 1980s, it was radical. One thing the producers remembered was that this was a TV show. There was going to be a "next" so they were careful to not write themselves into a corner. There was no "that's next season's guys' problems."

So there are solutions to high concept, but the producers really do have to have a plan. And none of that "we'll explain this next year" nonsense. Everything in "Wiseguy" was made clear in the arc. They might have picked up threads leftover from an arc a couple of years later, but they did make sure that the main story points, the ones that really mattered, were taken care of.

Dave Creek said...

To me, this is one of the problems of serialized shows. It's like commissioning an author to write a novel, but not indicating how long it has to be -- 200 pages, no, 350, no, 700! There's no way to impose an overall structure upon the continuing storyline. And when the ending is messed up (LOST, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, many others) the entire show becomes a lesser thing.

As an aside, THE SHIELD, I think maintained quality throughout, and had one of the best endings ever. Very much the exception, though.

Roseann said...

Orange is the New Black was like that for me - I was over it after the first season.
The British know how to do a limited series. Six episodes and done.
We should learn.

John H said...

Friday question. Did THE TORTELLI'S lack of success have a positive or negative effect on FRASIER getting green lit?

Daniel said...

I think the American model for television (ongoing, open-ended), while good for the creative team (long-term, ongoing employment), isn't good from a narrative perspective. Serialized narratives work best when they have a clear beginning, middle, and end. And the shorter, the better. Too many series today (particularly streaming shows) feel very, very padded, with the middle episodes feeling like they're just marking time in order to fulfill a pre-determined number of episodes. Series should be as long as the narrative needs them to be and no longer (I'm of the opinion that Game of Thrones (which I liked) would have been better if it were a third of the length that it was).

Ted said...

"Lost" was disappointing because it had so much potential at the beginning, but viewers eventually realized that the writers had little idea of how to resolve the mysteries they set up early on -- and when they did, the solutions were seldom as interesting or entertaining as expected. Still, that show was always worth watching, and had flashes of brilliance all the way through. Then there were quite a few successors that followed a similar sci-fi/fantasy formula -- but not only weren't they as well done, the producers had to deal with the fact that their series might be canceled at the end of any season (or even in midseason). As a result, it was hard to carry out long-term story arcs or to know when the main mysteries should be resolved. When some were canceled after just one or two seasons, many of us decided that these sorts of shows weren't worth getting invested into in the first place.

blinky said...

Great post! Also add The Affair and Twin Peaks.
How about the award for worst series ending? My vote for number one is Dexter. He becomes a lumberjack?!?!
GoT is a close second for me.

Jeff Weimer said...

@Dave Creek - The Shield did tend to wander in the two seasons before the last. How many different ways, with so many different people on the crusade, could Vic Mackey (and his guys) continue to get away with it?

But once they decided that *this time* he wouldn't, it took off like a rocket.

Ted said...

P.S. to my comment above: This is exactly the kind of series that was spoofed on the recent half-hour comedy "What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage." It was a unique satire of live after-shows like "The Talking Dead," and featured clips from "The Flare" -- a fake sci-fi mystery show with a cliffhanger at the end of each episode, which had fervent fans but never exactly made sense.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Having never seen an of the above mentioned shows (except for "Breaking Bad") I really can't comment. However, I do see your point. The flipside of resolving a plotline too soon is taking way too long to resolve it. "The Good Wife" is an example of that. I felt that there was a lot of filler and/or extraneous diversions written in to keep from resolving the scandal too early.
I gave up on that show because I didn't connect with it enough to stick with it until the end.
It's kind of a cliche, but it seems as if the creators have set themselves up to fail.
I enjoyed "24." But, the problem with that series was that it just started repeating itself in the later seasons.

Here's one possible solution. Go back to the format of the "NBC Mystery Movie" from the 70's. "Columbo," "McMillan & Wife" and "McCloud" (I can't remember if there was a forth show) only ran once a month because they shared the same time slot. This gave them the unique opportunity, at the time, to be a regular series without having to produce a new show every week. Obviously, "Columbo" broke out and eventually became a stand alone series. Or they could do say three or four shows in one season. i.e. a six to ten episode run. That would also give those involved a chance to evaluate the feasibility of extending the series.
A format like that may not work today, It it might solve some of those problems.

Frank Beans said...

This might be the virtual definition of a great show: Growing beyond the trap of being stuck in the original premise. In their early seasons, all shows tend to serve the premise while introducing characters to their audience. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to room to grow if you want to keep it going beyond that. Shows with good writing and acting can do that if they're especially good (and lucky)(MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER). Mediocre shows just run out of ideas and repeat themselves or become total celebrity circuses, i.e., most other sitcoms.

On the other hand, as you indicated, there are some shows that just only need to be miniseries, because they've said what they have to say in a dozen or so episodes. I think of FRANK'S PLACE from 1987-88, a somewhat obscure but brilliant comedy vignette, single camera with no laugh track. It only lasted one season. But that was really all it needed.

I wish American television could emulate some of the better tendencies of BBC and other networks. We could desperately use some variety.

Frank Beans said...

I'll follow up by saying that I'm not naive, I know that network television runs on ratings, ad revenue, and the calculation of celebrity Q factors. I can't change that. But can't we acknowledge that this American system is severely fucked up by design on every level, all the way up to corporations and the White House.

Yeesh, you'd think we could have collectively learn something by now.

Ralph C. said...

Years ago CBS had a mini-series, or maybe a maxi-series, called Harper’s Island that was really good. 13 episodes it ran for.

Scottmc said...

I agree with Paul V. with regard to The Sopranos. Nancy Marchand's death robbed the show of one of its pillars. Each subsequent season was greeted by my friends and co-workers with an excitement which I was never able to share.

Unknown said...

I disagree about the Sopranos in that it isn’t high concept. It is an excellent series about a second rate mob family. It broke several taboos about TV series, but there are scores of stories you can write about a mob family. The problem you are talking about is what do you do when the premise of a show has to change because the primary story has been resolved.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ken,

Showtime does the with ALL THEIR SHOWS! Drags them out for years.
But I want to get to the Sopranos. (Full Disclosure: I'm a middle aged Italian man living in New Jersey so . . . )
I've said for years that the first season is by far & away the best one. Why? Nancy Marchand died. She was the show in S1.
If you look back, it's almost a black comedy that entire first year. It was never the same after that. I still remember reading a review in the NY Daily News about S4: Carmela developed crush on Furio and Tony fell in love with a horse.

Buttermilk Sky said...

You're thinking of TWIN PEAKS, right? Did we ever find out who killed Laura Palmer? Who cares?

Green Luthor said...

One interesting exception was the science fiction show Babylon 5. Creator J. Michael Straczynski plotted out a five-year plan for the show before it was even greenlit. And included in his plans were "escape hatches" in case unexpected complications arose. (Such as the main character having to leave after the first season due to the actor's health issues.) There's some spots where you can see things were kind of duct taped together, but, all-in-all, the story kept itself together really, really well. (Especially given that it was a syndicated scifi series in the 90s.)

(The biggest complication came when the production company was shutting down after four seasons. Storylines in season four got compressed so the resolution of a major plot line could get squeezed into that season instead of early in season five, and the final episode (an epilogue wrapped everything up set 20 years after the series) was filmed. Then TBS picked them up for that fifth season, so the final episode was rescheduled for the end of season five, and the remaining intended storylines for season five got made, although the last season wound up feeling somewhat padded as a result. Still, with the choice between a less-than-perfect season five or no season five at all...)

A high-concept show that knew, right from the beginning, where they wanted to show to end up, and what was really going on in all the plotlines? Novel concept.

(Then TBS ordered a sequel series, Crusade, with a new five-year plot featuring new characters, locations, and situations. Then... the network notes. The really, really awful ideas the network wanted added, including changing the uniforms halfway through the season, and moving episodes into a completely different order. It was a complete mess, and TBS cancelled it before they even aired the first episode. Good thing a lesson was learned and network notes never derailed and ruined a good concept ever again...)

Swinefever said...


Reversals seem to be meat and drink to second season TV shows.
Given that season 1 ended with us wondering if Viallanelle was dead, it was absolutely nailed on that we'd get the reverse in season 2 and be left wondering if Eve is dead.
Season 3 is practically nailed on that we're left wondering if anyone is still alive...

MikeN said...

I enjoyed Prison Break season 2 far more than the first season, where they were just creating obstacles out of nowhere- 'I never sleep!'

The writers of the show say on the DVD, 'The name of the show isn't Prison Stay, it's Prison Break'.

It was at Season 3 where it really fell apart.
They actually did a renewal recently that made even less sense.

Homeland had this problem in a big way, and the last season was written with the idea of a woman president being opposed by Alex Jones, but ended up as the CIA manufacturing a case against the sitting president.

LOST tried to show in the last season that they were planning all along by showing a flashback to Adam and Eve, but if they really wanted to convince us they should have taken a page from Babylon 5, the original long story arc show that inspired the others.

Here's all it had to do. In the first episode, it looks pretty much the same, with one passenger watching the others in one part. We think nothing of it as we are watching, but only later when watching a rerun on DVD, do we realize that that's not a passenger, it's Jacob.
Babylon 5 cleverly had a jaw dropping spoiler like this in its first episode, that doesn't get paid off for several seasons.

Breadbaker said...

A few random thoughts.

Blackadder is a great example of how you take your shot and that's it. Four series set in widely disparate time periods, each of which brings with it the baggage of English history so you don't have to explain too much, and you kill everyone off in the last episode. The movie they made for the Millennium Dome was awful and there's talk of another series which scares me (Rowan Atkinson is my age and didn't look too spry in the last Johnny English sequel).

Another one, which I'm sure fewer of you watched, was Srugim (Hebrew for woven, which invoked the kippot worn by modern Orthodox men), an Israeli show that followed young modern Orthodox in Jerusalem. After three seasons, they just killed the show, saying they had said what they wanted to say.

I will say that Mad Men had one thing going for it in terms of making it fresh as it went along; it was "about" the Sixties, so you could see the transformations in clothing, music, attitudes towards women and African-Americans, rebellions of the young, etc., as it went along. I found some of the later episodes brilliant because of this (I'm Bobby's age), but I think there were bits that Matthew Weiner didn't get right and, as someone else pointed out, not knowing exactly how many episodes you get (in his case, being pressured to stretch) can hurt the arcs. I still don't understand how you give the series a character from Montreal in 1967 and never do a damn thing with Expo.

Robert Brauer said...

I would add 13 Reasons Why from Netflix to this list. The first season adapted the novel that the show was based on fully, and was terrific. The second season (entirely original) was INTERMINABLE! Every episode was at least 15 minutes longer than it needed to be. Absolutely soured me on the show.

Joyce Melton said...

Let's think of another scripted medium: comics. Comics have this problem, too, but with a difference. Comics are, at their best, character-driven stories. Not really concept-driven.

Take Superman, the concept is 81 years old (or older), and they are still writing stories about the guy? It's not the concept of the all-powerful alien driving the stories, it's exploration of the character of the man. Plot-driven arcs exist but are never paramount. What was the chief comics fan's complaint about Man of Steel? Superman would never kill someone or let someone die when he could save them.

Part of it is that comics, being relatively cheap, have a higher tolerance for mediocrity than can a medium like television which involves hundreds of people and millions of dollars in production. Comics cost a few thousand to produce and a dozen or so people involved. Makes it possible to jump a lot of sharks and keep going. :)

John Hammes said...

"Dark Shadows" is still a unique, even extreme example of "now what do we do?" broadcast television. Extreme, in that this was a daily soap opera, on air five times a week. No breaks, no reruns, no television "season" to speak of, once it was off and continuously running year 'round, there was no stopping. Certainly a testament to the resiliency of human creativity and the human spirit, if nothing else. Overworked writers, directors, actors kept this show going daily over a five year period, under constant deadline pressure, over and over asking "now what do we do?" as storylines ebbed and flowed. Dedicated as cast and crew were to love of their profession, this very unusual broadcast production must have seemed at the least a little masochistic here and there.

If these hardworking, dedicated people left any kind of example, it would probably be that the human spirit, creativity, imagination, should never be dismissed. Amazing what people can do, when something absolutely has to be done.

And, another example these people would be happy to provide: with today's advances in technology, don't EVER allow oneself to even THINK of going through such a pressure cooker broadcasting schedule, ever, ever, again.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you, Ken. I can't wait to see what they do with season 2 of "Chernobyl".

Jeff Boice said...

I'm reminded of "The Prisoner"- and our reaction to the final episode when it originally aired on CBS back in 1968 (as the summer replacement for Jackie Gleason!) which was to shrug our shoulders and go "That's it? Well, gee I guess he escaped"... I remember letters in TV Guide wanting to know why CBS cancelled such a good show- the idea of a TV series being designed to run for only a handful of episodes was so bizarre.
I saw that Patrick McGoohan interview on Youtube where he says he envisioned the Prisoner running for 7 episodes, but CBS asked for 26 shows (and without CBS's money there was no show). They compromised on 17, which McGoohan thought was stretching things.

kitano0 said...

A great article. Agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of "Homeland". I thought the first season was one of the best things I ever saw. I didn't get past the first episode of the second season, though. It turned into WTFTV pretty fast.

I also agree with Green Luthor about Babylon 5...a great show that just kept getting better, well, until the last few episodes.

Pumpkin said...

I must have the opposite opinion to most of America, the Brody arc never made much sense to me, because it was trying to fit a story about sympathy for Palestinian groups onto Al Qaeda - which never really seemed to work. They're just too wholly unsympathetic to think that Brody could turn.

Season 4 of Homeland (Carrie as a station chief in Pakistan) is a different show entirely, but seemed to work a lot better than seasons 1-3 for me.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

What you said about "Frank's Place" applies as well to "The Slap Maxwell Story," an excellent single-camera, no laugh track Dabney Coleman vehicle that also aired during the 1987-88 season.

MikeN said...

Green Luthor, I heard at the time that the writer all along planned to switch out the main actor after the first season. However, it was not part of the plan, and the story changed in a major way. Three was originally supposed to be two. In the original plan, The one who was is the same as the one who will be. It would have required War Without End to be later in the series, presumably penultimate episode, but everything else matches up. Just look at the similarities of profile. The wife/fiance goes on a similar mission as the new guy's wife did some time in the past.

Hogne B. Pettersen said...

Stranger Things. First season was beautiful, exciting and kinda original, apart from being an homage to 80s movies of the same ilk. It was absolutely no reason to continue the show after this. But like the "horror" movies of the 80s that they are mimicking, they just don't know when to stop.

And yeah, 13 Reasons Why, as mentioned above, is another example. The story was told in the first season. Finished. NEXT!

Which brings up something I will hereby post as a Friday Question: What do you think about authors/directors/creators/writers that just can't leave their franchise alone? Take Rowlings, the author of Harry Potter. She keeps on posting new stuff that she claims is canon inside the HP universe, but which we saw no hint of in the books ie: Dumbledore is gay and such stuff. Have you ever been asked something about Frasier that wasn't really touched upon in the show, and then sold it as being in universe (canon)? Why can't the creators just let go? Another example is George Lucas, but let's not go there...

Barry Traylor said...

LOST is the program that really annoyed me. After sticking with it for 6 seasons they came up with the lamest ending.

Unknown said...

BBC's The Office was 13 episodes of brilliance. The shameless money-grab US version was so far below it in quality. But they did trump it in quantity.

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel had an excellent first season. Season 2 practically oozed self-awareness that I could not stand to watch it any longer.

Tammy said...

As the resident Israeli, a few notes on Homeland. I agree the first season was the best by far, but it's not because they stopped following the Israeli original, as they never really followed it to begin with. Other than the basic premise, it was a completely different show. I've noticed this is what Hollywood usually does when adapting Israeli series (and other foreign series, I imagine). I usually prefer the original, but in this case I think the Americans did a better job. My only gripe was that they kept calling Abu-Nazir "Nazir" for short. You can't do that - Abu-Nazir means "father of Nazir", Nazir is his (presumably oldest) son.

Pumpkin - you make a great point about Palestinians being more sympathetic, but they weren't the captors in the original series either. They were Syrian, so their ability to turn an Israeli soldier is just as unlikely. Which is why - SPOILER ALERT for the second season of Prisoners of War - it eventually turns out that he wasn't turned, but acting as a double agent, and his capture had actually been deliberate. It made no sense, but as long as we have a twist who cares, right? Anyway, I wish they'd gone with your idea, it would have made for a far more interesting, nuanced show.

Rich D said...

Hat tip to those already mentioning BABYLON 5 so I'll move onto mention GLEE, which had a great first season that ended on a note that suggested they were never anticipating a pickup for a second season. And then the show did get picked up and they spent a year and a half trying to figure out what to do next...

Terry said...

The X-Files was the first thing that came to my mind. Their "monster of the week" episodes were usually outstanding. They had a bit of an overarching, conspiracy-laden story line going on that was really intriguing at first. But after a few seasons it became clear that the writers didn't really have a plan for resolving it, so it just dragged on and got more and more convoluted to the point where nothing made any sense anymore. Even in the recent revival, the stand-alone episodes were fun, but the ones tied to the show's mythology were just...*shrug*

McTom said...

Hell, "True Detective" got lost midway through Season ONE. Remember the crooked child-molesting sheriff on the boat? Then the show was all "whatevs" about him.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Here's a Friday Question - who (persons of what profession) puts forth Emmy nominees for drama writing?

IMO Mad Men was consistently strong in it's first four seasons - and this is borne out by getting fully one-half (10 of 20) Emmy nominations for "Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series".

Add 3/5 for Season Five and Mad Men got an actual majority of nominees for writing over five seasons.

This has less power if non-writers put up writing nominations.

For certain fans, the stars aligned for Mad Men - the Basket of Kisses blog fanned the flames even for the greater than nine months (on average) that Mad Men did not air.

This presents an opportunity for the uninitiated - one may watch the series in order (on Netflix, though the DVD's are better for Weiner and select writer and director's commentaries) and go the the Basket of Kisses blog for some rarely-trivial commentary - so unusual - I've seen nothing like it.

David Arnott said...

Totally nailed it, Ken.

And the corollary to this: shows that pad the middle episodes of a season - kinda tread water - because the story arc (even when it's a great one) just isn't "deep" enough for X number of episodes. And so we get not just somewhat needless complications, but ones that often "break" the show a little.

I'm always a little surprised when this happens to shows that only have ten... or even SIX episodes a season.

Good TV is hard. Which is why it's so good when it's good.

joseph shehata said...

Then the show was all "whatevs" about him.

joseph shehata said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
blogward said...

Isn't that the difference between drama and melodrama? The whole point of Breaking Bad, as VG stated many times, was that Walter White's character was going to change from "Mr. Chips to Scarface"; not that "a middle-aged chemistry teacher was going to cook meth for a Mexican cartel" for five seasons. That's a comedy scenario.

Killing Eve's protagonists are a circus-trained psychopath and a cop who secretly loves her. That's a characterization dead end from the start, and no amount of traveloguery and shock twists can alter the unresolvable outcome.

James Blight said...

In our household, we even have a name for extending the TV series beyond the organic ending suggested by the series concept. We call it "Jenga Storytelling." You have no heft beyond the story already told, so you have to undermine your own foundation just to keep building (what you think is) up. Eventually, the entire tower crumbles.

Think of Alias after the fall of SD6 in season 2. Veronica Mars resolving Lily's murder and her own family dynamic in Season 1. Not to mention so many of the examples previously mentioned above.

James Blight said...

On a side topic, also count me among those for whom "The Shield" is his favorite series. No diss to Breaking Bad, which is a classic itself, and against which The Shield always seems to be directly compared...

I would agree that, watched as a whole, The Shield has some pacing problems (I would have compacted everything from Season 6 episode 6 to Season 7 episode 6, for one example). But one of the things I love about The Shield in comparison to Breaking Bad is that, for better or worse, Breaking Bad was always forthright about exactly where, thematically speaking, the series was going to go. With The Shield, and particularly with having four distinct members of the Strike Team, no one member had a course that was thematically "set" (absolution, punishment, impunity, etc.), except in retrospect, which is exactly what you want as a writer and an audience.

Mark said...

For me the best example is "Heroes"; throughout thr first season, I couldn't wait to see the next episode because it was so compelling & fun. But once they saved the cheerleader/saved the world, it seemed like no one quite knew what to do next -- plus a succession of showrunners -- and it kind of collapsed into chaos.