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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This Won't End Well

It probably has something to do with expectations. You spend years of your life following their stories, talking about what happened with like minded people. You might even buy merchandise relating to them. But in the end they’ll probably break your heart.

I’m writing, of course, about TV shows. You carve out an hour or two every week to follow the exploits of a set of characters. You develop opinions about their personality flaws. And though you may be unaware of it, you have an idea of how you want everything to turn out for everyone.

Especially if the story is serialized or continuous in any way. Ending a sitcom where the only thing tying one season to the next is the inevitable clip show they roll out when everyone wants to take a long weekend isn’t so difficult. You just play clips of the more poignant moments and pull away in a long helicopter shot while a guy in a mustache drives away on a motorcycle to a depressing version of the show’s theme song.

But in this modern world of multi-threaded story arcs, a satisfying close to a popular series is hard to come by.

This is on my mind for a couple of reasons. One of which is the fact that Lost is coming to a close and people won’t shut up about it. Given the buzz around it, I think it’s highly unlikely that whatever the ending is will please anyone. I’ve never even seen the show, and I’m pretty sure whatever the ending is going to piss me off; because the only ending I want out of a show like that is “the people who deserve to get home safely do, and the people who don’t get their comeuppance.” This sort of ending is routinely condemned by people who think they are too smart to enjoy a happy ending.

It is those people that I fear will ruin the other reason why I’m thinking about series finales: The final season of Monk is out on DVD.

Now, I don’t have cable, so my ability to keep up with Tony Shaloub’s defective detective is gated by my ability to buy and watch the episodes on DVD. As a result, I’m not even halfway through season 7 yet, though I must say that season 7 started weakly but has improved in the second disc.

I don’t know how Monk ends, and I’m sort of afraid to find out. I want him to find Trudy’s killer and have some peace, but I wouldn’t bet a nickel on that happening. Why? Because I have too much experience with shows that get ruined by people who think they’re too smart to enjoy a happy ending.

Consider Quantum Leap. I loved that show. Watched it religiously every week, and whenever it was on in syndication. It’s a show that manages to hold up pretty well with age, and Scott Bakula remains one of my favorite actors. But I won’t buy season 5 on DVD, and among the myriad reasons why not is I’m pissed off at the writers for screwing Sam. The final episode ends with a text on a black screen informing the viewer that Sam never makes it home.

So what we have here is not only mean spirited writers, but also lazy writers. Mean sprited, lazy writers who think they’re impossibly clever.

This is a similar affliction that plagued the writers for The Sopranos, which is another show I haven’t seen but whose ending frosted my cupcakes enough to make me not care if I ever do see it. The writers for The Sopranos were obviously trying to one-up the writers of Quantum Leap on all counts. Not only were they more mean spirited (nothing changed for Sam either, but at least he continued leaping around making the world better), but they were even lazier (at least Sam got a line of text against his black screen ending.) And from reading interviews, I’m certain they think they were even more impossibly clever than the writers of Quantum Leap.

You can almost hear them gloating. “Look at me! I added more pointless ugliness to the world. Aren’t I a hip, happening dude?”

You know, when Del Lord ended a three stooges short by fading to black at a seemingly random place in the script, he never claimed to be making profound commentary on the nature of comedic storytelling. He just ran out of film but still had to show something for the time he billed the studio. Somehow I can respect that more.

I don’t hold grudges about shows that were prematurely cancelled. The Pretender ended on a cliffhanger, and I don’t blame the writers for that. I do fault them for writing unsatisfying conclusions to the saga of Jarod in the subsequent Pretender movies, but at least they were trying to tie up loose ends. There were just too many loose ends to tie up, so we got some garbage about how the Centre is actually a cult that believes in a prophecy laid out in an ancient book that claims a kid named Jarod will be their downfall. And there are ghosts or something. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t matter. I’ll take an honest failure to make a good ending over someone who tried to tell you you’re an idiot if you don’t like the fact that he made a bad ending on purpose. Sometimes intentions matter.

Getting back to Monk, I’m concerned that the writers may be too wrapped up in their own cleverness to give Adrian Monk a fitting sendoff. Why? In the episode “Mr. Monk Falls in Love” in season seven, Monk finally starts to progress and let Trudy’s death go. He even takes off his wedding ring. In the end, he brings the murderer of the episode into custody, vindicating the object of his affection while condemning her mother. The woman spurns Adrian over this, telling him to go back to his wife, knowing full well that Adrian’s wife was killed by a car bomb.

I doubt the ability of a writer who would write an episode like that to put a firm resolution on the series as a whole. Am I in for another black screen with white text informing me that Adrian never finds Trudy’s killer?

Now that I would bet a nickel on.