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Shaun's Meandering Thoughts: When Should a Series End?


Shaun's Meandering Thoughts: When Should a Series End?

Shaun Cordingley

There's something to be said for content creators who understand the concept of an ending--having a plan and sticking to it (in terms of story) is, to me, vital.

Now I understand that maybe not everyone else out there thinks this way, and that there can "never be too much of a good thing" or "I hope this goes on forever" (a thought I am sure that I had a lot, when I was six), but the fact of the matter is, like fish you hide in a sofa during one of your wacky parties, television series can, and do (clearly) overstay their welcome.

Let's take The Simpsons as an example; a veritable institution on television which has been on since 1989 and hasn't been consistently good since...what 2005? Sure there is still the odd episode (up until about 2013) that had a bit of the old Simpsons magic in it, but by and large, the last couple of seasons have been absolutely awful. Awful to the point that I, one of the legions of folks who grew up loving The Simpsons and had seen every episode, could not be bothered to watch another one.

If you listen to the {PODCAST}, you will obviously have noted that Dave and I have a running goal to try and naturally (ish) make a Simpsons reference in every episode, and we are able to do this, comfortably, because not only are the classic episodes memorable, but over the course of their good years they basically covered everything.

Which means that we have been stuck with awkward, recycled situations and premises, slapped together celebrity nonsense (anyone watch the Lady Gaga episode that was about...uh...feelings of...Lisa...uh...shoe train...? Those who do, wish they bloody well didn't), or, my absolute favorite, when they start to do something that could maybe be interesting, and then usually jam it together with a whole bunch of nothing. For a show that used to be reference and joke filled, it's sure full of a lot of filler to get to..uh...more filler.

And herein is the problem (and the crux of what I am talking about)--The Simpsons was a blinding success, and something that used to build stories and make references (and songs) to relate to popular and/or classic films, and used to actually feel crafted because it was still being crafted; the writers were the originals, or comedy writers who hadn't grown up watching The Simpsons; the show had not affected comedy around it. Think about this: the show has been around long enough that I could conceivably be writing for it...and once upon a time, that would have been a dream, but that's the problem; the show has eaten its' own tail and is now reflecting itself.

Who does that actually work for? I've talked to folks younger than me (who never knew a time of the truly great Simpsons) through improv and shows and whatnot, and a lot of them do not care for The Simpsons because it's not really that funny. And they're they basically bank on nostalgia watchers.


Now obviously they are an extreme example, but you can take a look at almost any long running series and see where it 'jumps the shark'.

Big Bang Theory? What's left for them to do? Get Sheldon married?

South Park? A little different as they are so very topical, but they have to keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing that you know there will be another decline (they have had a mini one already), and this time it might not recover. PLUS, they had a natural ending point when they essentially wrote a "we're tired of doing this" episode where Stan bails on the whole thing. If that had been the end of the series (and Matt & Trey went back to doing some of the best musicals of all time, video games, movies, whatever), I would've been soooo happy.

Family Guy? There's a bloody trainwreck. Go back and watch the first few seasons; sure the animation wasn't as good, but holy hell is that a series I'd watch the hell out of (and did). Now? Yeesh; sometimes you might get something worth it, but you'll have to stomach a lot of absolute drek to get there.

All of these series (and many, many more) have run into the same problem--they are pushing to get syndicated, so they can run forever (you need 100 episodes), but then they just...keep...going...without a plan. And the plan should never be: let's make a show for 100 episodes so it gets into syndication! Yeah!

That's not story-telling: a story has what?

That's right, a beginning, middle AND A F***ING END.

So what am I asking for? What am I recommending?

Have a plan. The plan is going to change (it always does, as you are going through with something, or telling a story, once it gets out into the public it is probably going to go in another direction than you intended), but you still had a plan. Sometimes you don't get to fulfill it; Hannibal was supposed to run for 5 seasons, and it was cancelled after 3, but there was a sense of progress--the show, to the end, had a purpose.

Boardwalk Empire started, and they said 'we want to do 5 seasons', and what did we get?


Now sure, I wasn't in love with the end of the series; the time jump at the end felt a little rushed and whatnot, but they delivered what they set out to do, which is MUCH more interesting to me than if they had then decided "hey let's just keep going and do other stories in the world! let's follow Lansky for a bit, oh let's do some stuff in Florida". No! That's not the plan, that's not the story you set out to tell, so end the story and let us move on.

Having a plan, sticking to the plan, and once the showrunner/the creator/the writers have told the story they have wanted to?


Just stop, and show me something new. What's that HBO? Most of your series are over? Oh but you're making Vinyl and Westworld now? Alright, I'll check them out, because you have proven to me you have stories to tell me.  What's that CBS? You have a new series/sitcom? Great maybe I'll watch the first couple seasons before you start rehashing plots, redoing jokes, and flogging it across my television until 2053, but chances are, I'm not going to bother, because 90% of the time, there seems to be no story there, just throwing stuff together and hoping it sticks long enough to sell off.



Can't wait to see what Game of Thrones does now that they're away from the books...someones going to win the game, right?


-S (@Shauncord)

PS: Hey FOX? It's me, Shaun. Please let The Simpsons die; you're making me call myself a 'golden age of The Simpsons' fan, instead of just a Simpsons fan. Seriously, it's over. Stop. Please.