Saturday, April 19, 2014

Knowing When to Break Up . . . With a TV Show

I'm not a quitter. I've slugged through books that bored me to tears, sometimes to rich reward and sometimes only to a sense of completion and relief. I've forced myself across finish lines in races when my legs felt like jelly. I try hard not to let friendships wither away with years and the transformation of life.

But I have to break up with Scandal. 

For this entire season, I've ended each show feeling frustrated, disappointed, angry even. I don't have much spare time. To devote that hour required me to stay up late, listening with one ear to hope the toddler didn't get out of bed (again) and trying to forget about the stack of papers to grade or the article I needed to read. This hour was my hour of relaxation, but I never ended it happy. 

It wasn't always like this. I was an early Scandal convert, drawn to the powerful female protagonist, the quick banter, the layers of drama that hinged on complex human emotion. I kept reminding myself of those early days as the end turned sour, but we can't live in the past. 

In the beginning, the drama was crazy, but it felt like there was a plan, a carefully-plotted arc, a master design to it all. By this season, it felt like each episode was designed merely to keep the viewers coming back for more. The characters weren't consistent, and things like the time-space continuum meant nothing if having someone fly from Ohio to D.C. in fifteen minutes would up the drama. 

But this isn't a post hating on Scandal. You're big boys and girls, and you can come to your own conclusions. Maybe it's just your thing. That's fine. I'm not going to try to convince you otherwise. 

This is a post about knowing when to let go. While, yes, television is just a fun little diversion from real life and it shouldn't be something we plan our lives around, the social media presence does make quitting a little tougher. There will be reminders on Twitter and my Facebook feed that I've let something go. Scandal will not be dismissed so unceremoniously. 

But hardest of all is the feeling that I've given up on something I've started, been unwilling to see it through to the end. Shows, like books, can have a little lag in the middle but come out of it strong and galloping along toward a glorious conclusion. 

But when shows are created more for maintaining viewership than with an overall artistic narrative plan, there might not be a conclusion. The conclusion might just be whenever the network decides to pull the plug and the creators are left scrambling to figure out how to tie up all the loose ends in the space left. 

I respect a show that ends when it's supposed to and stays true to its course even when it could possibly squeeze a few more seasons out if it veered. 

Recently, I saw this graphing site that plots ratings for individual TV episodes over the course of the show's lifetime. It's sad to see a show like Dexter plummet sharply for its final season. Gilmore Girls  similarly saw a steep drop for its final season, probably because the in-fighting and eventual dismissal of the creator caused it to leave its original narrative path. It's sad to see a show end with such disappointment in its fan base. The swan song shouldn't be off key. 

Meanwhile, shows that end with some kind of narrative path in tact seem to fare better in the ratings. The Wire shows consistent patterns with each season climbing steeply. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a long run, but I never felt like it didn't have an overarching plan, and the finale delivered the type of conclusion fans deserve. And a show like Carnivale, whose climbing ratings weren't enough to save it from getting the ax, still show consistent improvements. I think its because the author was invested in telling a story, not merely dragging us back each week. 

So what are we to do when it becomes clear that our favorite shows have no intention of working their way toward an ending? What do we do when it's obvious that it will drag on until there's nothing left to drag? Do we stay for the ride out of a sense of duty and the quiet hope that we're wrong? Or do we get out, cut ties, create our own conclusion? 

For me, Scandal will end with this season's finale. I'll be a little sad to let it go, but only because I'm holding on to what might have been, and isn't that a little true of every break up?


  1. I loved Scandal so much during those first seasons. And yes, I am so bitterly disappointed with it now. What happened?

  2. I haven't given up on Scandal yet, but I've quit New Girl and Community this season. It is such a weirdly emotional decision! I'm so loyal to shows that I really love that I'll stick it out even when it dips in quality (aka Gilmore Girls). But when a show gets REALLLY bad (the previously mentioned New Girl and Community) and I get NO enjoyment/satisfaction/connection from the show anymore, then I know it's time to say goodbye. Scandal is still way too entertaining for me to let go and I have faith it will get back on track.

  3. Stephanie WhitenerMay 9, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    We have thought about breaking up with Scandal too. It got a little insane this year. I did break up with Glee this year because of how ridiculous it got. I was honestly surprised I lasted this long with the show.

  4. I guess I technically broke up with Glee, but it was more of a slow drift apart, so it felt less dramatic.

  5. I tried to watch Community and couldn't find anything to connect with at all (and I teach at a community college, so I thought it'd be a good match!)

  6. I really feel like they stopped following an arc and started chasing ratings. That's how it feels to me.