Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Outside work, my subject matter expertise is TV.

I love TV.

If it were legal, I’d marry it.

If it were a hot dude, I’d do hot dude things to it.

I don’t quite know when I first developed my love for the medium. But I love all of it: The good shows, the bad shows, and the terribly, terribly terrible shows that make you wonder what the studio execs were smoking when they signed the terrible 13-episode deal.

Part of my loving TV is this thing where I get attached to shows. Like attached to them. (People’s exhibit 1: I was president of The X-Files club in college.)

Part of that attachment is an obligation that I put upon myself for some reason to like everything about a show, even when I know in my head that it’s not heading anywhere good. At the end of each episode, particularly in later seasons, I find myself becoming an apologist, always arguing for the latest episode’s good points—few as they may be—despite objective evidence that the show’s writers are, in fact, running it into the ground. It’s like being in an abusive relationship; I can’t seem to see past the good times to admit that the bruises are real.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t necessarily agree with everything that happens on a show in which I’m emotionally invested. And I don’t have to. In fact, I love when a show riles me up and pisses me off, because I know that it engages both my head and my heart.

I respect creative risks, and I love when shows do something bold to deliver a product that—while not a resounding critical success—gets extra points from me simply for trying.

What I’m frustrated with are shows whose inability to articulate a coherent, creative vision consistently gets in the way of realizing their potential.

People’s exhibit 2: The X-Files, seasons 8 and 9. Of course everything is 20/20 in hindsight, but David Duchovny’s departure at the end of the show’s seventh season provided the writers an amazing opportunity for new, interesting storytelling and for new, more emotionally heightened character development. Instead, Chris Carter and Co. seemed more concerned with ramming Robert Patrick down viewers’ throats than exploiting all the good that could have come from Duchovny’s absence. The result was a sputtering last two seasons that unfortunately capped a terrific show that legitimately represented a 90’s cultural zeitgeist. I find myself still mildly frustrated at the wasted potential of those last two seasons.

I fear that my time to break up with Glee is nigh. I’ll outline my thoughts on where that show went wrong this season and (because I’m an optimist at heart) where it needs to go next season in another post. Let me just say, though, that after being emotionally and fiscally attached to Glee for the past two seasons, last night’s season finale proved enough of a reminder of my X-Files scars to make me rethink my commitment to the show and, quite frankly, other shows that I currently enjoy (e.g., Modern Family, The Walking Dead, 30 Rock, Happy Endings, Archer…).

I have yet to see a show “go out on top,” as the saying goes. And I don’t purport to know better than TV writers do; it’s not my vocation after all. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask a show’s creative team to nurture that creative spark that captured the minds and hearts of TV lovers like me in the show’s pilot episode. That spark—long after the stunt casting and the 90-minute episodes and the 3D movies are gone—is what keeps people like me coming back for more.

TIME magazine’s resident TV critic James Poniewozik, in his review of last night’s Glee finale dreams: “I hope that Glee—which spent the year hinting at its potential but constantly getting distracted—makes better use of its time next year too.”

Amen, James. Amen.

Until then, the show and I may be better off taking a break.

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