The time has come for many American shows to come to an end for yet another year. I both love and hate season finales.
I love them because they often bring a (fairly) satisfying wrap-up of stories that have been building all season (or, for many police-procedural type shows, for an episode or two). In recent years, How I Met Your Mother was particularly adept at tying up all the loose ends that had appeared throughout the season.
I hate them, though, because I’m left without some of my favourite characters for months. Yes, I know they’re all fake and none of the shows are real, but having invested so much time in watching the shows makes me feel like I somehow have some sort of connection with the characters. And isn’t that the point of good television? Why watch a show if you can’t relate somehow with the characters?
In Castle, for example, don’t many of us wish we were a rich, successful, best-selling author who has loads of spare time to help solve crimes? Well, at least the rich and successful bit with loads of spare time. And wouldn’t it be awesome to have all those gadgets like on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? That show has turned into one of my favourites of the year. It started slow (as is typical of a Joss Whedon show, even though he’s only a producer on it) but has really picked up in the past few weeks. True, it does help to have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier (see my previous review of the movie), and it would be helpful to be knowledgeable of the Marvel Universe to fully see the connections, but even without knowing about those the show is still fun. In many respects it’s a police-procedural mystery show, but with sci-fi elements. The show combines many of my preferred genres all into one.
I’m often struck by the difference between American shows and British shows. There was a recent article comparing the American Elementary to the British Sherlock that I thought hit on many of the points, noting that because of season lengths, American shows can really dig into characterisations much more so than British shows. For whilst I think the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes is closer to the books than the Jonny Lee Miller portrayal, both do have their positives and negatives. Elementary has been much more able to explore Sherlock as a person living in the world with its consequences; Sherlock, on the other hand, is more intent on the impressive feats of logic and solving strange crimes. Part of that, of course, does come down to length of the season. Most American shows nowadays run about 22 episodes; most British shows about 6. This can of course lead to more suspense and drama and characterisation in American shows, but it can also lead to pointless drivel. There are really good episodes every season, and some episodes that are very flat. British shows, on the other hand, are more focused and driven. But that does mean that any bad episodes stick out more.
I recently watched the BBC show The Crimson Field. There was no one fantastically great episode, nor was there any horribly bad episode. It was kind of flat, overall. But with only six episodes I wasn’t expecting much more. It reminded me a lot of Downton Abbey with the historical aspect and focus on class and rank. Yes, I know that those ideas were British traits up through (probably at least) the 1960s, but tolerance of homosexual characters was not. Yet both British shows not only have gay men, but they are accepted by their peers. As this aspect reflects 21st century values it seems to stand out more. Both shows, then, seem rather clichéd in that respect. They both need to show how modern they are by having a gay character. It seems to me it would actually be much more powerful — both in terms of gripping television and historical accuracy — to have a gay character actually persecuted and arrested. I know Downton had a brief flirt with this, but not much else. Wouldn’t it be much more effective to show the horrors of homophobia, how scared and reviled gay people were, to show the importance of acceptance? I also think that would be a much more fun character to play — the worried, secretive gay man — rather than the ‘loveable scoundrel’ that both shows have.
Then again, I’m not a television writer. I’ve often thought about it, as I’ve thought about writing other things too, but never pursued it. Dialogue has never been my forte in writing, alas. I do think season finales must be a lot of fun for everyone involved in a show, from the interns up through the producers and actors. It’s usually when the most drama (even in comedy’s) happens and the tales reach a conclusion. I’m often immediately ready to see what happens next; I wonder if they feel the same too.
So it’s with sadness that some of my favourite shows are ending for the next few months and I won’t have my weekly distraction. Maybe I’ll actually be able to finish this PhD then.