Friday, February 10, 2017

When I TV Character Dies, Do You Stick Around?

(SPOILER ALERT: I'm discussing spoilers for Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, Desperate Housewives, Law & Order: SVU, Lost, The Office, Ally McBeal, The West Wing, The OC, Glee, and Brothers and Sisters, so proceed at your own risk)

Television is a personal affair.  It's one where, particularly for long-running series, your love for them are based more on characters than on quality writing or even acting after a while.  I will continue to watch The Simpsons until the end of time not because I haven't noticed a decline over the years (I have), but because I love these people like they're members of my own family.  Lisa, Maggie, Bart, Homer, and Marge have been with me since I was literally a child, and have seen me through thick-and-thin.  Abandoning them seems something I'd be incapable of doing even if I don't turn in with the same gusto I used to exhibit.

But I will say that, after the death of a major character on a TV series, I'm not actually all talk and no show when I go to social media along with all of my friends and proclaim "I'm not watching anymore!"  I know that every person does this literally after every episode (hell, for series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, I can't count how many times certain people on my Facebook feed have stated they'll never be back, only to end up joining in two weeks later, complaining away).  I went through some of my favorite and most devoted series through the years (I wasn't a casual fan-I actually tuned in every single week) and found that about 50% of the time I abandon the show when a major character is killed off or leaves, and about 50% of the time I decide against it.  This will all lead-up to one of my favorite shows that had a major character die off this past week, and whether I can cope with losing one of my favorites.

5 Shows I Kept Watching:

Game of Thrones

Who Died: While charting "who died" on Game of Thrones is a laughably complicated endeavor, the big death where I genuinely declared that I might quit was not the first season loss of main character Ned Stark, but instead the third season blind-side of the "Red Wedding" where Catlyn Stark and her son Robb were murdered by House Frey.  Literally the first and only time my father has ever heard me say "fuck" was over the phone, as he had read the books and knew this was coming (and found my outrage HI-larious).
Why Didn't I Quit: I genuinely thought about it.  Perhaps the smartest decision Game of Thrones ever made was by having this be the penultimate, rather than the final, episode of the season, as it forced people to come back to see what happened the next week, rather than a year later where they might not tune in at all.  As it took time to give us some hope the following week, I stuck around with the mantra "I'm only quitting if Sansa or Arya die" on my mind...which I've thankfully been able to stick toward.
Was This the Right Decision: It was.  Here's the dirty secret about killing off a character-frequently it helps the show regain some of its drama.  Never again would we assume any character was safe, and in hindsight the Robb/Catlyn story was too obvious-someone like Jon Snow emerging from deep within his father's shadow rather than his natural heir was a more consequential bit of storytelling.  Game of Thrones fourth season would arguably be its finest.

Desperate Housewives

Who Died: Perhaps it's a good clue to me sticking around if death is always somewhat around the corner.  By the time Season 5 had happened we'd seen half a dozen side characters get killed off on DH, and so the series' biggest death (that of Edie Britt) couldn't quite hit us the way it probably was meant to (plus, it'd leaked to the press at that point so it was hardly a surprise).
Why Didn't I Quit: I had already given this show five seasons of my lives and had spent so much time defending it to friends and colleagues that it was still good that I wasn't about to back down then.  Still, watching Edie die was a tough one, as even though her role had waned through the years she was always good for comic relief.
Was This the Right Decision: It was not.  The show slugged through the sixth season, arguably the least of the series, and while it regained some energy in Season 7 (the "Paul Young returns" story being a particularly compelling one), Vanessa Williams always felt like a cheaper copy of Edie more than anything else.  The show also went a step WAY too far late in Season 8 killing off Mike, but at that point the end was so close in sight that there was no way I was quitting (but in hindsight that was just stupid-what possible point did it serve?).

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Who Died: No one, but we never saw a character again (to date).  Elliot Stabler, the quintessential cop with the bad attitude randomly left the series when Christopher Meloni's contract expired, and despite MYRIAD fan pleas, has yet to return to the series even though he left quite abruptly.
Why Didn't I Quit: It's worth noting that I did quit, eventually, but stuck around for a couple of years perhaps most out of routine-SVU was a big part of my college routine and I couldn't give up even without Stabler there.  Eventually they changed the premise of the show too much (we had a bit more of a Columbo than "solve the crime along side them" situation) and I tapped out.
Was This the Right Decision: Perhaps the only time in the history of this franchise where a character was too large of a plot point to not recover.  While the show would have its moments (and we wouldn't be deprived of eye candy as they hired Danny Pino), it was never the same after Stabler left.  Even when I am seeing reruns on cable now, I always double-check it's SVU classic before giving over an hour.


Who Died: Speaking of shows that had a lot of deaths, we're back in Game of Thrones territory.  Lost is my all-time favorite show so giving it up, period, was never in my vocabulary, but if there was an episode where I thought I might it would have been the death of Charlie at the end of Season 3.  Seeing our longtime rock god cast away die so close to rescue was hard to handle.
Why Didn't I Quit: Lost had already taken away Boone, Shannon, Libby, Ana Lucia, and Eko at that point-if you didn't think any character was safe, you weren't paying attention.  Plus, Lost was always really good about bringing in other characters it was easy to care about (save for Nikki and Paulo) when certain ones left.
Was This the Right Decision: Yes, it was.  Charlie was one too many comic reliefs for the final seasons of the show, which became far more about the mythology of the island than anything else, and we already had Hurley to help occasionally lighten up Jack, Kate, and Sayid.  Plus, taking away a major character sort of finalized the chapters between these two halves of the series in a way few other deaths could have.

The Office

Who Died: Like SVU, this wasn't a death but a major character leaving the show and the series continuing without him.  We all know that Steve Carell left the series with two seasons remaining, and we had to see what Dunder Mifflin was like without Michael Scott.
Why Didn't I Quit: I kind of wanted to see where they went with the series.  Plus, if I recall correctly they never actually told us who the new boss was at the end of Season 7, so I needed to know if it was Andy, Dwight, or Jim.
Was This the Right Decision: Absolutely not.  The whole James Spader period of the show was a huge bust in terms of comedy (I think they sort of forgot that this show had heart, as opposed to the Ricky Gervais version), and it was downright awful to the point where I would have quit had Spader not left the series.  Creatively it caught some of the juices again in Season 9 (the whole fourth wall aspect providing us with some really shocking turns-of-event), but no-this was never as good as it was with Carell.  It was an ensemble show, but one where plucking out a key player just didn't work.

Shows I Stopped Watching:

Ally McBeal

Who Died: Billy, Ally's longtime love, dies in a courtroom battle.  With him he took Georgia and in small parts Renee, who both became less essential to the series in Season 4.
Why I Quit: The show had been so much about Ally and Billy at that point, and they had made Billy so detestable (remember "the new Billy?") that I didn't want my love of this show tarnished further (and this was my favorite show ever at the time, so it was a big deal to abandon it).  Plus, no Georgia-how could it work?
Was This the Right Decision: It absolutely worked, oddly enough.  Few shows have enjoyed a mid-season bump quite like Ally, when Robert Downey Jr's Larry Paul came to town and totally took the series by storm.  Still (in my opinion) Downey's finest performance, we got a truly superb fourth season of the show.  They likely should have quit at the end of the fourth season (Downey was supposed to return, but had one of his many "incidents" and couldn't), as the show bombed ferociously in the fifth season, but quitting after Billy's death would have been a mistake.

The West Wing

Who Died: No one-this was a case where an actor left the series and I couldn't deal with it, that being Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn.  Up until that point I was religiously devoted to this show, still a huge favorite when I randomly watch it on Netflix.
Why I Quit: The show was going through some behind-the-scenes troubles with Aaron Sorkin being axed from the series, and I just didn't feel the change at all.  Lowe wasn't my favorite character (not even close), but him leaving threw off the chemistry too much and I didn't like it.
Was This the Right Decision: While the show has some devoted fans in later seasons, and a cast this good was never going to completely flail, I made the right decision.  The show was never as strong without Sorkin and Lowe, and always felt a bit false.

The OC

Who Died: I am not, actually, going to focus on the most famous death on the series where Marissa is sent packing.  Instead, it's a season earlier when Caleb Nichol fell prey to a heart attack.
Why I Quit: At this point, I was completely at my wit's end with this series, and they were killing off one of the very few characters on the show that I genuinely liked still.  Otherwise, the drama had gotten too much on and off screen, and without someone like Caleb's grounded presence, I couldn't handle it any longer.
Was This the Right Decision: Yes, considering the mess things got into later with Marissa and that the show pretty quickly petered off afterwards in terms of the ratings.


Who Died: Okay, this is a little mean (since he actually died), but Cory Monteith's Finn's disappearance broke the camel's back for me.
Why I Quit: I actually stuck around for a little bit afterwards, but got to a point where I was just fast-forwarding through entire chunks of the show just to see what was happening in the whole Sam/Blaine crush sequence, as that was the best part about this season.  Otherwise, the series badly botched his death, never really bringing it into the actual plotline, and couldn't handle abandoning Sue, Will, and McKinley High (which they should have done) in favor of just following the kids off to college.
Was This the Right Decision: Yes, quitting was the right decision-the series became an absolute trainwreck after Season 4.

Brothers & Sisters

Who Died: Once again we have Rob Lowe quitting a series, this time as Robert, where he dies in a car accident at the end of Season 4.  Combine that with Rebecca and Tommy officially leaving the series, and it was a pretty impactful way to head into Season 5.
Why I Quit: This was strangely a case where the deaths of these characters didn't bother me as much as Saul getting HIV despite having been in the closet for thirty years.  It felt like a way to keep around a character who had long worn out his welcome (alongside Holly) in terms of the plot, and I just couldn't deal-it felt too "convenient plot point" and not natural to the story.
Was This the Right Decision: I've tried to go back to the series a couple of times to finish things up, and have never been able to make it through-it had too much change and too much "this is the person I'm actually meant for" discarding previous seasons for me to care.

And finally, the unknown...

Jane the Virgin

Who Died: Just a few short months after he survived a gunshot wound, Michael ended up succumbing to his injuries with a heart attack.
Why I Might Quit: My biggest problem with the series has long been that they wanted Rafael and Michael to be on equal footing for Jane, but I never saw it that way.  Michael was loving, caring, supportive, and always there for Jane, even if he's a bit cling-y.  Rafael is too much drama, too selfish, and too reliant on Jane to be his "manic pixie dream girl" for my taste, and so when they went with Michael I thought "this is a weird case of the show making the right decision even if fans don't all love it."  With him gone, I'm worried we're back in a Jafael spot, and that's where it's going to end, trying to have its cake and eat it too, when really they just copped out of the love triangle.
Why I Might Not Quit: No show illustrated as much up-top that a series can find a renaissance from a character's death quite like Game of Thrones.  Perhaps this could usher in a new wave of drama and intrigue in a series that was starting to drag its feet a bit on certain plot lines.  If they don't automatically jump toward Jane/Rafael/Petra being a love triangle again, I'd be intrigued.
Was This the Right Decision: I'll find out soon-I'm sticking around at least until next week to figure out the ramifications of the time jump.

And there you have it-any other shows where you genuinely quit after a character's death?  Share below!

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