Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Stop Turning Everything Into a Franchise!

I am about at my wit's end when it comes to franchise culture in Hollywood.  I keep seeing sequel after sequel after sequel, followed by reboots and prequels and offshoots.  It feels like certain franchises refuse to die until they have exhausted all outcomes...and it feels terrible.  Even series that I genuinely like (say, Harry Potter) feel exhaustive and not as special as they once were because they cannot let those series die and exist on a shelf.  Part of me wonders if this is just the way it will be-series after series never ending but we're forced to endure until everything we loved about it is gone, and we can't even get a nostalgia high from the product.  I am reminded of this with investigations into two different series that, while seemingly disparate, both have fans calling for them to reinvest their time and energy into one last go-around: Community and Big Little Lies.  However, in my mind, only one of these two series should be allowed to continue.

Big Little Lies is the show that's been far more in the news, so I'll start there (spoiler alerts are coming if you're not caught up yet).  The show captured the Twitter zeitgeist, particularly toward the end, with brilliant pieces of work from Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, and a whodunit that stayed pretty well under-wraps despite being adapted from a popular mystery novel.  The final episode, in a rare circumstance, ended up being the finest of the series in my opinion, and a number of people were hoping that, considering its excellence, it should come back for a second season.

I think this is a moronic idea, and it's indicative of the foolishness of sequel/prequel culture.  The reality is that while a sequel can never really damage the original, a second season of a series can decidedly put a tarnish on the initial one.  Look at the jump in quality between the first and second season of Desperate Housewives.  I love that show, and will defend later seasons (particularly 4 and 7, which were both excellent), but one could make the argument that it was never better than its initial mystery.  The same could be said for Big Little Lies, a show that doesn't have a comedic crutchh (and the disadvantage of not being bound to a book) to lean upon.  Keep in mind that DH ended on a cliffhanger, but Big Little Lies tied up every major mystery on the show.  Yes, there are questions left ("what does Celeste do as a single mom?" "does Ed ever find out about the affair?" "how is it that everyone in Monterey can sing so well?"), but by-and-large the major mysteries had a satisfying resolution, something almost unheard of in modern television, which stretches and stretches in order to hang onto a hit show as long as possible.

We should treasure that, rather than hoping for lightning to continue to strike.  Look at series like The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family or Grey's Anatomy-once deeply relevant, now just hollow shells hoping to cash in with quantity rather than quality on syndication deals.  Have we gotten so bad that we've forgotten that a series can genuinely be good from beginning to end?  That having a vision for the end result of the series is the point of watching art?  Television is episodic in nature, but stories like Big Little Lies are meant to have a finish, just like a movie is meant to have a finish.  That we got a strong one, with solid resolution, is a testament to good writing and should be cherished and left alone-the show wasn't meant to be a series, and we shouldn't force it to be just because we love it.

The same cannot be said for Community, which despite six seasons never really got the ending that it needed.  Putting aside #andamovie for a second (and what that would mean), the show after Season 3 never quite gained its mojo back.  A quirky, smart, funny comedy that nevertheless had peaks and valleys, the show became about the unlikely families we form with strangers in college, and the unhealthy attachments we sometimes form in order to stop maturing or moving on.  The series revisited that briefly in the final moments of Season 6, when Abed and Annie depart for California, leaving Jeff, the Dean, Chang, and Britta all behind at Greendale, passing onto the next chapter.  It would be a fine ending, except that there are major, major plotholes still left unresolved, and the ending felt cheap compared to what you normally get from a series finale.

For starters, it's not appropriate in my mind to end the series without having a significant callback to Troy, Shirley, and Pierce.  I know Pierce "died" and such, and them leaving abruptly shows the harshness of life when people who are essential to your daily existence one day just leave without any connection to you again, but it felt inauthentic that, especially in the day-and-age of social media, these people didn't stay a part of each other's lives in a more meaningful way.  Closure, acknowledging that they would always remain friends even if they weren't always constantly connected, felt like a heartier ending.

Plus, the script is right there to discover-Troy, Abed, Annie, and Shirley return after enjoying success in their own lives, perhaps for a class reunion of sorts, and in the process, they start to notice phantom things happening around the campus, perhaps clues to Pierce, who died so strangely (dehydration?) being still alive.  The show could end with them discovering Pierce, still alive and crazy, and then having them realize that it's okay that they grew apart, but still will always have each other.  A few cameos from fan favorites, and you'd have a polished ending that felt truer to the actual series and its characters (it's hard to imagine Troy or Shirley letting Annie and Abed leave without coming back to say goodbye).  And it would be an ending, not an extension or sucking the faucet dry.

Because that's what we need, and what we need to acknowledge should happen in movies/TV.  Not every show is meant to be The Days of Our Lives, continuing until the end of time in an endless loop-no one wants their favorite shows to become hollow shells, almost insufferable.  We need to start inviting back the art to TV and movies, and only extending products that feel like they can naturally continue without risking alienating the original product.  And that doesn't include Big Little Lies, a wonderful miniseries that will stand up to rewatches if you're missing Renata or Madeline...but shouldn't need a second season for you to continue to adore it.

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