May is upon us, which means that season and in some cases series finales are about to start rolling out as the 2011-2012 television season wraps up and the cable networks prepare to take over the summer airwaves with shows like The Newsroom, True Blood, Breaking Bad, The Closer, Perception, Leverage, andWeeds. With scores of shows attempting to draw viewers in for a last ratings push and a finale ending designed to pull people back in the fall, which finales should you bother tuning in for, and which are likely to be a snoozefest?
I know I’ll be trying to catch at least seven finales, each for entirely different reasons.
OUR HERO leans into his computer screen, reviewing surveillance footage. THE BAD GUY appears, and OUR HERO freezes and zooms.
Widespread surveillance is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it is impossible to go more than a few steps in an urban area without being seen by a camera. In addition to a massive network of state-owned cameras used to monitor citizens, there’s a vast ‘dark network’ of cameras maintained by private entities, all of which can be used to piece together a story by following people from shot to shot.
Last week, the networks dredged up their usual parade of dreck in advance of Valentine’s Day, apparently under the belief that viewers needed Very Special Love-Saturated Episodes to prepare themselves for the upcoming orgy of hothouse flowers, cheap chocolate, and social expectations. Most of them were absolutely terrible, but there was one standout from the bunch; Castle’s quirky and rather delightful ‘The Blue Butterfly.’ The episode joined a long Castle tradition of having some fun with seasonally themed episodes while paying respects to giants of the genre.
This week marked the season finales of a number of shows in the 2010-2011 television season, which was less than stellar almost from the start. (The networks promise to liven things up a bit in the fall and we’ll have more coverage on that at Global Comment very soon.) Mid-May is when the finales start coming thick and fast to set us up for next season and a new merry-go-round, although a few stragglers (I’m looking at you, House) like to hang up their hats later than the rest of the crowd. So, how’d we do?
A long-standing tradition in television, the cliffhanger ending showed up with a number of this week’s season finales, including Chuck and Castle. NBC’s Chuck has had a rough ride; despite being endearingly geeky and winning a loyal fanbase, the show can’t seem to pull down the numbers the network wants to be viable, and it’s flailed of late as it runs out of plot possibilities. This season’s finale continued the show’s tradition of setting up a cliffhanger to resolve at the start of the next season, but I suspect it may have been bittersweet for some fans, who are already well aware that the show is not headed for a renewal after the partial episode order for next season.
Castle went the cliffhanger route with this week’s episode as well, and also conveniently brought us some closure in Kate Beckett’s long-running storyline. It’s important for her as a character to move forward and the timing was entirely appropriate. Glad to see that the Castle team is ready to let their little girl grow up a bit.
ABC’s rocky pilot episode of Body of Proof recently highlighted an ongoing problem television dramas seem to struggle with: the accurate depiction of work/life balance for women. As women in society in general are talking about the need for more support for a work/life balance, particularly for parents who want to pursue careers and raise children, the messages projected in television are often rather slanted, and are generally negative.
Women on television with careers tend to be depicted as single-minded people with few friends, the inability to raise children, and difficulty ‘turning off’ to engage in recreational activities or relationships with people outside their workplaces. In part, this is a fault of the medium. People tune in to television dramas like Bones and Grey’s Anatomy for the workplace setting, not to watch characters at home, out in their communities, or interacting with their children. The storylines are driven by the workplace, and the show must perforce focus on this environment.
For shows like medical and crime dramas, seeing children in the workplace would be unexpected. We wouldn’t exactly expect to see detectives breastfeeding in the morgue, or teenagers hanging out in the operating room gallery (although both of these things do happen in the real world). Because the stories take place primarily in workplace settings, it is difficult to integrate people from outside the work environment. As a result, we rarely see the children, friends, and neighbours of our characters, even though they may be referenced.
ABC’s Castle wrapped up March sweeps with a two-parter episode to lure viewers in, perhaps with the goal of combating a ratings slip. It seemed to work; 8.99 million viewers tuned in for ‘Setup’ and 10.11 followed through to see what happened in ‘Countdown.’ The desperate grab for viewer eyeballs is a reflection of deeper problems with the series, which has undergone a radical shift since its premiere, and not in a good direction.
Castle started airing as a midseason pickup in 2009, at the same time ABC started airing The Unusuals. Both shows were presented as crime dramas with an unusual bent, mixing elements of comedy and absurdism into the usual format of grim people running around and flashing police badges. Apparently viewers weren’t that enamored with the idea of two quirky crime dramas set in New York City, because only one of the shows made it to a second season.