I hate show endings. I recently finished watching the fantastic animated cartoon Clone High. Clone High relies on the premise that government scientists cloned famous people and left them to grow up in a suburban town. The show stars Abe Lincoln, his friends Joan of Arc and Gandhi, his love interest Cleopatra and his enemy JFK. It had a very special type of humor, a mix of intellectual history jokes and satirical high school sitcom scenarios, with a fantastic diversified cast starring SNL members, guests from MTV, and practically the entire cast of Scrubs. So of course it got canceled after one season. One season might have been enough, if not for the ending. Due to an abrupt cancellation, the cliff hanger ending of the season became the series finale, leaving a disappointing, dissatisfying conclusion to what was otherwise an outstanding series.
The theme of early cancellations comes up often. Shows like Firefly, Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks draw huge amounts of fan boy attention, due to their early cancellation, and too-little too-late viewership. The internet is filled with petitions to bring these shows back, but in the end nothing changes. These shows are left without a proper ending, and the fans are left disappointed by their brief love affairs. However, compared with the potential for perversion, the prospect of an inconclusive end doesn’t necessarily seem so bad.
The worst end to a show that I can think of is the movie Serenity. Firefly was one of my favorite shows, and after finishing the televised series, I couldn’t wait to see the movie that would extend the show’s ending. Only, the movie I watched wasn’t the same as the show. The episodic, care-free narrative of the show disappeared within the strict confines of the cinematographic structure. At the end of the movie, I was more disappointed with the movie than the note of finality. Everything was tied up neatly, with all major plot threads tidied up, but the result felt hollow to me, a purposeless ending for the series. The entire series was rewritten into a black and white tale of good and evil, and the kind-hearted bandits living in the cracks of society were replaced with the sterile moral absolutes. That to me was the worst sin, because I could have stood to watch a bad movie, but it was more than I could bear to see the show ruined.
The show Scrubs is a complement to the early cancellation. Scrubsstarted as a popular, funny show with funny writers and a fresh spin on the idea of a doctor in a hospital, making a deep show that also managed to mix in humor. Unfortunately while I was ready to stop around season seven, the cameras rolled for another two seasons. The unique twist of the show eventually aged and ossified. When the show became established in itself, it was no longer original, fixated in rigid formulas for the sake of maintaining continuity. Unfortunately, when shows get stuck in these formulaic patterns, they experience the law of diminishing returns and thus shows like Heroes, The Office, House, Futurama, and 30 Rock, eventually outlive their audiences.
I don’t think there really is a great way to end a show. There’s a thin line to straddle. Either you risk cutting off a budding show, or find a stagnant mess. The fact of the matter is, people don’t want to watch their favorite characters fade away. The thing is, even though the endings to shows can be messy and somewhat disheartening, the ending ultimately is only one small part of the show. Maybe Gilligan will never get off the island, but it was enjoyable to always watch him try. In the end, Clone High was one of my favorite animated shows of all time, and even though Clone High died young, I’m glad it never grew old enough to disappoint me.