Why I Wish Death Upon My Favorite Shows, An Op-Ed on Why Shows Shouldn't Run Forever
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Fandoms are reviving shows that would otherwise die. But, like Frankenstein, just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should do it.
In 2011-2012, the third season of Community aired on NBC. Although the show had never received particularly impressive ratings, it won the hearts of many viewers, including yours truly. But when 30 Rock came back from a brief hiatus in January 2012, NBC chose to remove Community from its winter schedule. Most believed that the show was ending, including creator and executive producer Dan Harmon, who titled the Season 3 finale Introduction to Finality.
Following Season 3 of Community, Dan Harmon was fired. Season 4 was filmed out of order, and saw the departure of series regular Chevy Chase. Season 5 saw the departure of Donald Glover, often considered one of the brightest spots in the series. Then the show was cancelled. Then it was brought back by Yahoo Screen for a sixth season. Season 6 saw the departure of Yvette Nicole Brown, and even recurring guest stars, like John Oliver and Ken Jeong, had their roles diminish significantly as the show went on. As of today, there is no word as to whether there will be a Season 7 or a Community movie. The show was on the bubble for its entire existence, but was repeatedly saved by its cult fan following. But, really, after Season 3, the show was not good. And by the end of Season 6, the show had become almost unidentifiable.
Community was brought back and sustained largely by fandom and the power of streamed content. Although fans interacting with media in order to bring back beloved shows is not a new phenomenon, the ability to create real-time commentary has given fans more power and visibility than ever before. This newfound power is a double-edged sword, strangely, in the same way that modern medicine is. Having more influence means fans can keep something alive, but that's not always a good thing, particularly when the surviving thing is a taped-together zombie or ghost of its former self (e.g. Community). Fandom prevents shows from dying a more natural, gentler death that keeps their memories intact. The show reached its peak in its third season; allowing it to continue onwards through three more seasons is almost inhumane. At a certain point, you have to be willing to let your loved ones die with grace.
There is an obvious argument for the continuation or revival of a beloved TV series, or at least for some sort of closure. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I fought, in my own clicktivist way, to bring back Community, Arrested Development, and Futurama. But, now that I think about it, I realize that I was wrong to pine for their return from beyond the grave. Television is, in a way, like a real human relationship. When a relationship ends, it is natural to grieve and search for an explanation as to why. This is the basis for the appeal of series finales; there is an innate desire to have the show explain its own cancellation. But, like with human relationships, the “need” to revive a cancelled show is ultimately destructive--particularly when you get what you want. A series' disastrous rebirth often overshadows what was once the desire to bring it back.
Many of the problems facing the reboot of Arrested Development were caused by similar issues to those that ruined Community. Due to scheduling problems, the show’s cast was seldom able to be in a room together, which prevented the chemistry on which the show had depended during its initial run. Furthermore, the time-lapse meant Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat had aged considerably during the show’s absence - making certain (incestuous) tropes the show had relied upon more uncomfortable than humorous. Of course, the non-linear timeline in which the show was aired didn’t help things, but even this was probably the result of issues in the season's production.
Thus, whether a fan is okay with a lower quality product is a question that must be considered when thinking about the return of a beloved show. Of course, it is difficult to leave the characters in a show behind – especially when they’ve been “visiting” your home once a week for several years. But, in my opinion, I would rather see a show end in its prime than see it limp along, barely avoiding the death sentence of cancellation. The only situation where I would imagine a desire to see a show come back would be in the case that it was incredibly poorly resolved; if a show ends in a way that implies that it expects to be renewed, I would want to see it return. Although I would never say I enjoyed the final season of How I Met Your Mother, I would have been even more dissatisfied if the show had ended without revealing Mrs. Moseby.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule that shows tend to be worse once brought back. Family Guy, which was cancelled twice – after both seasons 2 and 3 - has hit its peak since its most recent run (which began in 2003). But Family Guy, unlike live action shows, wasn’t plagued by casting irregularities or by the loss of a creative producer. And unlike Futurama, Family Guy's cancellation was short-lived. Futurama was brought back so far after its initial run that its writers were effectively writing spec scripts, having to create an essentially new series.
The power of fandom is one which all fans of episodic programming must come to terms with. We must all ask ourselves: is it more important to hold onto a selfish desire for closure, or are we all better off letting our favorite shows die with grace? At least in my opinion, the latter option is better. Just because we can do something, doesn't mean that we should. In a world where repeat viewing means a show never truly leaves us, it is far better to allow a work to die – we will always be able to relive it through syndication or streaming.