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Carnivale (#110 of 3)

The Long Arc: The Challenge of TV Series Endings

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The Long Arc: The Challenge of TV Series Endings
The Long Arc: The Challenge of TV Series Endings

I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching and recapping the CW series Gossip Girl; especially early on, the show had a surprising amount of hidden depth. However, while watching the past few episodes of the series, two thoughts were on my mind. The first was that after two-and-a-half seasons, any critical insight the show had to offer and that I could glean from in-depth recapping had probably come to an end. The second thought was about the reason for the first.

The intractable problem facing Gossip Girl is the same problem that plagued showrunner Josh Schwartz’s first series, The O.C., and is the same problem that any long-running television series confronts. A show survives the dreaded culling of pilot season and makes it onto the air. From there, it finds some combination of audience penetration and critical acclaim that justifies its existence to the networks, and it gets picked up for another season…and another…and another. At this point, dozens of hours of the show have been created, with each episode using up a plot avenue and closing off potential choices for the show’s direction. Will the show embark upon radical changes which may be so disorienting to an audience already used to the show’s pattern and template that it drives them away? Or will it rehash plots and tread water, creating new narratives from flimsier and flimsier premises, with the hope that the audience doesn’t realize or care that they’ve seen this stuff before? The correct choice lies somewhere in-between alienation and stagnation, and many series founder when making that choice.

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 20, “The Man Behind the Curtain”

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 20, “The Man Behind the Curtain”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 20, “The Man Behind the Curtain”

The specter of death has long hung-over the inhabitants of Lost but rarely has it struck as brutally or with the frequency it did in last night’s episode, “The Man Behind the Curtain” which detailed the act of betrayal that lead to the mass execution of dozens of employees of the DHARMA Initiative before ultimately snatching up the life of one of the show’s most popular characters…maybe. The angel of death: Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) who both lives up to the Wizard of Oz allusion in the episode’s title while rebuking it seemingly in equal measures. Ben, who you’ll remember once went by the Oz-centric nom de guerre “Henry Gale,” may not be the one pulling the strings behind the scenes, but he’s certainly calling the tune everyone dances to. The revelations of last night’s episode don’t exactly clarify the issue much either, presenting the illusive “Jacob” as both the ravings of a crack-pot (with shades of mother Bates and her boy Norman) as well as a very real and rather terrifying apparition. Is there a show on TV better at having its cake and eating it too?

The Simple Dream Becomes the Nightmare: Twin Peaks, The Second Season

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The Simple Dream Becomes the Nightmare: Twin Peaks, The Second Season

ABC

The Simple Dream Becomes the Nightmare: Twin Peaks, The Second Season

When Twin Peaks premiered April 8, 1990, on ABC, it became a minor pop phenomenon as viewers tuned in to discover Who Killed Laura Palmer. But the series was always more than a mystery; it was a grim, playful, often deliberately infuriating drama that fused the unique sensibilities of executive producers David Lynch and Mark Frost. Lynch was known for his mysterious surrealism, his adoration for Boy Scout values and Americana, and his preoccupation with the darkest aspects of human nature. Frost, a veteran TV producer, had a knack for quirky characters and police procedural elements (he’d previously worked on Hill Street Blues). The show ran ran for just 30 episodes spread out over two seasons, and except for the pilot, it was never a ratings smash, but its effect on TV is still being felt. Peaks’ most prominent successor was The X-Files, which capitalized on Peaks’ weirdness and offbeat humanism, not to mention its cinematic style, which relied on long takes, deep focus, and rich shadows. Northern Exposure capitalized on Peaks’ interest in small town life and cheerfully eccentric characters. The wholly experimental nature of some episodes of The Sopranos, and the entire unexplained and willful mysteriousness of Carnivale and Lost, are indebted to Frost and Lynch.