Sunday, July 04, 2010

metaDRAMA: The Importance of Endings

Preface: I like Hulu, but I despise their advertising model. I'm more than happy to tell them exactly what demographic I belong to, and to help them tailor their ads specifically to me, but it's so frustrating to watch a good show like Ugly Betty only to be constantly reminded by them that their demographic is a Revlon-branded 14-year-old girl. But that won't stop me from from watching.

Start: And nothing would have stopped me from watching the series finale of Ugly Betty. The show's been a terrific ride, working the over-the-top style into a smooth and seductive storytelling device (the telenovela, used for good), and building up terrific characters--slowly--like Justin, who finally came out toward the end of the series, or Mark, who went from a comically brilliant henchman to a sympathetic lead--a really good person underneath all of his defense mechanisms. Even people like Amanda, who remained the necessary comic relief, remained human enough--thanks to a talented cast--to keep from growing old, and it's a credit to the writing that Wilhelmina was able to end on a good note, rather than to continue being the Wicked Witch of the West.

But all of these things were possible because from the start, Ugly Betty has always known exactly how it's going to end. It has known that the garish "Ugly Betty" title card was eventually going to appear right before the end credits simply as "Betty," and in doing so, it's been able to actually grow a character--to show how Betty goes from being a mess to being a hot mess to being hot--and that's leaving attraction out of the equation. Yes, there have been ridiculous plots and love interests--many of whom came back for the last three "wrap-up" episodes--and yes, the finale was so crammed with the final leg of Betty's journey that it was overwritten and often rushed. But hey, the show got canceled; at least it was able to wrap things up.

And though I was upset to learn that the show was ending, I can say that I'm actually quite pleased having now seen how it went out: coming out, having a wedding, and leaving the country. It took big steps, took bigger risks than ever, and most importantly, preached the importance of going after your dream; it spoke toward not staying in your comfort zone. Ultimately, Betty leaves the big money of high fashion to go into a risky start-up New Yorker-ish venture, leaving behind all of her friends to do so, because that's her dream. And thank goodness the show was canceled, or it would have stretched that out another couple of seasons, to the point at which the ending wouldn't have seemed so earnest.

Conclusion: So yeah, you can take whatever sort of risky ventures you want during the progression of your television show, can stretch things for temporary financial gain, but you've got have an end goal in sight, and you've got to be unwilling to compromise on that simply for the safety of job security. My favorite shows have always seemed to know where they were going--The West Wing had a set term (literally); The Wire told a comprehensive story (from all angles) of Baltimore, reminding us that things are never as simple as they appear; Veronica Mars didn't overstep its season-long mysteries, but found new social issues to investigate; The Shield ended in an inevitable and unenviable way; and Friday Night Lights looks to be on track to wrap things up for everyone in a natural way. Breaking Bad may prove the exception that proves the rule--it's true that Gilligan doesn't know exactly where he's going, but he's not stretching anything out: he's gunning full-throttle toward the finish line, as excited as his audience is to see where we all wind up. Of course, an ending isn't everything, as FlashForward learned; you still need good actors and directors. But ultimately, we remember the transcendent shows by how well they grew toward the end, so let's always keep the journey in mind, and let's never stop believing.

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