This week’s question comes from our own editor, Sean O’ Neal, in honor of all the season (and series) finales we’ve sat through the last couple weeks:
What show could have gone on forever and you’d happily continue watching?
I could have happily spent the next several decades of my life watching Parks And Recreation, and I genuinely think it could have lasted that long. Leslie Knope’s political ambitions aside, the show was never building to some big, sweeping resolution, anyway. The stories it told were appropriately low-stakes and small-town, concerning minor career setbacks and advancements, romances turning into lasting relationships, friends helping each other in times of need—ordinary life stuff, in other words, the sort of thing that just goes on indefinitely. The time jump in the final season sort of mocked TV’s conventional yet unnatural idea of finality, picking up with Knope, Ron Swanson, et al. several years in the future, many of them now living big, exaggerated versions of what their hopes and dreams had always been. But had Parks And Rec simply just continued, I don’t think that kind of dramatic escalation would have ever been undertaken or even necessary. It could have remained as stalwartly modest and dependable as the bureaucracy where it takes place (even if that only increasingly looked like utter fantasy). And I would have taken the same reassurance from visiting the kind and generally untroubled world of Pawnee, for as long as I needed somewhere to escape.
In some ways, my answer is the exact opposite of Sean’s: I could have kept visiting the nasty, generally troubled world of Peep Show for as long as David Mitchell and Robert Webb were willing to let me in to the darker recesses of their respective heads. That’s the beauty of a show that’s rooted in expressing the comedy inherent in the secret, ugly thoughts and humiliations of human life: There’s pretty much no way you’re ever going to run out of relatable material to mine. Plus, there’s no need to worry about a happy ending coming in and ruining everything, because—barring a total reorganization of its “heroes’” personalities—eternal flatmates Mark and Jez are doomed to keep playing out the same immature, insecure, selfish impulses that screw them (and each other) over every single time happiness dares to flirt with floating across their doorstep. The show technically ended back in 2015, but we could keep dropping in on the El Dude Brothers every few years for the next several decades, and I’m convinced they’d just keep getting sadder, angrier, and funnier as the years went on.
NBC canceling Law & Order remains baffling eight years later. While I understand the business-side squabbles of mega-corporations and massively rich producers tend to screw things up, the series could have gone on forever. Procedurals have a certain immortality, and there was no stronger template than Law & Order’s, where episodes spent roughly half their time focusing on detectives working a case, then the other half on the district attorneys prosecuting it. The story possibilities seemed endless, like the number of ways passersby can stumble upon a corpse in one of the five boroughs. True, Law & Order: SVU has taken the torch, but its melodrama eventually turned me against it. I still miss the one that started it all.
This is a bit of a dodge, since Stephen Colbert is doing fine, urgent work as his successor, but goddamn if I couldn’t watch David Letterman host The Late Show forever. There always comes a point when late-night hosts start to phone it in a little, or when their tastes get shaggy and out of touch, begging for someone younger to take the helm. But Letterman just got crankier and funnier, more openly antagonistic of his format. He leaned into his recurring segments with increasing aplomb, and his inability to fake giving a shit regularly drew out more interesting interviews than the scripted anecdotes and (shiver) cute games of some of his late-career contemporaries. It’s hard to imagine these qualities would’ve been diminished as he rounded the corner into his 70s, 80s, and so on. (He’s immortal, right?) And while Letterman certainly seems happier with his new Netflix show, he’s not exactly hitting the reassuring, night-in, night-out pleasures of his Late Show tenure.
I agree with my colleagues’ fantastic arguments about why Twin Peaks: The Return was such a beautiful, enlightening way to say goodbye to the series. There probably shouldn’t be more, something I feel to be true even if the lore dork in me is still quaking over the reality-shredding implications of the finale. But if I’m allowed a moment of selfish indulgence, I can’t possibly come up with another answer to this question than having Twin Peaks as a staple in my life. It has nothing to do with wanting answers. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. Watching The Return from week to week was such an enjoyable experience precisely because there were no easy answers. It was an exercise in powering down the analytical side of my brain and being trapped in someone else’s, content to just let the inscrutable imagery wash over me. A year later, I’m already missing those trips into David Lynch’s dark, expressionist imagination, and as bleak a place as it may be, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go back.
Since it seems like the show isn’t going to come back any time soon, I’d like some assurance that The Venture Bros. would always continue until the end of time—even if there were still three or four years between seasons. The show had such an incredible ability to reinvent itself, going from an homage to action cartoons like Jonny Quest to an elaborate send-up of the entirety of pop culture, and it could get into all sorts of great character growth over the course of eternity. Venture Bros. was also weirdly ahead of its time in terms of its references, considering that Dr. Orpheus first appeared over a decade before Marvel made a movie about the guy he was parodying, and I can’t imagine the kind of deep-cut nerdery that Venture Bros. could get into now that everybody knows the Avengers. Then again, the show loved to zig when fans wanted it to zag, so maybe I literally can’t imagine what it would be like in a post-Infinity War world.
There are plenty of shows that I wish received one or two more seasons (*cough* Deadwood *cough*) before cancellation or completion, but more and more I’m beginning to believe four seasons is an ideal length for a show. That said, given how often I still think about Gargoyles—a cartoon that first aired just shy of a quarter-century ago—I think I’d be happy to still be watching the adventures of a bunch of thoughtful, time-traveling monsters and their antagonistic corporate benefactor to this day. When the show first aired, it was compared favorably to Batman: The Animated Series, which also remains a high-water mark for all-age entertainment. But Gargoyles was ambitious for the time by telling an overarching story over the course of its three seasons. It was an epiphany for me as a high-schooler, and rewatching old episodes today, it’s still really fun. In no small part due to, other than the intricate story, it was a bunch of gee-whiz techno-sorcery and tragic Shakespearian characters reimagined as hi-tech bounty hunters. Also, the voice cast was absolutely top-notch.
Here’s the televised pleasure I could continue consuming in perpetuity: Supernatural. In a weird, ass-backward way, I feel like my reasons for this are much the same as Sean’s for Parks And Rec, only with completely different examples to match the arguments. Instead of small-scale bureaucratic headaches, Sam and Dean Winchester fight large-scale bloodthirsty monsters, give or take the occasional apocalypse or battle against God’s pissed-off sister. But mostly, it’s just the monster of the week, and they’re the only two guys around to save the day. Far more serialized than Law & Order but more episodic than Twin Peaks, for me it hits a perfect, House-esque middle ground, where you get plenty of one-off stories amid a longer season arc. I feel lucky that my choice is still going strong, entering season 14 next fall. Plus, as we’ve said in many a review of the show, Jensen Ackles is bulletproof.
There’s one TV show I still miss acutely: Mad Men. Yes, it had its high and low points over the course of seven seasons, but when the show was firing on all cylinders—like in “The Gypsy And The Hobo,” say, or the season-one finale “The Carousel”—it was the greatest television I’ve ever seen in my life. Granted, I would prefer that the series had never dipped in quality (the sole reason I’m glad it left when it did), but I never, ever tired of watching Jon Hamm’s Don Draper effortlessly manipulate clients, colleagues, and love interests even as he continued to grapple with the grim realities of his interior self. But Don was only one in a vast cast of compelling characters, so I would have loved to view what happened to Sally after Betty’s death, whether Roger’s marriage to Marie lasted, and the hopefully happy years ahead for Pete and Trudy. It was the first show that showed me that TV could be as complex and permeated with as many themes as literature, and I would have happily watched it forever.
Although it’s true I stopped watching House a couple seasons before Fox pulled the plug, if it had stuck with the basics, I’d happily still devote an hour a week to it for the rest of eternity. And the basics are rock solid: Hugh Laurie as the brilliant asshole doctor, Robert Sean Leonard and Lisa Edelstein to support and/or foil him as required, and an occasionally changing roster on House’s diagnostic team to keep things from getting stale. House also maintained impressive attention to medical detail for a TV show, ensuring that (usually) the most improbable part of the show was that any hospital would see so many rare conditions and diseases in a year, let alone a lifetime. And I’m happy to suspend disbelief for a good procedural that celebrates the detective work of its spiritual ancestor Sherlock Holmes with plenty of weird medical shit and graphic surgeries. You’d never want to see a doctor with Dr. Gregory House’s bedside manner, which might generously be called rude and blunt, but as a fictional construct, and with Laurie’s humanity, House transcended the cliché of “brilliant but difficult” and was at times even sympathetic. A good episode of House is better than a trip down the WebMD rabbit hole: itchy feet can be a symptom of liver cancer, a single case of sexually transmitted West African sleeping sickness has been reported in real life, and it’s never lupus.