The truth about endings
Just once, I’d love a much-missed classic show to stay dead.
A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Right? This was drilled into me by a succession of English teachers – shout out to dear departed middle school hero Mr Tennant and the woman who made grammar school1 bearable for me, Mrs St Ruth. A little like life, a story has three acts – more if you’re feeling ambitious – and how long it takes you to get there is up to you, but it must, at some point, finish. The curtain has to descend, the book should close, the credits must roll.
‘Happily ever after’ dominates the big finale market and many prefer the ends tied as tightly as possible, no room for loose dangling, left to chance. But I’m big on leaving an audience wanting more. They should cry out in disbelief as the screen fades to black and desperately flip the blanks at the arse-end of a novel in case there’s any scrap of an epilogue. I’ve always favoured ‘happy for now’ or bold cliffhangers, or a taste of the future, but no chance ever to see it. Like leaving a room filled with your friends and one enemy and wondering what they’ll say about you. (Probably nothing, tbh, did they even notice you left?) Wondering, dreaming, theorising – all underrated states for a reader to find themselves in.
Now, nothing ends, unless you really don’t want it to. The show you loved on Netflix that had you gripped, with an expertly set up season two will, for sure, be cancelled. (Recent roll-call: The Great; The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself; Smiley; Lockwood & Co. to name just three.) The classic that said adieu a good decade or so earlier, however, one you’ve mourned and processed, will be wrenched from its cryogenic chamber and thawed out – often leaking messily with a distinct whiff of a long passed sell-by date. Shows you never thought you’d lay eyes on again! Books with such perfect denouements you couldn’t imagine conjuring up a sequel! Or, even worse, art and ‘content’ IP’ed down to its nth granule, spun into origin stories, alternative takes, reboots – not sating an appetite but creating one. The pangs of hunger are best experienced only briefly, but perhaps we’ve forgotten the euphoria of the first bite after a slightly prolonged tummy rumbling. Unless immortality is built into the show’s DNA – like soaps, and Doctor Who – stories must end, but we’re too early in the stages of grief to let them go; streaming services bulge with the product of our denial.
The easiest take is to drag the ultimate second coming: And Just Like That. Sex and the City was, truly, a phenomenon. Perhaps our rose-tinted specs have fogged over and made us forget the original series was flagging by the end, but the four characters were missed, and fans wanted to hang out with them again – until they saw the second movie anyway. The show itself had what you could argue was a perfect ending – not undone, but spoiled somewhat to facilitate further adventures. This ever-after was then obliterated by the new show. (It’s not a ‘reboot’ as time has moved on, the characters are played by the same actors, and the story is a continuation and canon. Just my personal hill to die on there, call it a sequel or a revival if you must). Fans are disappointed for myriad, justifiable reasons and despite its renewal for a third season, a sense of doom hangs over the enterprise. Many of those watching are not so much viewers as tricoteuses. Presumably, this part of the story will have to end too. Will it be as satisfying? Will it respect the show’s legacy? And, more importantly, the only question that’s kept this revival in anyone’s heart, mind or mouth: will Kim Cattrall show up for it?
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The revival of Frasier offers similar quandaries, made more difficult because there are even more Cattralls noping out of this version. I didn't watch the original, really – since the 1980s Tefal adverts, I’ve had a visceral reaction to too many giant foreheads on one screen at the same time – but I’m told the ending was perfect. Decades later, the marketplace of ideas has delved into the depths of the frosted-up chest freezer and decided it’s time to go again, dismantling the original run’s denouement in about three lines, and introducing a new cast, made only mildly exciting because it contains Rodney from Only Fools And Horses. So far it’s as much fun as staring down into your own hangover piss on a Sunday morning and breathing in deeply. Oh, onions. How does it do that?
Will & Grace, Roseanne, Arrested Development to name a few, all became pale imitations once they received CPR from commissioners looking to trade on nostalgia and a perceived lack of curiosity.
In the pandemic especially, audiences craved familiarity beyond grainy reruns, and a sense of reassurance. Did everything turn out all right for those beloved characters? And if it did, does it mean I’ll be okay too? It’s understandable, low-stakes instant gratification. But once initial curiosity was sated, and novelty dulled, they floundered. (AJLT is bucking that trend if only because devotees are watching through their fingers and, again, people really love that cast.) Like rekindling lost loves a few years too long after the initial fire burned itself out, the revivals were superfluous, over-compressed avatars of who they used to be. They didn't only show us how their stars had changed – cosmetic preservation notwithstanding – they were a chilling reminder of our own personal evolutions. Why don’t I love this show anymore? What happened to me? Have I forgotten how to be me? And where tf is Kim Cattrall?! I mean, thank god there was never a sequel to This Life. Shudder.
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