It’s the end of one year, which means it’s time for pop culture know-it-alls to look ahead to next year with great expectation and anticipation. But not me! No, I prognosticate with hysterical dread and alarmist fear. What if everything I am eagerly anticipating goes horribly awry? What if Fargo and True Detective follow up their phenomenal first years with sophomore slumps? What if Girls flunks its risky Hannah-goes-to-grad-school storyline? What if Steven Colbert can’t play the part of an honest-to-god talk show host? There are so many ways television could suck in 2015. Here are five that might happen in the first six months of 2015 alone:
Mad Men neglects Peggy…and everyone else not named Don Draper.
Here’s an idea for a book or an essay or a bunch of tweets that I don’t have time to write but I might read if someone else did: an analysis of the business of ending successful, long-running TV shows, using the diverse bumper crop of expiring programs that this bittersweet spring will bring us. Justified. Glee. Parks and Recreation. Mad Men. Cougar Town. It could be a Pictures at a Revolution kind of thing. Call it: Five Not Coming Back. (If Mark Harris writes that book, I’m definitely reading.)
There are many different strategies writers can use to finish off a show with so much accumulated plot and so many vivid characters. One of them is to narrow the focus, to channel everything that a final season or final episode needs to do through a few key characters or just the show’s most iconic character. Think of how Lost’s last act collapsed around Jack, or how the Sons of Anarchy capper ran through Jax. It’s a sensible, sometimes effective approach, but it comes with risks and can produce unintended effects. The emphasis on a designated hero can marginalize a deep bench of dynamic players, misrepresent the scope of themes and concerns, and contributes to a reductive, simplistic quality that often diminishes the final statements of so many intellectually and morally complex series.
And so I sweat Mad Men. How much will Matthew Weiner’s endgame churn through Don Draper? If it’s too much, he’ll alienate a contingent of viewers who believe Mad Men has always been as much about Peggy as it has been about Don, as well as those who would argue that the likes of Roger and Joan are as compelling if not more so than Don or Peggy, especially in recent seasons. I wouldn’t blame Weiner if he doubled down on The Ad Man Formerly Known As Dick Whitman: For me, Mad Men has always been the story of the rise and fall, legacy and relevancy of Don Draper and everything he represents. Still, Weiner would be wise to dote heavily and well on Peggy, Roger, Joan, and, yes, Betty. In fact, I can’t think of a more provocative way of ending Mad Men – and ending Don Draper – than by making him a small, supporting player in everyone else’s story.
Parks and Recreation’s time jump falls flat.
Last season ended by leaping ahead three years and finding Leslie Knope frantic and thriving, deep into her new job running the Midwest region of the National Parks service and raising triplets with Ben Wyatt. The sitcom’s final season, premiering on Jan. 13, will be set in 2017, and it will find some of its humor in imagining the world of the near future. Check out this teaser. Did you laugh? I didn’t. Maybe the promo is indicative of how the premise will change the characters and the quality of the gags we’ll get from each episode; maybe not. Until we know for sure, I worry. Parks and Recreation has been one of my favorite shows over the past few seasons. I want to spend these final half hours entertained by people I’ve come to know and love, in a place I’ve come to know and love. Will I see them and Pawnee in their new flash-forward constructions? Or will I be struggling to connect with them? I trust the brains behind Parks and Recreation as much as I trust Matthew Weiner’s vision for Mad Men. Which is to say, a lot. I just hope the high-concept twist adds something to the mix and doesn’t diminish it.
Justified shoots blanks with the Raylan vs. Boyd showdown.
I’ve never been an Elmore Leonard nerd, but I do consider myself a big fan of Justified. Enough to think the first three seasons were inspired pulp fiction, enough to be fascinated by Raylan Givens and his tortured relationship with the law and his anger, with the hellish backwater of Harlan County home, and with his rapport, rivalry, and ruinous war with his cracked mirror twin, Boyd Crowder. But I also happen to think the last two seasons haven’t been all that compelling, with last season being a major disappointment and proof that the show needed to come to an end ASAP lest it squander completely the one great story it has left to tell, the Raylan vs. Boyd showdown. Trouble is, I worry two seasons of mediocre wheel spinning has already sapped my enthusiasm for the series in general and anticipation I once had for this moment. What I need from the show is for the first few episodes to reignite my interest and electrify the stakes. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, this is on you as much as it on your writers. Bring it. Make me care again.
The comic-book glut doesn’t evolve.
The Superhero Inc. takeover is a dream come true for comic-book fans only a generation removed from living in a culture largely oblivious to The X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, Sin City, and Watchmen. For many others, it’s a sign of the pop apocalypse. I’m too much of a fanboy to be a hater, too much of an optimist to be a Chicken Little. But with Gotham still finding itself, Constantine failing completely, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. simply existing, it’s time for my tribe to expect and demand more. Yes, Arrow and The Flash are good – I admire the strategies for adaptation and commitment to quality entertainment demonstrated by exec producer Greg Berlanti and his team(s) of writers – but this genre can do better. It’s time for a major leap in ambition and intention, and I’m hoping we’ll get it from Marvel’s Netflix initiative (beginning this year with Daredevil from Spartacus showrunner Steven S. DeKnight), The CW’s iZombie from Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, and (possibly) AMC’s Preacher from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. If they can’t push the cause forward, we’re in for some dark nights of TV in 2015 for sure.
David Letterman’s sign-off isn’t the television event of the year.
Actually, I’m really not sweating this. In Dave, I’ve always trusted. Also? I’m already crying.