Tuesday, February 07, 2006

To Be Continued...

I blame Dallas.

And I don't just mean for big hair, prime time soaps, or stupid "it was all a dream" shower sequences. I blame them for cliffhangers.

Granted, Sunday night's Grey's Anatomy cliffhanger wasn't exactly the same. It was a post-Super Bowl mid-season episode, rather than a season finale. We know that the ep will be resolved next week, rather than in three months. But seriously! I get enough heart palpitations watching 24, I don't need those sort of anxiety attacks during TV's best guilty pleasure. You know each episode of 24 will end with a mini-cliffhanger. The show is designed that way.

But to end an ep of GA with Meredith plugging a gaping chest wound with her hand, mere millimeters away from possibly-live ordinance is just….mean. We know she isn't going to get blown into "pink mist," but damn, the look on McDreamy's face will be worth the fake-suspense. Is it next week yet?

Episodic two-parters can sometimes bring out the very best in a series. Using them in a season finale can often solidify a viewing audience for next season (unless TPTB decide to cancel the series, and anxiety-inducing cliffhangers are never resolved, but that's a whole other rant).

I often think back to the first season of The West Wing. The finale ends on the frantic note of "Who got shot?" as bullets from an unseen assailant rain down on President Bartlet and his aides. I didn't watch the first season of the series. I had absolutely zero interest in politics, or a series based around a Democrat White House. But all August long I saw ads on TV and in print, touting the season premiere, promising to let us know "Who got shot?" I watched the premiere out of morbid curiosity.

The rest, as they say, is history. I have been an avid viewer ever since. Each successive season finale has tried to end on some suspenseful note (will he or won't he run, who stole Zoe?, will we bomb the bad country?), but none have ever come close to what Aaron Sorkin accomplished in the first season.

A second, more timely example comes from last spring. Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica ended its amazing first season with one of the most shocking scenes in recent memory: sleeper Cylon and Galactica pilot Boomer pulls out her gun and shoots Commander Adama twice in the chest. In the CEC, in front of everyone. Waiting all summer for the conclusion was beyond torture. A tiny chance existed that Adama might, indeed, die. Battlestar is notorious for not playing it safe, or copping out with storylines (okay, so up until Roslin's amazing breast cancer recovery, but that's a rant in and of itself).

Other noteworthy finale examples: seaQuest, DSV, season two; Grey's Anatomy, season one; The Pretender, season three; The Sentinel, season three; OZ, any season.

Cliffhangers can, of course, have the exact opposite effect. Some are amazingly bad. Sometimes even a good finale can have a truly awful premiere.

But that's tomorrow's rant….

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