[List] - 6 TV Shows That Could Have Ended Sooner

Of 43 new network TV shows that premiered last year, only 14 were renewed for second seasons. Two thirds of new TV couldn't make it past a year. Maybe they were too good to last. Maybe they never should have made it past a pilot. Or maybe they were just trying too hard. The 14 that did last now have a terrible job ahead of them: proving they were worthy of renewal. Because not every show that gets renewed deserves a place on the schedule. Some are too dumb. Some are Glee. And some have outstayed their welcome.

You'll note that the title of this article is Shows That Could Have Ended. Not should. Should is easy. Should is the US Office back when Jim and Pam got married. Should is CSI when the William Peterson left. Should is the Simpsons ending in season 8, when it was still the smartest show on TV. Should have ended is the easiest thing in the world. Could have ended is harder. I'm thinking about those shows that, as they exist, with no changes, you can stop watching at a point, say on DVD, and feel better about the show then when it actually ended. Not feel cheated. And not have to watch a good thing go to waste.

Hit the jump for the list, which is by no means exhaustive, and admittedly post 2000. If you have suggestions, I'm happy to hear them. Oh, and to say that it contains spoilers should be redundant.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer
How Long Did It Last: 7 Seasons (1997-2003)
When Could It Have Ended: Season 5 (2001)

Joss Whedon had a plan, you see. Once he realised the show would be popular, sometime around mid-season two, he had a plan. Five years. Details got rearranged, but he knew what was coming. He knew that either Xander or Willow would be gay, and planted the seeds for both early on. He knew that Dawn would be introduced, and hinted at it in season three. He knew that Joyce would die, but kept putting it off, and that the show would end the only way a show about a lineage of teenage girls who die and pass on their powers could: Buffy was going to die.

Where he ran into difficulty was the show kept almost being cancelled, so he kept having to shift his plans in an effort to keep viewership up, so he could get to the five year mark. And he did. And figuring it would be the final end, he stepped up, and killed his main character. The show was cancelled, and a legacy was assured. He was able to devote his time to the spin off, and a western he was developing over on FOX, certain to be a hit.

Except a rival network picked up the show, they had to find bring Buffy back, like mid-nineties Superman, and the show never recovered. Joss was too busy putting things together on Firefly, and keeping things in line on Angel, and Buffy never really knew what to do with itself once Joss' master plan wasn't there to guide it along. Suddenly, everything the show had been working for over five years seemed to fall apart, because there didn't seem to be anywhere left to go. And, like resurrecting any character will, death just didn't seem that big a deal anymore. While season six is generally thought of to be the weakest season with the best individual episodes, a viewer can comfortably stop watching the show at the end of season five, confident that Buffy would be grieved over, missed, and her family would learn to move on. And the world will be safe.

The West Wing
How Long Did It Last: 7 Seasons (1999-2006)
When Could It Have Ended: Seasons 3 (2002)

Aaron Sorking wrote every episode of the first season of The West Wing by himself. He wrote nearly every episode of seasons two and three by himself. He wrote or co-wrote almost every episode of season four. And then he was either fired, or quit, or a combination therein. What is well remembered was his arrest for drug use. And the steep decline of the show in it's final three years, marked by a decrease in intelligence, and an increase in event programming that had suctioned the life out of ER, and was completely out of place in a political policy show.

It is impossible to argue that the first three years of the West Wing are some of the best TV ever made. As in ever, the history of the medium. But something happened in season four. Sorkin got tired. Of twenty four episodes, only one feels anything like what had come before it (Evidence of Things Not Seen, for the curious), and only a couple others feel otherwise energised. There is a fantastic clip from that season, which I can't find on YouTube, of Toby, played with perfection by Richard Schiff, explaining to the new guy Will (Josh Malina) that he hasn't had writer's block, rather that he had lost the spark, that the words don't feel like they used to. It's an on screen apologise from Sorkin to the viewer. It is heart crushingly honest, and probably the most humble Sorkin has ever been, in any of his plays, movies or shows.

But season 4 ends on a cliffhanger. And while you can stop there, assume the President stepped down, and never resumed his role, it still leaves a bunch of questions in the air. Better is to end on the high note, the end of season three. The President has ordered the death of a terrorist leader who plotted to destroy an American landmark. He's running for reelection, and the series essentially ends with the clip above: with the President absolute in his mindset for the first time in months. You can walk away knowing that Bartlett kicked his ass, and remained a great president.

How Long Did It Last: 8 Seasons and counting (2005-Present)
When Could It Have Ended: Season 5 (2010)

The video won't embed, but you can watch it here.
Another show doomed by it's own success. Supernatural was a modest hit in it's first couple years, but from the second season on, creator Eric Kripke had a vision that would take it up to the five year mark (after five full seasons, most American shows have at least 100 episode, the magic number for syndication rights, and thus continued income). Slowly, the monsters of the week, urban legends and mythology stuff would move to the background, and the Judeo-Christian material would take up more and more time, as the Winchesters fought against the Apocalypse, and the Devil himself. Then, in season four, with the introduction of Angels, viewership went up, and the show became one of the CW's biggest hits. Kripke remained on target, and ended the show without giving thought to a possible sixth season: Dean gets to go off, and have a life without monsters, and Sam gets sliced apart for eternity, trapped in a Hell cage with bickering Angels.

Then season six happened, and suddenly there was no where else to go. The sixth season is a mess, with directionless arcs that are abandoned midway in favour of new things. Characters are killed, only to be not killed later on because the writers regretted it. Season seven showed a mark improvement, if only because they had a structured plan going in, which six obviously did not have, but it still pales in comparison to the pre-Apocalypse days. As a fan of the show, I think it would have been better to actually end the world, and have the boys fight to survive in a post-Apocalypse Hell-scape, rather then having to retread old ground over and over until the CW finally lets them die. Season eight, starting soon, once again starts with a brother escaping an inescapable pit, and once again uses a time skip to set things up. And once again, a mystical opportunity awaits. I say, better to end with the Devil, then wait on Heaven.

How Long Did It Last: 8 Seasons (2004-2012)
When Could It Have Ended: Season 4 (2008)
Video won't embed, but you can watch it here.
The problem with House was an overriding reliance on the status quo. The biggest complaint against the show was that there was rarely any substantial character development. And while for House himself, that really was the way to go ("nobody changes"), his environment was in need of a shake up. At the end of season three, the entire team quits, and House is forced to choose a new team. I thought this was a brilliant move; keep the main players, the Holmes, Watson and Mycroft archetypes, but change up the Irregulars every couple of years. Except, by season's end, the original team had all returned. And every year it was the same. Someone would quit, or someone would be arrested, but by the time the next season came around everything was the way it used to be. They'd add new characters, but then write them out. Wilson would hate House and refuse to be his friend, but that never lasted very long. It was only in the last couple years, when the cast started to jump ship that there were any substantial changes, but still the writers refused to explore new scenarios, with House in therapy, or House in jail, in favour of the same hospital season we'd had from day one.

Season 4 was truncated by the Writer's Strike, and like a lot of shows that year, the episodes that arrived after the strike were good. Really good. A little extra time to think about things was clearly good for the quality of writing that followed. It ends with the magnificent, powerful, and emotional House's Brain/Wilson's Heart combination, starting with a bus crash, and ending with the death of a character that was never meant to be well loved, or missed, and yet that is what the writers managed. It was also the first of what became the standard for the shows later finales, with something ridiculously big happening, which I felt never fit with the show (unless you are an action series, 'big things' rarely fit well). Ending at season four eliminates a lot of the repetition, a lot of the narrative missteps (Huddy, for one), and ends with House forced to witness the implications of his behaviour, not on himself, but on the people he actually cares about. If the shows ends here, then House learns something profound, instead of... you know, not.

How Long Did It Last: 6 Seasons and counting (2007-Present)
When Could It Have Ended: Season 4 (2011)

Californication is a fairly exploitative show. On the surface, it's a shallow, debauchery filled sex romp. And that is true. However, it can also be quite good. When it leaves the masturbation and penis jokes to the side for a moment, and hits the emotional stuff, the show can be powerful. And when it is being funny, it can be hilarious. It's vicarious TV. I know I watch just to see what the hell the writers are going to get David Duchovny into each week, and how we'll squirm his way out of it.

It also features a well structured, and complete, character arc for Hank. Between seasons one and four, Hank wins back the woman of his dreams, and looses her again. He crawls out of a life that is making him miserable, and escapes with his soul in tact. He sleeps with a teenager, is arrested, and found guilty of statutory rape. And at the end of the fourth season, each character has found their own path, mostly separate from each other, and Hank Moody drives off into the sunset, leaving his California days behind.

Then season five happened, and everything was forced back into the twisted status quo. Years of character development undone because the writers couldn't think of anything else to do with the characters. Natasha McElhone comes off the worst of it, with her character doubling back on decisions she made over the course of years, in a matter for episodes. Most of the revelations of the season finale seemed to come straight out of no where. I was so displeased with the way the show had turned, I was hoping that Natalie Zea really did kill Hank in the finale. Sadly, with season six expected in the coming months, this is not the case. Instead, stop watching as Hank escapes his west coast hell, and know that in that universe, everything worked out for the best.

How Long Did It Last: 6 Seasons (2004-2010)
When Could It Have Ended: Season 4 (2008)

The video won't embed, but you can watch it here.
LOST is hard. It nearly falls into the should have ended pile, if only because there is no where during it's run that it ended with resolution and satisfaction. I include the actual series finale in that. And it's by the grace of the fact the show did, as written and designed by the producers, end leaving far, far too many questions unanswered, that I feel comfortable saying that the show is probably best left alone after the season 4 finale.

It leaves a lot of things in acceptable positions. We see how the Oceaniac Six got off the island, we see how utterly screwed up their lives are, and we see the island disappear, thus sort of confirming their story that everyone else died. Most importantly, it very neatly and very nicely brings a natural conclusion to what I still maintain was the actual story of LOST: the journey of Desmond. At the time, I argued that Desmond never should have appeared again, and still do. Each appearance he made after the season four finale took away from the character. So long as you can live with not knowing how Locke died, or what Ben was up to, or anything about the Others, you can stop here, and safely avoid all that Hand of God, twin brothers, and glowy sink hole nonsense that really brought the show down.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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