Tag Archives: The Office

Change is Good

The TV show Chuck begun with a really simple conceit: nerdy, intelligent twenty-something stuck in a crappy deadend job in a BestBuy BuyMore suddenly finds himself with a CIA computer (the Intersect) in his brain and involved with various spy activities with agents from the NSA and CIA.

Simple.

The show could have very easily fallen into step; keep the perpetual romantic tension between Chuck and Sarah (the CIA agent) with Casey (the NSA one) filling the role of the authority figure. They’d fight the villain of the week and just maintain that status quo. It’d be fun, filled with great gags with Chuck and best friend Morgan or with his inability to really mesh with the whole spy gig. Instant formula.

Only they didn’t.

In Season Two, Chuck gets the Intersect out of his head. But then the show plays with the idea of the Intersect, giving him a new one that rather than just information, gives him skills too. So come Season Three, Chuck, now an intermittent badass, is able to actually take to the field. He and Sarah become a committed couple (eschewing the will-they-or-won’t-day schtick), and Morgan is let in on Chuck’s double life. As the series continues Chuck loses the Intersect and becomes a spy in his own right, Casey softens into the papa wolf of the group (which in turn expands to include Morgan and Chuck’s sister and brother-in-law). Seasons 4 and 5 were very different from Seasons 1 and 2. The show kept its heart throughout, but allowed its characters to grow.

TV’s a special medium. It’s a blend of short and long-form storytelling, one that allows for long arcs and even changing genres. Look at Lost. The show shifted gears from mostly a drama-mystery to mostly science-fiction show. But, despite the change, it remained heavily character focused right up to and during the end. Lost couldn’t have kept spinning its wheels with the castaways on the island idea, it had to develop beyond the simple idea.

What happens if a show does stay the same? Look at The Office, which began to wear out its format and stories a while ago. Recently, though, the show has begun to explore its idea of being a mocumentary and, with only a couple episodes left, allow its characters to really start making big life choices (that would have them leaving Dunder Mifflin and thus the show). In this case, the show format grew to hamper the story. Anything we saw on camera had to be justifiably filmed by the documentary crew.

Sometimes watching characters grow and change is good too. Look at How I Met Your Mother over the years. Granted, some episodes/storylines fall flat and nothing seems to happen, but the show isn’t afraid to let the characters grow. Barney, for example, grew from a one-note womanizer to an engaged man. Their friendship remains constant, but they’re all in different places from where they were seven years ago. ‘cuz, y’know, people change.

Which brings me to Community. Here again we have a show that’s changed over the years as characters develop and relationships change. Abed has become more social and Jeff legitimately cares now. It’s not as much of a black-and-white change as in other shows, but the dynamic between characters steadily grows and shifts over time. Watching Season One makes you realize just where these characters go. It stays interesting.

I find TV to be a fascinating medium with great potential. Shows like Lost and Game of Thrones wouldn’t work as a film. Long arcs play out so much better in television, especially when they’re character focused. One thing that Chuck, How I Met Your Mother, and Community all have in common is that though some of the storylines can be farfetched and goofy, the characters are always treated with a level of respect and allowed to grow over time. No matter how unrealistic the world around them can get, the characters stay grounded. The shows continue to be interesting and we really begin to fall in love with them and who they are. They change, and change is good. Sure beats pulling a The Big Bang Theory and making the same joke for years on end.

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On A High Note

There’s this quote I read once but for the life of me cannot find (no, not even on the legendary internet). Well, starting an essay with a quote is pretty trite and I think I’ve averted that, so there.

Anyway, CS Lewis was once asked why he chose to end The Chronicles of Narnia after ‘only’ seven books. He essentially said that it was better to end it when people wanted more than to end it when people were tired of it. Y’know, end on a high note (title drop!).

In 1995 Bill Waterson decided it was time to bring an end to Calvin and Hobbes. After ten years of adventures of the eponymous boy and his stuffed tiger it was over. Everyone wanted more. Seventeen years later we – I – still want more. They’re good stories, full of life and imagination, silliness and insight. But he ended it how he wanted to and when he wanted to. We got a conclusion, and it ended. Now it’s fondly remembered as one of the best comics ever.

Compare that to, say, The Office. The show is several seasons along and, by most accounts not what it used to be. Not to say it’s not still entertaining, it’s just not as good as it used to be. Fun as the show is, the general populace doesn’t really care too terribly much about it anymore. We’re (almost) tired of it (maybe). If it ends now in seventeen years we’ll be discussing how it was ran into the ground and how good it was at first. It’s not that it outright sucks anymore, it’s just that, well, it doesn’t measure up to what it used to be.

The Star Wars movies are another great example. When Return of the Jedi concluded the Holy Trilogy in 1983, that was it. People loved the movies. People wanted more. But we wouldn’t get more: it was over.

Only it wasn’t. Come 1999, we got The Phantom Menace; more Star Wars! A dream come true! But, for reasons that are for another rant essay, they didn’t measure up to the Holy Trilogy. Yes, we were excited for each new installment, but, well, we slowly realized that we didn’t need them. We got what we wanted and it wasn’t quite what we had hoped for. Look, the prequels aren’t the worst movies ever, they just, well, aren’t the Star Wars we grew up with. Maybe it would have been better to leave us clamoring for more.

It’s not always by choice, though. I would do quite a lot for a new episode/series/anything of Firefly. There were only fourteen episodes created before the show met its untimely cancellation. Each of these episodes was a terrific example of good science fiction; telling stories about people and their lives, the artificial family they formed, and the adventures they got up to. But it was canceled. And it ended, leaving us (you know what’s coming next) wanting more. We did get more, a very satisfying conclusion that brought it to a definitive end. But still, another few episodes of Firefly would be nice, wouldn’t they?

It doesn’t matter if we get more, though. The show was fantastic and the movie Serenity tied everything together. What better way for it to end?

Well, not ending would be a better way.

Point remains, though. It’s easy to follow the temptation to keep giving the audience more. It’s what they want, it’ll shut them up, and you’ll get money. Just keep doing it until the audience drifts away and loses interest. Once your source of income’s gone, well, that’s it then. Done is done, time to move on, right?

No. Think about posterity. Find a conclusion, end it well. Give your audience closure and leave them with fond memories of your work. Let them be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

The final strip of Calvin and Hobbes is arguably one of the best of the entire run. It’s Calvin and Hobbes looking at freshly fallen snow and getting ready to go sledding through the woods. “It’s a wonderful world, Hobbes ol’ buddy…” says Calvin, “…let’s go exploring!”

Now that is ending on a high note.

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