Too Much of a Good Thing

One of my indulgences is my Netflix account. It’s astounding, when you think of it: access to thousands of movies and television shows for just $8 a month. Yet, with all of my viewing possibilities, I tend to fall back on television series I’ve seen before. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and Netflix offers me plenty of video comfort food.

When Freaks and Geeks was cancelled in 2000 after a mere 18 episodes, the show’s devoted fans were livid. They (by which I include myself) wanted to know more about the futures of these high-schoolers. We wanted more of the well-crafted characters and thoughtful plots. But the powers that be thought otherwise – the same powers that cancel 2/3 of American television shows by the end of their first season – and canceled the show.

It actually worked out pretty well for all those involved. Executive producer Judd Apatow has had a string of Hollywood hits. James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segal have all achieved superstar status, whilst John Francis Daley and Busy Philipps have maintained star status in Bones  and Cougar Town, respectively. If Freaks and Geeks had been drawn out for three or five or ten seasons, it’s possible that none of their careers would have fared as well.

And, I argue, the show wouldn’t have fared as well, either. In the case of this show, we were all spared the American habit of wanting too much of a good thing.

(I don’t make assumptions about what people watch, so beware: SPOILERS ABOUND henceforth for The Office (UK), and The Office (US).)

The clearest example of too-much can be found in comparing the original British version The Office to its American counterpart. Bear in mind, first, that British television shows are typically produced in batches of six to eight episodes, without much guarantee of renewal, and they may begin airing at almost any time of year. For American sitcomes, however, there is a standard of producing 22 to 28 episodes for an eight-month “season” that typically starts at the end of September. But many shows don’t make it that far into the production schedule. And a great many get canceled before their final episodes can be aired.

The British version lasted two seasons, 12 episodes total. The show was arguably groundbreaking in what has become known as “cringe comedy”, finding humor in uncomfortable scenarios and subjects that we ordinarily would rather not think about. The primary story arc involves slacker Tim and his star-crossed crush on Dawn, the receptionist at his office who is, unfortunately, engaged, and not to the nicest of chaps. Tim struggles with whether to reveal his feelings for Dawn, even as it’s clear that her current relationship is on shaky ground. In the final episode, he decides to tell her how he feels. Tim’s final words in the show are, “She said no, by the way.” It’s a devastating moment that can’t help but bring me to tears.

Compare this to the American version. It takes the American series 28 episodes to arrive at the point that the U.K. version does in 10. And, there’s something to be said for how the American version teases and tantalizes the viewer, stretching out drama. Season 2 ends in much the same way the U.K. version does: the slacker (Jim, not Tim) professes his love for the receptionist (Pam, not Dawn), who maintains she’s remaining with her boorish fiancé.

And then. Season 3.

In the American quest for happy endings, we follow the ultimate pairing of Jim and Pam. And it’s some damn good television. Some of the best I’ve come across. At the end of Season 3, Jim proposes to Pam.

And then. We get to Season 4.

It’s important to note that Season 4 was cut short by a writer’s strike, which the producer’s partially made up for after the resolution by creating some 44-minute episodes as opposed to the standard 22. But once we got to the point we all waited for, the coupling of Jim and Pam, where could the show go from there? It invested itself in its minor characters. Jan, an awkward and awkwardly developed character who went from Michael’s boss to his girlfriend to his ex, is the focus of several episodes. A strained and ridiculous love triangle between Dwight, Angela, and Andy takes center stage. And the whole thing starts going off the rails.

And continues to do so. For FIVE MORE SEASONS. Five seasons that just get worse and worse. More ludicrous. More pained – and not in the good way that the U.K. version mastered. It becomes a total train wreck. Just as so many other TV shows do.

It seems that, in this culture, we can’t leave well enough alone. We can’t let a show go out on a highlight, but rather let it devolve and decay into mediocrity and beyond. We sacrifice quality for quantity.

I, for one, am glad that never happened to the delightful Freaks and Geeks.

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 29 May, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I agree,Netflix rocks 🙂

  2. Marz (from the Former Fundies!)

    Certainly, Brit shows are almost brutally punctual in their endings by American standards.
    Have you seen “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”?
    Oi, talk about cringe comedy!
    And the prompt ending is truly catastrophic.
    But it doesn’t disintegrate into another show entirely, as so many American shows do.

    • Yes, I’ve seen “Todd Margaret”. Genius show. And brilliantly cast, drawing from cringe comedies on both sides of the pond, “Arrested Development” and “The Inbetweeners”.

  3. I definitely prefer a show go out in its prime leaving us wanting more than being dragged out to the point it’s unwatchable (Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl, Weeds, Dexter, and I’m afraid True Blood.) Freaks and Geeks was okay, but I prefer Apatow’s Undeclared. Granted, that one was on while I was in college so I related to it more. I didn’t see F&G until high school was a distant memory.

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