Two of the biggest shows on TV are ending this week: The Big Bang Theory finishes its 12th season on Friday, and Game of Thrones ends its eighth season Monday night. One's a multi-camera comedy that fits squarely within network traditions, the other's a flashy fantasy epic chockablock with violent murder. One is symbolic — perhaps unfairly — of cultural un-coolness, while the other spawns viewing parties and obsessive podcasts from legacy media companies.
And yet both are getting the same kind of finale rollout, the kind a lot of shows get these days, like Veep just had: an announcement well in advance of the premiere that the coming season would be the show's last, a full-court media press of oral histories and it's-hard-but-it's-time talk show appearances, well-placed tributes from high-profile fans. Clip shows and after-shows. Photos from the final table read on the cast's Instagram accounts, and then maybe a photo essay of the final days in a magazine.
We've had months and months to gird ourselves. Which isn't to say those finales will necessarily be good or beloved, just that fans of the shows have been well shepherded into the ideas that these shows are indeed ending.
Big shows have always gotten fanfare finale rollouts, but in recent years, and especially for the 2018-19 season, network, cable and streaming outlets have been big on farewell seasons for smaller shows, too. Netflix gave viewers ample warning about the end of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The final season of Broad City was one big goodbye, an almost therapeutic guide through the main characters' maturation process and thus the end of the freewheeling-young-adult premise of the show.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend walked its audience and its protagonist through all the show's what-ifs. The series finale of Catastrophe achieved a kind of ecstatic perfection that gave me spiritual resolution in ways I cannot attain in regular life. I will be crushed when Jane the Virgin ends this summer, but I will be as prepared as possible. Every living person who watched FXX's You're the Worst wrote a loving eulogy to it on a website, or ranked its episodes, or praised its depictions of PTSD and depression one last time.
Transitions, man. Anyone who's ever torn a toddler from a playground or nudged a crowd from cocktail hour to the reception hall knows people need warning. We need structure. We need guidance. We need a dang minute to collect ourselves. We need closure.
And we've been getting it more and more. The Lost finale was on the calendar for years, and now it feels standard for shows to get a chance to wrap themselves up and for fans to be aware of that process. The vigil for next year's Supernatural series finale began before its current season even ended.
To be clear, this isn't a complaint. I love a warning period, and I love a mourning ritual. Even as ratings for any given show drop and drop, connecting with fellow fans has never been easier, and there's something to be said for being able to dry one's tears on infinity blog posts. "Goodbye" is better than "get lost," even if the outcome is ultimately the same.
But this kind of finale ramp has made the regular old cancellation model seem jarring and downright cruel. Not that it was ever comfy-cozy, but now a cancellation feels like "." in a text message instead of a "!!!" or something more genteel. A cancellation without a true finale feels hostile, even though it was once completely normal.
Fans treasured One Day at a Time because it was a funny, sweetheart show that represented marginalised people in humanising, significant ways. And we could have accepted an ending — because all shows will end except the local news and Wheel of Fortune. (Take comfort, Constance Wu.) What was harder to accept was the abruptness of it all, the shock. Give us a six-episode farewell season like we're human beings, for God's sake. And The CW renewed every show on its roster, but ABC can't figure out a way to give us even 13 more episodes of Speechless?
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I'm not saying any of those would be good business decisions. But I'm not a business. I'm a flabby human with a working heart, and I want a one-hour Detroiters special, and I'm mad that Comedy Central canceled the show in December instead. I could have loved you better, Counterpart. Santa Clarita Diet could have gone full-bonkers. The Murphy Brown reboot never got to have a crossover with The Good Fight.
Finales have taken on a strange significance of their own as "sticking the landing" has become a meme unto itself — but also as reboots and revivals have meant the end of endings. They are now a precious spectacle, an impossible beauty, a relic. So having time to prepare the shrine doesn't feel like so much to ask.
Written by: Margaret Lyons
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES