Way Down in the Hole

Awhile back, my brother lent me his copies of season 1 and 2 of the HBO series The Wire. You’d really have to be living under a pop culture rock not to have at least heard of this series as it is commonly cited as the best television series ever. (The emphasis does not originate from me.) I never got a chance to watch them on DVD, but when the HBO GO app became available for the iPad, I started watching the series.

“Give it three episodes,” my brother said. “If you don’t like it after that, then you can give up on it.” It’s a pretty reasonable time frame, the same way Nancy Pearl advises that you give books a certain number of pages before you can put them down for not liking them. I lost interest in The Sopranos after a season and a half so it’s not the first time I’ve given up on a series with critical acclaim. (The Sopranos is just part of hundreds of partially watched series that I’ve managed to collect over the years.)

I ended up watching Season 1 over the course of two days. Season 2 was more spaced out over a week. I just completed Season 3 last night with a marathon session at the end for the last four episodes stretching into the wee hours of the morning. I’m looking forward to starting Season 4, but I always wonder when I watch one episode if something is going to compel me to watch one or two or five after that. I have to be careful!

For myself, the series hits all the notes I look for in a television show: good acting, good plot, interesting characters, and (most important) a story arc that has an end to it. I want to emphasize the last part because as someone who watched a lot of television in the 1990’s there were so many series that just went on and on with no end in sight. The idea that “we’ll keep making them so long as people keep watching them” left me with no sense of actual closure to the series. And when I mean closure, I mean in the sense of “this is the end of the story, even if there are some questions that remain unanswered”. I’m sure you can think of a long running series that had to finish up because it was cancelled; I just hate when that happens.

My question to you is this: what do you look for in a story series? (Be it books, television, movies, or whatnot.) What’s your je ne sais quoi that makes things worth following? What makes you not follow a series?

6 thoughts on “Way Down in the Hole

  1. A TV series has to do one of two things (or both) for me: cause me to become emotionally invested in at least one character, and/or continue to surprise me. My all-time favorite series was Lost, and I continue to miss it. It had everything. I don’t know if I’ll ever become quite as invested in TV again. Before that, my favorite series was ER, mostly because of the characters since, after a few (many) too many years, it stopped surprising me. And it went on way too long after I stopped watching (although it was compelling enough in my memory to draw me back to watch the series finale. I have to give Noah Wyle credit for that. And I like closure, too) What makes me *not* follow a series is my own lack of patience. If the first episode doesn’t grab me and pull me in, I probably won’t be back.

  2. Wait till you get to season 5!! It’s amazual! As for the actual point of your post, I’d have to agree with what you said: I want to see a point to watching; a proper arc or a “focus statement” as it were. (I’m in journalism, and having “focus” tends to mean you’ve answered why the heck someone should care to read your article. The same function applies.)

  3. I agree — I have to care about the characters. Without emotional investment, I’ll give up on a show (or a book) very quickly. Most recently, this happened with The Walking Dead. In addition to a variety of other problems, the acting and writing for the first season of that show were just dismal. I’m not sure that I completely agree with your thoughts about endings. I’ll point to Deadwood as an example of a show that has a famously unsatisfying ending, but is nevertheless some of the best television ever made (though I have yet to see The Wire).

    Sometimes, a bunch of minor annoyances might add up and cause me to stop watching a show. For instance, it always bugs me when Hollywood characters hang up phones without saying any sort of “goodbye.” I mean, come on, who does that?

  4. Congrats on finally watching the show! By far the best drama TV show ever produced. As for what makes me keep reading or watching a show, it’s the writing. I know that’s a very general answer, but The Wire is a good example. The writing, the script, is so damn good. Along with that, complexity. And not something being complicated for the sake of being complicated. But, again, The Wire is a great example. You have to watch every second of the show or you’ll miss something. And it manages to bring stuff up in Season 5 that was seen or heard in Season 1. Finally, the characters. To me characters beat story most every time. You can have a movie or book (and it’s been done) with just a bunch of characters sitting around chatting. No real story, but it’s still entertaining because you care about who the characters are and what they are saying.

  5. I’ve been dissatisfied lately with movies – they are always too short, and cut out the good stuff! I need the character development and long-range story arcs that one can find in television. (This is the same reason I like novels, but not short stories.) Right now, my husband and I are watching Friday Night Lights (most of the way through season 2!), and I must say that I adore all the characters (with only 2 exceptions).

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