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?