Saturday, September 20, 2008

TV: Endings Without Endings

There was a day in time back in the pre-TV era when there were such things as Serials. Each ended with a cliff-hanger and movie goers were urged to come back next week and see just what was going to happen to Flash Gordon as he attempts to prevent Ming the Merciless from Conquering the Universe.

There were others, but Flash Gordon seemed to be the king of serials. You'd go to the movie theatre to catch this week's flick and would be treated to an episode from the long-running series at the same time. A couple of weeks later, a new episode of the serial would be out, to run with the same movie or a new one, if the old movie wasn't a hit. There was a certain amount of follow-through on the cliff-hangers, as audience-goers would expect a quick resolution to whatever mess Flash had gotten himself into.

The time for serials passed about the time of World War II, when the slots alotted for the serials were taken up by film from the war front. The subsequent advent of TV made their disappearance a long-term thing. Until Dallas came along with the Who Shot J.R.? season-ending cliff-hanger in the 80's. It lead to a whopping audience rating for the first episode the next season. And ever since, in every increasing numbers, TV producers have condoned the practice of ending on a cliff-hanger.

I hate every one who participates in this.

It's even snuck over into the book publishing world, where you can't possibly assume the book you are reading has an ending. I read mostly science fiction, and non-endings have become derigeur in series SF. I've mentioned my disgust with the ending to Weapons of Choice by John Birmingham, when it stopped rather than ended. It was only THEN that I found out it was the first volume in a series. Same thing happened with one of the Star Trek books I bought. I DID buy the conclusion to that duology, but haven't bought a single Star Trek book since then. Something about once burnt.

Subsequently, I will buy series complete, before starting on the first book, trusting book reviewers to keep me from mistakes. Such as the one I made with Samurai Girl, where a decent first book was followed up by bad, badder and worst.

Getting back to TV, I had occasion to watch a couple of BBC six-episode series over the last fortnight. The first was a 10-year old new take on vampires called Ultraviolet. In six episodes, that show developed an interesting universe, populated it with interesting (but flawed) people, and drew the story to a conclusion. All the while, allowing for a second season that never came. A story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Delightful.

Ten years newer, the recent series Spooks Code 9, kicks off with an interesting premise, fumbles it for two shows and finally pulls together a good group of episodes to end the series' first season. It had better be the first of at least two seasons, because the ending is a cliff-hanger. There are unresolved questions and I don't think the reviews or the ratings for the show make it any lead-pipe cinch the show is coming back. And this new attitude on the part of series creators to push for audience demand for more, is self-serving at best, riot-inducing at worst.

Let me get back to Ultraviolet for a second. Vampires were a lot less prevalent then, then are now. The take on vampires in the show was fresh. The gimmicks to fight the vampires had a good retro futuristic vibe. No Buffy-esque everybody knows karate conceit. Just guns with cameras to help determine which people in front of you did NOT show up on electronics. The individual episodes were solid and the overall arc mystery resolved in proper smart manner. And the show featured Colette Brown in a supporting role. Which was a very good thing.

If this one does hit the DVD store or gets replayed on one of the BBC export channels, catch it.

Spooks Code 9 is an outgrowth of the venerable old Spooks franchise in England. Spooks, called MI-5 over here, has put out five outstanding series. But I guess a now-famous cast has gotten too expensive and the creators decided to do a Next Generation of sorts. And they got an interesting premise to start it off. What if terrorists exploded a nuke in London during the 2012 Olympics? Surely, most of the intelligence network would be in town, as would be most of the nation's bigwigs.

The Bomb changes everything. Lopping off the head of the security services means the service has to be rebuilt, mostly with people on the tenth page of the manual teaching the beginners on page one. It's actually a pretty neat idea.

But the result just doesn't work initially. The gang that's assembled are so green that the creators decided to admit it by naming the new head of section Charlie Green. They are all in the twenties and range from convicted felon to a survivor of the bombing who has a death sentence from radiation poisoning and a desire to make her relatively short remaining life mean something. Getting the only existing veteran spook out of the way so the kiddies takes over, is accomplished with a lot of quick cuts through quite a distopian world.

And that's where it almost lost me. I just can't see Britain falling apart like that. Afterall, this is a country that withstood the Nazi barrage. Stiff upper lip and all that. And would the world really stand by and let England fall apart like that?

Okay, assuming the distopia happens. The police state seems pretty well ineffectual. Most distopia's have REAL good police forces. They sort of go hand in hand. For three episodes we generally see that ISN'T the case in Code 9. Then, the show rights itself and does standalone episodes that work well, while furthering the overarching mystery of who the MI-5 traitor is that set up the actual bomb attack. The traitor is revealed with minutes to go in the series' sixth episode and the second bomb found with a minute to go. Another mystery is developed over who the guru is that turned the traitor.

And then the show ends.

No resolution to whether the bomb was stopped. No future details as to the manipulating mastermind in the background. No knowledge of whether Rachel survives and Charlie gets it through his thick mathmatician's head that she loves him. AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!

Of course, if the series never returns, we DO have an ending of sorts. The bomb went off and everything was obliterated.

Maybe they'll eventually do Spooks Code 9: The Next Generation.

No comments: