Saturday , May 25 2024
What's more important -- where the character ends up, or how they get there?

Television: Is It the Journey or the Destination?

I’m a contemplator. I’m sorry, it’s just who I am. This past weekend I was contemplating The Black Donnellys. You won’t believe this whole thing now, but it’s true, I was thinking to myself that I have so little free time, should I be wasting it on a show, that, even though I like watching, clearly isn’t going to be around terribly long? Should I take the 45 minutes (thanks, TiVo!) out of my schedule every Monday night in order to watch a show that I just know will not be on TV this fall? 

I can watch tons of shows that I’m completely ambivalent about every day. I can get moderately involved with the characters and want to see what happens to them, and know that the show will be around for a while and I’ll get the answers I want. What is more important though, the answers or wanting to ask the questions? 

Ultimately, I decided to continue watching The Black Donnellys for however long it will be around. Happily, even if my doubts resurface about this particular program in the future, NBC announced on Monday that starting April 23, The Real Wedding Crashers will begin airing in the timeslot. Problem solved…

…and yet, the larger question remains: how good does a show have to be for one to continue watching it knowing that it won’t be around for long? If Lost had ended before you knew what was in the hatch, if Desperate Housewives had ended before you found out why Mary Alice killed herself, how would you have felt? And, what if you knew that you weren’t going to find out, that the network was going to rip the program away from you before revealing anything? Would the enjoyment at seeing what happens every week trump the desire for answers?

The question really is: what’s more important, the journey or the destination?

I wouldn’t necessarily answer this way in general, but in the case of television, the answer has to be the journey. It just has to be. It’s all television is, a journey. The Mary Alice story ended, so the next season there was a new journey on Housewives, Locke opened the hatch, and a whole new journey began on Lost. If Spooky had ever really figured out what was going on with the Cancer Man that show would’ve ended sooner (and more mercifully) than it did. 

In All About Eve, Addison DeWitt tells Claudia Caswell that television is “nothing but auditions.” I’d say it’s nothing but journeys. It’s undoubtedly true that we want to see people arrive at their destination, but it’s how they arrive that matters. Law & Order’s surprise endings are only good because the audience has invested in the investigation and trial to that point. The investment must be built (and be good) for the payoff to succeed. The investment is the journey.

I am absolutely upset when I don’t get to see a favorite show reach their destination, but it’s because I want to go on the journey with them. I tend not to like a series finale that shows snippets of people’s lives into the future (Mad About You, Will and Grace).  They tend to be hollow and I can’t invest emotionally in them. It’s the journey with the characters that counts, not where they end up.

So, if something like The Black Donnellys disappears too soon, and I don’t get to find out where Tommy, Jimmy, Kevin, and Sean end up, yes, I’ll be upset, but I’m thankful for the time I’ve had with them. I’ve invested myself in their journey; I’ve wanted to invest myself in their journey.   

There may only be two new episodes with those Donnelly boys (at least, episodes that will air), but I’ll be there with them, every step of the way. 

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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