When I really think about it, it’s sad.
The characters in our favorite books, movies, and television shows are not really our friends. Their journeys–the times that they’ve struggled, succeeded, tripped, and triumphed–are events that we have, at most, witnessed, rather than participated in. Those people and their adventures do not exist. They never did, they never can, and they never will. Our having experienced those events vicariously does not make them truly belong to us. No matter how genuine those stories feel to us, no matter how much time we may have “spent” with these individuals, they are all mere reflections, tricks of light and stage and pen that create the illusion of something real, even when that illusion is earnestly felt.
But we, or at least I, cannot help but feel that kind of connection to these characters and their stories. When critics talk about the world of a book feeling “lived in,” they’re underscoring that sense of truth that can pervade a work. When they talk about an emotional moment feeling “earned,” they mean that there’s been some build, some understanding between creator and audience that has been established over time, that makes a scene or a speech or a character feel real. That’s what the best works are able to do–make their audiences feel a connection to something that’s not really there.
And no medium is more ripe to create that connection than television. Story-by-story, over the course of years of episodes, an audience gets to know a group of characters and the world they live in. The characters grow and change over a span of seasons. Revelations and narrative developments continue to build on what’s come before. Stories evolve and progress, either in steady waves or dramatic storms.
In the course of all of this, we, the audience, grow attached–to these worlds, to these stories, and to these characters.
And that’s why it seems so strange, almost unfair, that so many of the shows that I have felt that kind of connection with will be ending in the coming year. Maybe the television landscape is changing. Maybe a new wave of storytelling has begun. Maybe it’s all just a big coincidence. Whatever the reason, a surprising number of the series that have stood out among the crowd are taking their final bows. Some of them are being cut down too soon; some are finishing their stories at just the right time, and more still are well past their prime. But all of them, even the ones that have become shells of their former selves, feel like saying goodbye to old friends.
So over the course of the next year, I’m going to look back at each of these shows. I’m going to plumb the depths of what it is about each series that made me feel that connection. I’m going to explore what sustained them enough to capture the imaginations of either legions of viewers or a smaller cadre of diehard fans. And most of all, I will bid farewell to these shows that have entertained me, moved me, and above all else forged a connection with me over the last decade. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.