UIndy Entertainment Outlook: When to end a TV Show

Graphic by Ethan Gerling

At the end of a long day of classes and work, a favorite hobby of many University of Indianapolis students is to sit down with Netflix,  Hulu or some other streaming service and watch some shows. It’s no secret that one of the most popular is “The Office.” According to the Chicago Tribune, that program was Netflix’s most-viewed show in the summer of 2019. 

It’s almost impossible for me to go a day without hearing another student refer to “The Office,” either to one of its infamous recurring gags or one of its most memorable moments. 

However, it’s also difficult to come across someone who doesn’t think that the show should have ended after a major character left at the conclusion of the seventh season.

People offer a lot of different reasons why they think the last two seasons of “The Office” are inferior to the rest of the series, but the core idea is that the show simply went on longer than it should have. 

Meanwhile, another show producer Michael Schur worked on finished its run on the air: “The Good Place,” ended after only four seasons, despite incredible ratings (such as receiving higher than a 90% for each season on Rotten Tomatoes). 

Make no mistake, the show was not canceled, but rather ended purposefully. The plot of “The Office” is about a group of coworkers with eccentric personalities experiencing turmoil within their business and interpersonal relationships. The plot of “The Good Place” is about a group of unique individuals overcoming chaos in the afterlife. 

Although wildly different each is incredibly entertaining in its own way. Looking past the obvious differences in the story lines of these shows, how both “The Office” and “The Good Place” reached their respective conclusions is the best possible demonstration of the importance of ending a television series.

The primary reason for any show to end is for the sake of its narrative. 

Once the plot has wrapped up, that should be that; the show has served its purpose and sent its message in the strongest way it could. If the show continues after this point, it only blurs the picture it already has painted, obscuring the intended theme. Unfortunately, that was the fate of “The Office.”

Whether “The Office” ever actually intended to end is unclear. Looking back at the finale of the seventh season explains why consensus exists that the series should have ended there: not only does a major character leave, but this character also concludes a personal arc by accepting that he is capable of more and made the major decision to leave to pursue the family he has always desired. 

This decision leaves the rest of the cast with inspiration to pursue greater things, which would serve as a fitting end to the series. However, two more seasons followed,  and even Rainn Wilson, who played another one of “The Office”’s most important characters, agreed that the series was “wonky” from that point onward, according to an article in HuffPost.

Creator of the aforementioned shows “The Office” and “The Good Place,” Schur explained why he decided to cap “The Good Place” at four seasons in a tweet: 

“Given the ideas we wanted to explore, and the pace at which we wanted to present those ideas, I began to feel like four seasons—just over 50 episodes—was the right lifespan. 

“At times over the past few years we’ve been tempted to go beyond four seasons, but mostly because making this show is a rare, creatively fulfilling joy, and at the end of the day, we don’t want to tread water just because the water is so warm and pleasant.”

This thought process spared “The Good Place” from ever having to experience the drought that “The Office” did. 

On the other hand, in the previously mentioned HuffPost article, Wilson said that it was the cast members that initiated the end of “The Office,” not anyone on the production team.  

According to the HuffPost, “Wilson said he approached producers along with Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski and Ed Helms and asked to end the show on a high note after nine seasons rather than letting it slowly ‘peter out.’” 

Between 2013 and 2016, the end of “The Office” and the beginning “The Good Place,” something must have changed as Schur realized the importance of not stretching a narrative, which allowed “The Good Place” to achieve great success and tell a much greater story. Both shows have an overarching narrative, each episode serving to further some sort of plot.

I’ve laughed and cried while watching both shows, and both have left me with a lasting impression. But the way the two shows managed their stories left the biggest impact on me. 

After watching “The Good Place” I can walk away enlightened and inspired, with tears in my eyes ready to do something like write this column. From watching “The Office,” I walk away with some good memories and some good laughs, but with a bad aftertaste.

What I ask is that directors and creators of other shows follow in the footsteps of Schur, and approach their show with knowledge that one day they are going to need to end. 

That way, they can pace the story properly and conclude things in the most appropriate way. 

That way, their audiences can walk away from their work knowing what has been gained. 

That way, they can leave a lasting, positive impact. 

That way, they can successfully send a message and have a chance of changing people, or even the world.

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