Sopranos: It’s over.

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 11, 2007

Filed under: Rants 76 comments

In the past I have lamented about the lack of decent story arcs in American television. I talked about my profound disappointment with Sopranos, which I thought would have a coherent arc, but ended up being a soap opera for men. I’ve been anticipating that the show would simply stop rather than conclude. Looks like I was right. The finale has aired:

And playing against viewer expectation, as always, Chase refused to stage a mass extermination, or put the characters through any major transformation, or even provide his viewers with comfortable closure.

Yeah, I loved how he played against viewer expectations by not ending the story. How innovative! Maybe Final Fantasy VII should have played against gamer expectations by leaving out the last disc. Maybe J.K.Rowling should have played against fan expectations and just not written the last Harry Potter book. I stopped watching The Sopranos somewhere in season 4, and have been waiting to see what the end would be like before continuing. Based on this, there is no way I’m going to waste my time just so I can follow the tale to this dead end. What a shame.

To be fair, the show has a lot going for it. The acting, casting, and cinematography were on par with that of big-budget movies, and it was an incredible achievement to maintain that level of quality for 86 episodes. But for people like me who insist on a story, a point, a wrap-up, or some sort of closure, it’s still an incredible disappointment.

In this post I talked about some of the ways the show could have gone. One reader dismissed my ideas as “dumb and predictable”. Fine. But I suggest that they are all superior to the end we got, which was dumb, predictable, and pointless.

Someday television writers might get their act together and write a complete story*, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

* Babylon 5 being the rare exception. Can you believe that for all my ranting about complete stories, I have never watched B5? It’s on my to-do list, I swear.


From The Archives:

76 thoughts on “Sopranos: It’s over.

  1. Deoxy says:

    *ys, I can believe it, and you really ought to get a Roun Tooit as soon as possible.

    (this from someone who never managed to finish the 5th season, sadly enough).

  2. Deoxy says:

    Oh, and I apologize for not ranting about how my life was fulfilled because I got to post “F1RST!!!11!1!!1!1one!!”. :-p

  3. Ryan says:

    I agree completely. This is pretty much the state of television today. (cf. Lost) –

    I’ve been saying with that show for a while now that we’ll have another three years of NOTHING HAPPENING and then a sudden ending.

    Except now that it’s been done, they might acutally have to come up with, you know, a plot.

  4. Zonga says:

    Of course, there are the exceptions to this, such as Firefly (but we did get Serenity!) and Dark Angel, where shows were *going* to have a story arc come to completion, but were cancelled on cliffhangers. Way to go, TV execs!

  5. Mage says:

    B5 was SUPPOSED to be just what you’re looking for, but they got yanked around pretty hard by the networks. It was written as a five season plot, but they got told they were absolutely, no question getting canceled after season four. So, they compressed the plot and tried to hammer the last two seasons into just one. Then another network picked them up and gave them their fifth season. The result, of course, is a rushed and undernuanced season four and a meandering, plot sparse season five.

    It’s still worth watching, but I don’t want you getting your hopes too high.

  6. BlackJaw says:

    Some other good ones with story Arcs:
    * Gargoyles Animated Series (ignore the last season)
    * 4400 (coming back for more soon)
    * Heroes (coming back for more)
    * Farscape (made for TV movie instead of final season, but ok)
    * Stargate (ignore the most reason season and it ends fine)
    * Dr. Who (recent re-imagining, coming back for more soon)

  7. Arthur says:

    The ultimate TV series with a defined, self-contained story arc is, of course, The Prisoner…

  8. GreyDuck says:

    I’d debate New Doctor Who as having a “self-contained story arc.” Yes, the 2005 series had the Bad Wolf thing but the whole series wasn’t really about that, merely the handful of signpost episodes and the finale. It’s much the same with 2006 and 2007, where the stories are in an order but most of them aren’t tied to the “arc” (rather, “setup for the two-part finale”) of that year’s series. Torchwood has a stronger arc structure than any of the three new-millenium Doctor Who runs when you get right down to it.

    That said: The new Doctor Who really is generally quite good, arc or no arc.

  9. Huckleberry says:

    I just wanted to chime in and mention Doctor Who as well. Yes, there may not be a completed story arc through the whole or even just the new series, but the single episodes (or two-parters) do tell completed stories, and some of them are really amazing. Plus: I suspect that there is indeed a story arc in the new third season: something to do with the new prime minister, I suspect.

    Another (British) TV series with a completed (though not always absolutely satisfying) story arc is “Live on Mars”.

  10. Inane Fedaykin says:

    Speaking of endings, I really hope SG-1’s is a lot better then the current season is. I’ve been following it since the start, it’s been part of my regular schedule for most of my life (I’m 18).

  11. oldschoolGM says:

    I’ve never watched the Sopranos but its hard to believe any series could end in a more frustrating manner than Twin Peaks.

  12. Deacon Blues says:

    And, of course, there’s “Battlestar Galactica” (the good one, that’s been on the air for three seasons now, not that half-assed abortion from 1978). There’s been a definite story arc, and it’s coming to some sort of conclusion next year. (At a recent public event, Ron Moore said they had to find Earth in the end, “because that’s what it says at the beginning of every episode.” His coproducer, David Eick, responded, “It also says the Cylons have a plan,” and grinned.)

    OTOH, with the sheer number of TV series put out every year in the United States alone, it’s quite sad that we can discuss pretty much all of those with actual overarching stories in a lousy 12 posts…

  13. Myxx says:

    Yeah, I was going to throw the new BSG out as a good story with a definite plot. However, I’ll have to argue the SG-1 inclusion. I’ve also been with it from the beginning (back in the Showtime days), and it seems that they’ve created multiple mini-plots that they’ve run with, but no over-arching story arc that holds the show together. Though this isn’t a critique of the show, and I enjoyed it for the first 8 or so seasons, even if they do provide a good ending it can’t be said to be an ending to a comprehensive series-wide storyline.

    And though the quality has declined in recent years, 24 is another show that provides resolution to seasonal story lines, with a definite plot and a definite conclusion, with perhaps a teaser at the end of each finale to suggest a plot for the next season.

    And I would also argue (not that it’s been implicitly suggested) that a series need not have a definitely plot or story arc to be a good show. I think of some shows I enjoy, and though none have an apparent series plot, they’re still engaging shows.

  14. neminem says:

    Wait… Farscape had a coherent story? Which Farscape were *you* watching, BlackJaw? I watched it recently, and I’d say, at best, the first bit had a story arc. Then, the story-writers sort of floundered around, trying to figure out what to do now that every goal the characters had set was accomplished, what with the characters having been pretty much defined exclusively by those (now finished) goals.

    The new Doctor Who, though, does have a bit. Not like Bab5 did, but at least each season has a bit of an arc. There’s a bit of monster-of-the-day as well (but then, Bab5 wasn’t entirely innocent of that crime, either), but even in monster-of-the-day episodes, there are still hints of plot development. Course, once the season ends, most of that gets thrown out in favor of some new arc, leaving only the character development work left over to indicate that it’s not a new show.

    I was hoping the new Dresden Files series would have a good arc (after all, the novel series it’s based on is becoming more and more epic, but in a good way), but no, not really.

    I do agree, though, with the comments regarding the 5th season of B5… it was decent, but not terribly necessary. By the way, don’t bother with the first half of the first season, either – look up synopses, because there’s some important plot and character work, but the episodes themselves are pretty crappy. It gets good about midway through the first season.

  15. pseudosilence says:

    American TV writers are very constrained by the uncertainty of how many episodes they will have to tell a story, which makes it tremendously difficult to create a satisfying story arc. Now that DVD is such an important part of TV revenue, I think that executives are starting to realize some of the value of complete arc plots. This is playing out in both the definite end dates for series that are still very successful (Lost and Battlestar) and a willingness to do one-off TV movies and such to resolve storylines (didn't they do this with Farscape?).

    Babylon 5 is indeed the exception that proves the rule ““ it's very plot driven, except that JMS didn't know he was getting a fifth season, which is why all the major plot lines wrap up in season 4. It's good television, but really only worth watching seasons 2-4.

    And I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Both shows did an excellent job of balancing satisfying individual episodes with the context of a larger plot that moves forward and eventually resolves. For my money, they both have vastly more long-term plot then Doctor Who.

  16. Hal says:

    Shamus, did you watch Heroes? If you did, I’m curious as to your thoughts.

  17. Zerotime says:

    Hey, not ending stories has worked out pretty well for Neal Stephenson.

  18. Grue says:

    Yes, Deep Space 9 had a finale that resolved most of the major conflicts. I thought that Buffy (and especially Angel) were watchable, but each season was basically unrelated to the other seasons—the Buffy series could have ended at several points. OTOH, DS9 has a stronger single series arc.

  19. Greg B says:

    I’m not really into TV much, but I really enjoyed CARNIVALE (which was also on HBO). Despite the fact that the show was pulled before the full scope of its story could be told, the finale was not unsatisfying. There was transformation as well as catharsis.

    Now having every opportunity to tell a good story and then not delivering the goods when the time comes… Well, that sucks, and I’m glad I never got into the Sopranos.

  20. oldschoolGM says:

    Then there’s always the awesomeness that is 24. Granted, this last season was a bit weaker than usual, and they seem to be going with a “two arcs per season” format the last couple of years. But it’s still easily one of the best show on TV, with definite story arcs.

  21. Winter says:

    Wait, you’ve never seen Babylon 5???

    (Just, as people have said, know what you’re getting into: a stupidly awesome show that was ruined by people who did not understand or care about it except as a means to an end.)

  22. Itzchy says:

    There’s House. I love that show. :D

    As for Babylon 5, yeah, do watch it! And Battlestar Galactica is ending this season.

  23. HC says:

    The Wire. Every season is a complete story; every season builds upon the last. Quite literally peerless.

    Deadwood aimed for that kind of storytelling, too, as did Rome, though neither with equal success.

    1st season Veronica Mars is a coherent and complete story; later seasons were more improvised.

    Babylon 5. Just plan on doing nothing else for a month when you get to it.

    New Who is great… and episodic.

    Buffy and Angel are good. The new BSG is brilliant, but unveven.

    For an outside bet, Wonderfalls.

  24. GuardianLurker says:

    You might also want to check out Jeremiah (also by Strazinsky of Bab5 fame) for another nothing-but-arc series.

  25. Stranger says:

    About LOST . . . part of me is enjoying it because of the characters, and watching how they keep reacting to events happening on the island.

    I know a lot of people reading this blog don’t like it, or have a derisive view of the show because they feel “cheated” by it in some arenas . . . but I may be the only one who took a look at it as a whole for the first three seasons and believe there wasn’t any problem with how it proceeded.

    If you take a look at the series as a whole, maybe you can see what it is I’m looking at in them. I would like to see an analysis on WHY you folks have such a hate for the series, eventually.

    Just don’t let me derail this topic for that one.

  26. DocTwisted says:

    I would also like to hear you thoughts on Heroes, Shamus. It most definitely had a solid, season-wide story arc, and they are promising to have a new one starting in September. Heroes is, bar none, my favorite American TV Show right now.

    Another American TV show which, rather surprisingly, has a story arc is Scrubs. Watching the episodes in order, the characters develop, they make advances here and there, past misadventures affect current situations. It’s been so very long since I’ve seen an American TV series with such continuity of plot… well, actually I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy series with that level of plot continuity.

  27. Space Ace says:

    Stranger, the only problem is that you need to *watch* it for three seasons. After one and a half season of the writers stringing me along and every episode ending on a cliffhanger, I stopped watching. I don’t like that shit. I expect satisfaction from every episode I watch. Lost doesn’t have that, let alone any semblance of story. Personally, I’m convinced it’s the result of an all-night bender and a silly bet about making a show where it’s forbidden to plot any episode in advance.

    Anyway, back to the topic. I’ll have to support Buffy and Deep Space 9. Both are great shows with good characters and overarching plot lines. Not with the density of BSG, but people are definitely moving to some goal.

    Season 6 of Buffy is kinda questionable, though. And with kinda questionable, I mean really, really emo. Like, eyeliner and stupid hair emo.

    Also, Rome. It’s about two guys against the backdrop of Caesar’s rise to power (spoiler: he dies!). I just love it. It’s both exciting and funny, all the while remaining one of the most realistic historical shows on TV. It was renewed for a second season, but will be ending (or already has) after that. It’s just too damn expensive. Still, you’re committing a crime against yourself by not watching it.

    And if all else fails, well, I suppose you could always watch Grey’s Anatomy or Desperate Housewives or something.

  28. Space Ace says:

    Also, I don’t see how you expect to be able to whine about American/Western cinema while you not watch any of it, apparently.

    Also, also, watch The Shield. It’s not on prime-time in The Netherlands, so I have the damndest time following it, but it’s definitely one of the best things on TV. It has story, stuff happens, and people change.

    At this point I should say I have only a limited tolerance of the typical animé nerd. In fact, many just scare the shit out of me.

    I started watching Ghost in the Shell after one such a person had gone on at length about all the cyborg and sci-fi stuff. I happen to be a major sci-fi nerd and Hollywood, granted, tends to blunt the hard sci-fi elements in favour of “more dakka”. So I was intrigued.

    I was also very surprised to find out most animé only has about 24 episodes to it. I estimated there to be far more to it, given the almost incessant promoting most animé nerds do. And granted, Rome also has/will have about 24 episodes when it’s finished. Firefly had 12 and a movie. But those are exceptions. Not every Western show is that good. And the same counts for animé, but many, many animé nerds simply don’t tend to think so. They treat *every* animé as if it were the highest form of art. Not only extremely annoying, but also something that makes it quite hard for someone like me to find *good* animé.

    For instance, Trigun: I saw the first episode and hated it. Why? Japanese humor. It sucks, and you know it. The Japs shouldn’t even try to be funny outside of their sadist gameshows.

    Yet it’s one of the highest standards of animé, and I think that’s got to do with a fanbase that’s in such a rut about what they watch that it’s view has been completely twisted.

    OK, I’ll stop ranting now. One more point, though:

    Enterprise, that one Star Trek show with the captain who’s idea of solving a problem was getting his ass kicked and the Vulcan who’s only purpose was to be hot, had story. It consequently followed and ended it after 4 seasons. And it SUCKED.

  29. I think Firefly could have taken the crown from Babylon 5 (with ease) if it had gone on for at least two full seasons. But alas, it was not to be.

    Yeah, the problem with B5 revolved around season 4 and 5, where many of the plot threads were tied together too quickly in order to make certain that there WOULD be closure if the series ended prematurely… which resulted in something of a “restarting” of the series during the first half of season 5. Still, the show was very good, even fifth season.

    I cannot recommend Buffy the Vampire Slayer highly enough, though I was one of those people who resisted watching it for the first two seasons (I was sure it would suck and would be of no interest to me). While the overall series doesn’t have quite the cohesive arc, each season does. It stumbled badly during season 6, where creator Joss Whedon was largely absent to work on Angel and Firefly. But even so, more than half the episodes are worth watching, and a couple of them are among my favorites.

    Veronica Mars – I have only seen the first season of this show (and I have heard tell that later seasons were not nearly as strong), but it also had a pretty sharp story arc that was (like Buffy) contained within a season. Not sure about an overall arc for the whole series.

    Heroes is looking to be a total winner in terms of serial episodes.

    Battlestar Galactica — man. I loved it until this last season. Now I’m not sure if I want to bother watching its final season or not. I think Ron Moore and the rest of the writers really DIDN’T have a plan, and just started making crap up as they went. Okay, scratch that – I am fairly certain of this. They’ve had interviews where they’ve implied as much.

  30. Smileyfax says:

    I’m rather fond of Jericho. It had the overarching theme of the nuclear attacks and who was behind them and a whole bunch of other questions. Er, I mean has, since it’s been de-cancelled now.

    The personal story arcs tend to be half soap opera, half The Day After, which is a strangely compelling mix as well.

  31. Shamus says:

    Space Ace says, “Also, I don't see how you expect to be able to whine about American/Western cinema while you not watch any of it, apparently.”

    You can go ahead and defend that statement if you like, but I think it’s pretty obvious that it was a ridiculous assertion. I’ve sampled enough to be frustrated with American TV. I need to keep watching before I’m allowed to say so? Come now.

    And following it up with PERSONAL insults against Otaku is obviously rude. You can see I’m an anime fan here, so you’re most likely insulting me and a good number of my friends. What’s your problem here?

  32. Katy says:

    I watched the first half-dozen episodes or so and then gave up. They really left behind some people with the dialogue in the show because the slang was so heavy and fast that I had no idea who was what and what they were doing. I couldn’t like Tony, even as a flawed character, and I thought his wife was kind of a flat character (granted, I only gave her six episodes to fill out before giving up, but I think that’s plenty before the writer has somewhat failed).

    I don’t like Japanese dramas in most ways (for example, the ending is always tragic–the love interest dies, the hero dies after some great sacrifice that sorta saves everyone else), but what is GOOD about the way Japanese TV works is that one season of a show has to be pre-written, complete (with an ending) and approved before it’s filmed. Then, it’s all filmed and then aired in one solid block of time. It’s not one season per year. It’s more like three or four seasons per year.

    That’s what always got me angry about American TV. They schedule it poorly, cancel the good shows, and extend the once-good shows way pay their expiration date. @[email protected] Then they don’t even bother to give it an ending.

  33. Space Ace says:

    Shamus, in the animé piece you openly admit you haven’t watched regular television in 6 years (and that was a year ago). And while your complaint might strike home for many shows, it also *doesn’t* for many more. I’m not going to say you should watch every single show before judging them, but to go and dismiss the entirety of Western television because of the prevalence of Status Quo shows is a bit much, if you ask me. It’s like dismissing all of science fiction because you didn’t like the Lost in Space movie.

    Perhaps “watching” was the wrong word to use. “Paying attention” would have been better. For instance, I knew Battlestar Galactica was coming and made sure to watch it when it did. The people here have suggested many good shows. If you haven’t heard of them, that’s your own fault, and you shouldn’t berate Western cinema for it. I don’t think any of us like the Status Quo type of show, but they’re not the only thing on television. In recent years, the format has been getting less and less popular. Hell, even Lost has character development.

    I didn’t mean to insult you. What I meant is that there are those (as there are in any fandom) that cross the line from animé being a passtime to it being a lifestyle. Given that these also tend to be some of the most vocal members of the fandom, well…

    I’m also trying to contrast all these things with myself. I’m not an animé fan/nerd, and as far as animé is concerned, I seem to have a higher standard than those that are (see Trigun example). Which leads me to wonder if there is more going on than just Western cinema being crappy and animé being not crappy. Maybe you like animé *because* it’s animé.

  34. Jeff says:

    SG-1 has dragged on for so long that even McGuyver quit. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show and have watch it since they first aired season 1, but I tend not to be obsessive about catching any particular show, so there’s been times when I thought the whole thing ended… but it didn’t.

    The most ‘recent’ being when they found that ‘outpost’ on Earth and nuked the invasion force. Before that BBEG, I thought it ended when they, you know, managed to actually defeat (for the most part) the enemy that had been threatening Earth since they first adapted it from the movie.

    Once new threats kept popping up, I just started to lose interest…

    B5 is amazing, although I’m always confused as to if I watched the last episode or not. (Like I said, I don’t really FOLLOW follow… I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all of ST:TNG by now, but I never actually followed it… I don’t have a TV at university, and I don’t exactly have control of the TV most of the time at my parent’s place. Luckily, my friends are geeks too, so they catch all these shows, hah.)

  35. Jeff says:

    Shamus, I’m very surprised you’d classify yourself as an Otaku… perhaps it’s because I’ve watched Densha Otaku (the series) and my view on them may be distorted.

  36. Basilios says:

    Well, I’ve seen so many TV serials fizzling down like this ‘m not surprised anymore. Frankly I prefer the approach the practice in the BBC on this side of the Pond: a short series of episodes, with a well-defined story arc, and that’s it. Maybe when you don’t have to churn out episode after episode you give your best? In any case this gave us quite a few good shows, like Blackadder (“I have a cunning plan!”, Fawlty Towers (“Don’t mention the war!”), Keeping Up Appearances (“It’s Buquet, not Bucket!”) and many others.

  37. Shamus says:

    Space Ace:

    My problem isn’t really with western cinema, but just western television. Western movies are (IMO) the best in the world. It’s not that Americans can’t tell good stories, its that American Television seems to have some very bad habits.

    I do watch TV shows by renting them via netflix from time to time. I liked Wonderfalls. (Canceled.) I LOVED Firefly. (Canceled.) I liked Sopranos until I realized it wasn’t really going anywhere. I was going to watch BSG, but then a lot of the complaints caught my eye during the season dealing with the “occupation”. It made the show look like clumsy allegory, so I’ve been holding off. I’ll see how people react to the ending before I decide to invest in it.

    So, I do pay attention to a few shows here and there. I’ve seen a few mentioned in this thread and I’ll give those a look as well.

    About liking Anime for it’s own sake: It is true that a lot of the appeal of Anime is just because it’s different. For me the draw has been good story arcs. (When I can find them.)

  38. Shamus says:

    Jeff: I guess it depends on the definition of “Otaku” you’re using. I’m not a “fanatic” as the word is used in Japan, I don’t even rate as a “hardcore fan”. But I’d call myself an otaku inasmuch as the term is often used to mean “anime fan”. I have anime reviews here on the site. Much like my videogame reviews, they are about old titles that everyone else has already seen. They are, in a lot of ways, a catalog of my reactions to various shows as I watched anime for the first time. Serious fans have dinged me in the comments for my lack of knowledge, as well as for my habit of watching dubs and not subs.

    For what it’s worth.

  39. Retlor says:

    What I can’t beleive is that someone would watch a single episode of Trigun and base their opinions on the series off of that.

    At least I watched over a season of Lost before coming to the conclusion that it was dreck. Or at least allowing myself to stop watching.

    Whenever I watch most western television, I keep telling myself that it will go somewhere soon. There are honourable exceptions, like the great Doctor Who, but most of it meanders, and doesn’t really not what to do with itself.

  40. DaveJ says:

    Watching one episode of a show and then not liking it doesn’t mean you should watch more of that show. It means you do not like it!

    Watching over a season of lost before you make up your mind is not a good thing. I watched a good part of season 2, a totally stupid thing to do. I do not deserve a reward for taking so long to ditch that train wreck.

  41. Retlor says:

    But any show can get off to a bad start. When I first watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I found the first episode boring and not very good. I stuck with it though, not wanting to judge the show on one episode. The result? I found myself a really good show.

    Trigun should not be judged on a single episode.

  42. Acksiom says:

    I’ll put in my vote for “Heroes” yet again; this season’s finale both satisfied me and yet managed to retain my Wow-Gotta-Know-What-Happens-Next plot-hunger for more. I can hardly wait for the next season.

    But I also want to recommend the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch”. It may not have a planned story arc, but the actual reality of how crab fishing is actually done out on the Bering Sea makes for incredibly gripping documentary drama. It’s so good that now I now wish I’d started watching it in the first season, rather than the current third one.

  43. Hal says:

    I dunno about BSG. Some people have a different take on it.

  44. Space Ace says:


    Yeah, I remember Wonderfalls. Couldn’t quite follow it (it was on on sucky times), but I liked what I saw, and I really had quite a bit of fun imagining the main character was just insane. But alas, it was Too Good To Last.

    I would still recommend BSG, though. I’m not exactly sure how all the political stuff fits in, as I just haven’t noticed most of it. Supposedly it’s an allegory of Iraq or something, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m Dutch, or maybe I’m just dense, but I’ve just been watching one hell of a sci-fi show.

    Also, Wonderfalls kind of reminds me of Dead Like Me. It’s a show about a girl, who dies, and becomes a grim reaper. And still has to hold down crappy dayjobs. I enjoyed it for as long as it lasted (yup, also cancelled).

    And if you like Firefly, you should check out Dark Angel, if only for the irony. Dark Angel was cancelled to make room for Firefly (personally, I think they just like to cancel things). Oh, and it has Jessica Alba in the lead. And it’s actually good science fiction, but still so viewer-friendly that my sister watched it.

    And I’m afraid I have to look down on your preference of dubs. I hate dubbing. And I mean hate. Not like “I hate the rain” or “I hate having to walk up the stairs” I mean “DIEDIEDIE YOU MOTHERFUCKING BASTARD” *stab**stab**stab**kick**stab*.

    This is mostly because of the subtitles we have around here, I think. I can claim some manner of proficiency in the English language, and as such I note how incredibly, terrifically wrong some of those subtitles are. And I mean not just the occasional saying or slang that is mistranslated, no some of the most basic words are mistaken for others, double entendres and word jokes are glossed over with a seemingly intentional obliviousness.

    I think the people who do that should be lined up against a wall and shot.

    So yeah, you’re not safe from that when choosing subs over dubs (although, arguably, with some fan-made translations, the risk is much, much lower), but at least the thing is in it’s original state of being. Everything sounds like it should. I just find that much more immersive, too. I mean, it’s animé. It’s Japanese. So they’d better speak Japanese.

    Also, this linguistic purism has resulted in me not having read a Dutch book for years. Not that much of a disaster, as most Dutch literature is crap.


    Trigun has how many, 24 episodes? Buffy took at least one season to get on it’s feet (admit it, the Master was one crappy villain). With that little screentime, a show’d better be good in its first episode.

    Plus, I didn’t think it was merely mediocre or bad. Pacifist gunmen, I can deal with. beligerent giants with airplane-sized Mad Max boomerangs, I can deal with. Sharpshooters/bounty hunters with the most retarded rifles on television, I can deal with. Japanese humor, with comic relief girls, one of which appears to hide a gatling gun between her legs, I can not deal with. When I think of that, I think of the captain of the Event Horizon, and that he probably clawed his eyes out after seeing more of it than any sane person could bear.

    Just. No.

    And Lost appears to be a string-along show. First they show you some weird, interesting stuff and give some vague promise that they’ll show you what’s going on. Next thing you know you’re at the end of the season and wondering what the fuck it’s all about.

  45. Roy says:

    Watching one episode of a show and then not liking it doesn’t mean you should watch more of that show. It means you do not like it!

    Sure. But, it does make your opinion about the qualities of that show as a show pretty weak. It’s fair to say “I didn’t like that episode, so I decided not to watch the rest of the show.” It’s not really fair to say “I didn’t like that episode, so the entire show sucks.”

    Particularly given that Trigun starts as an action comedy, and finishes as more of an action drama.

    Also: I have to say, I’m never comfortable with people calling the Japanese, “Japs.”

  46. Takkelmaggot says:

    B5 is consistently recommended to me as an example of sci-fi TV done right with a limited run, and even now it’s hovering in my BBOnline list somewhere behind Samurai Jack. One of these days I’ll get to it…
    In the meantime I agree completely that the best series are those that have an ending. This is certainly true for novels (Harry Potter, of course) and comics. Watchmen; The Preacher; Starman; the list goes on. It’s a shame Marvel never tried it.

  47. Telas says:

    BS:G started great (“with a bang,” as it were), but last season ran into some budget cuts, so it was human-interest time… Booooooooooooooring!

    Hopefully, they will end it well, and not with “…and the Humans and Cylons lived happily ever after…” **Blarg!**

    Shamus, the occupation ended better than it began, so get back on that horse. Either the writers realized what they were being interpreted as saying, or they realized that what they were saying wasn’t resonating. There was more than a little moral exploration, but not a lot of moralizing, if you get my drift.

    Heroes flat-out rocks, at least for right now. Tim Kring claims he has the first four seasons fully mapped out, so it should be story-arc after story arc. It’s not George R.R. Martin (thankfully), but main characters are definitely mortal.

  48. Telas says:

    I assume this has already been mentioned?

    If you peel back the label, you’ll find it’s a rebranded copy of “Twin Peaks: The Confusion”.

  49. Eric Meyer says:

    As someone who actually taped the complete run of Babylon 5, I’m going to throw in a small warning. The acting is generally mediocre, with occasional flashes of brilliance. The writing is serviceable, but not stellar. The sets are cheap.

    Which makes it sound like I hated the show. I didn’t at all. I LOVED it– precisely because it had an arc, momentum, and foreshadowing that you didn’t even notice until the other shoe dropped episodes or seasons later. Just that, by itself, made the show utterly compelling.

    You really do need to check it out, and I would argue that you need to do so from the beginning, because even in the crappy first season stuff the dominoes are being set up. Yes, you’ll have to slog through some dreck, but that’s true of almost any first season I’ve ever seen, “Firefly” being a very notable exception. (And no, I haven’t seen the new BSG.)

    B5 just isn’t a show that holds up to repeated viewing. Once you know what happened, you start to notice all the clunky things about it. For me, it really starts to grate. Hard.

    Oh, and I was pissed off when they abandoned true Newtonian space combat, as seen in the first two or three seasons, for Star Wars-style swooping and flying that showed up in later seasons, but I admit that’s a very minority view.

  50. gyokuran says:

    For some reason, B5 never quite got me. I’ve seen several episodes and I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief.

    Shamus: I’d recommend watching anime with subtitles instead of dubs. Simply because the japanese voice staff know what they are doing and how it should sound, english dubs are crap most of the time (Cowboy Bepop being a big exception, I’ve watched this one with english dubs). Most animes are freakish and I mean freakish as in completely incompatible with European cultural sensitivities and expectations, thus an english crew rarely manages to adequately recreate the intended atmosphere. I’ve heard serious animes turned into a farce because of the childish sounding english dubs, it can make a huge difference.

  51. Deacon Blues says:

    Space Ace, you watched *one* episode of Trigun. Based on that, you found that it did not match your tastes. Fair enough.

    However, to conclude that it is somehow *objectively* crap because *you* didn’t like it is not logically defensible.

    Shamus, the interpretations of the first part of the third season of BSG are interesting. Some in the US seem to see it as clumsy allegory for the American occupation of Iraq. Some in Europe see echoes of the Nazi occupation of France (with Baltar representing the Vichy government, and the Resistance representing, well, the French Resistance). And some don’t see any direct allegory at all, because some things are just universal. (Also because, for perhaps the first time, Baltar begins to question what he’s doing…)

    The second part of the season, not so much. They tried to do some standalone episodes, and they let two of them be written by the same guy that wrote the second-season episode “Black Market” (about which the less said, the better). Fortunately, this last season will have to wrap the entire story up in 22 episodes total, so there won’t be time for crappy standalones any more… :) Just be prepared to only want to watch “The Woman King” and “The Son Also Rises” once each. (If at all; you could skip “The Woman King” altogether, as well as “Black Market”, and never miss anything in continuity.)

  52. BlackJaw says:

    I can’t believe I left out BSG. Great show, but I try not to think about it while we are in it’s off season. I was without TV during the occupation stuff and had to catch up on it latter. It wasn’t as good as the earlier stuff or some of the more recent stuff, but it should not be enough to scare you away from it.

    I would argue that Farscape has a story arc, but I can’t fault the observation that it flounders around a bit. It’s not as focused on it’s story arc as many shows, but it does have one and things that happen in the episodes matter down the road. Things that are supposed to happen do (John finds earth, learns to mess with wormholes, gets the chip out of his head, masters Scorpius, deals with Graszer, and professes his love to Arien.) All that gets muddied with their wacky side plots. The cloning thing for example. The whole thing felt like they had a general plotline for everything, but that it grew and changed as they wrote it… sort of like a D&D game.

    The new Dr. Who masquerades as episodic monster of the week type stuff… but the most recent seasons (shown here in the US) had a continuity aspect that sneaks up on you. Events that happen in the past become important in latter episodes that happen in the future. I’m thinking of Torchwood vs the Daleks VS Cybermen more then Bad wolf. It was very much something they had planned for a while, but not the kind of thing traditionally done in Dr Who… so they sort of snuck it in.

    I’m surprised no one is backing me on Gargoyles. I know it’s a Disney animated series and all… but it had an incredibly complex time travel plot that lasted over 3 seasons, and the show wasn’t all that kid oriented in most episodes.

  53. Poet says:

    Speaking of animated series, what *does* have a *fantastic* story, even if it is a cartoon on Nickelodeon is Avatar: The Last Airbender. It starts out semi-episodic, but by season two is into full serialized swing. We watched both seasons in my group as primer for our Exalted campaign, it’s absolutely fantastically animated, with a plot that isn’t afraid to be dark when it needs to.

  54. Retlor says:

    I’ll back you on Gargoyles. That was a surprisingly mature show when you got down to it. I would also add the later seasons of Reboot to that, as it managed to tell quite a long running story.

  55. Deoxy says:

    “‘it had an arc, momentum, and foreshadowing that you didn't even notice until the other shoe dropped episodes or seasons later.”

    Yes, he said “seasons”, and yes, it’s completely true. There’s a couple of things they set up in the PILOT that aren’t resolved until seasons later. Seriously.

    When you write a story in advance, you can do that, and it’s awesome.

    Also, yes, start at the beginning (even though it’s not as good), and yes, it doesn’t stand up to repeated watchings very well.

    Also, sadly, some of the “foreshadowing” stuff gets lost due to compression (trying to fit into 4 seasons) and loss of actor (thy replaced th character instead of recasting, which was, I think, the better choice, but it still sucked). It was still an awesome series.

    Boy, I want to drop some quotes from B5, but the best ones are all spoilers, darn it!

  56. Rich says:

    Sorry to hijack this thread with a comment about the Sopranos… ;) The ending would have bothered me a lot more if:

    1. The last season had been aired closer to the previous season. Sure, I’m getting old. But for the last season I felt like Uncle Junior. I couldn’t remember what the heck was going on.

    2. The last season hadn’t been so disappointing over all. By the last episode I just didn’t care what happened.

    Big letdown overall. The best part of the show near the end was the song during the opening credits.

  57. RibbitRibbit says:

    You know, the second I read “Someday television writers might get their act together and write a complete story” I went “wtf dude, JMZ did that with B5!”

    And then I saw the “*”. And it was good.

  58. robert says:

    ummm…you DO realize the reason the screen blacked out is because Tony was wacked? Remember, he described this in season one …something like: “You won’t see it coming, your just going about your business and then nothin but darkness” Sopranos was Tony’s story and it ended with a bullet to the back of his head, fitting I suppose.

  59. Space Ace says:


    Given the amount of derogative English expressions about the Dutch, and even one Japanese one, I don’t consider an abbreviation of “Japanese” to be particularly offensive.

    Deacon Blues:

    I never said it was*objectively* crap. I just don’t frikkin’ like it. And all this is making me like it even less.

  60. Craig says:


    The Soprano’s had an ending. The theory is Tony is shot or thats the theory.

    The end sequence seemed to take Tony’s point of view, everyone is a suspect. I got the impression perhaps thats how he lived his day-to-day life.

    The guy goes into the washroom which is to Tony’s right and slightly behind him. Meadow walks in, Tony sees her and then he is shot in the back of the head.

    From what I have read online its possible the guy who shot him was related to Phil, and ‘whacked’ him in front of his family either by coincidence or in retaliation for Phil’s death.

  61. Roy says:

    Given the amount of derogative English expressions about the Dutch, and even one Japanese one, I don't consider an abbreviation of “Japanese” to be particularly offensive.

    I’m really not sure what you’re talking about.
    Sorry. I gathered that you didn’t think it was offensive, else you wouldn’t have used it.

    Speaking of animated shows, though: I have to say Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. I love the way that the shows use episodic stories as part of a larger, more complicated story.

  62. Jeff says:

    I’m just seconding Space Ace and gyokuran here… dubs suck.
    Not so much an accuracy in translation of words, but accuracy in translation of TONE.

    I don’t remember exactly which show it was that I once watched twice, with fan subs and dubbing. I watched the dub first, got about halfway, found the sub and then watched that. …and it was entirely different. Since that point… no dubs. Even if the subs are inaccurate, the sound at least conveys the correct atmosphere.

  63. Stranger says:

    Fair enough, I’ll agree to disagree with you on LOST (though I didn’t see Shamus reply to it, I’m going to assume from the lack of reply he either doesn’t want to talk about it or SpaceAce hit it on the head).

    I watch Heroes, I’ll back you on that one too. It’s got a smooth writing style and it wrapped up pretty well . . . almost. Sylar should be dead now, I do NOT think he should continue to be around for “Series Two”. (But it seems to also end nearly every week with a “cliffhanger” so why that gets a pass but LOST doesn’t . . . )

    I watched SG-1 for the longest time (fell out about season six, whenever it was Anubis was written in . . .) and I liked it for the most part. The more recent seasons seem okay to me, but it is obvious they’re dropping it to focus on Atlantis (which is pretty decent). The fact they switched “MacGuyver” for “John Chricton” (or however it’s spelled) seemed to be a bonus because I didn’t think it was that bad.

    Gargoyles, yes, yes, yes. The reason it got so good was Disney didn’t pay attention to it until the last season (and then it got ruined). Worth watching if you don’t mind that they got practically EVERYONE from a Star Trek (24th century) series to play in it. Some people do talk down about the show for that . . .

    Ghost in the Shell S.A.C is a good run, both seasons. It’s a very different animal from the movie, a different vision of the same source material.

    I can’t attest for BSG, since I hadn’t been watching it. Ditto for Doctor Who . . . I pretty much dumped Sci-fi channel once they started flooding the programming with “original movies” which need more cyanide or hemlock . . .

    I was unlucky enough NOT to be able to watch B5, except for a few episodes. What I saw, I liked.

    Firefly was worth it, and was given BAD treatment from Fox. Run out of sequence, some episodes simply NOT shown at all, and cancelled fast. So seems to be other series with Nathan Fillon in them.

    The first two seasons of 24 are decent, the third failed to catch me.

    I liked Sopranos, but after season three I really stopped caring about the show. There were a couple nice points in it from then on but not enough to KEEP me interested.

    Carnivale was amazing, in my humble opinion, but it was cancelled after the second season on a cliffhanger. I understood there was a plan to be six seasons by the writer, and they HAD a plan for how it would proceed. It’s worth getting the first season DVDs and seeing what you think.

  64. DocTwisted says:

    Shamus, I’m guessing that you haven’t watched any Heroes at all, from what I’ve read in the comments here. You don’t have to wait for the DVD of season 1 to come out to start watching it, however. If you’ve got a high-speed connection, you can go to and the entire season is available there. I suggest you watch the first two episodes before forming your opinion of it… I almost walked away after the first one because of how big the ensemble cast was, and would have wound up regretting that decision once the story was rolling.

  65. Cineris says:

    Babylon 5 is great. Unfortunately, I attempted to watch it back in the days before I had a TiVo, and thus ended up missing about as many episodes as I saw. It didn’t help that they aired the show at something like 1am on my local station. I’ve really been meaning to go back and check out the DVDs and watch it all in sequence — I did watch the B5 introductory movie about a year ago, which I’d never seen, and I will say I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. But then again, this is definitely one of those shows that is more about the overall arc than any individual installment…

    @Space Ace
    I liked Trigun. You’re right, the humor is bad. I find it absolutely tedious. However, the series is overall pretty darn good. I don’t know if I’d point to it as a shining beacon of a 24 episode series run with a clear story arc and resolution, but it’s better than almost any Western TV show I can think of in that respect.

    As for other stuff: I’d avoid getting into Battlestar Galactica at this point. The first season was superb, but it doesn’t have any ending … And I kind of feel ashamed for recommending this show to others given how low they’ve sunk in the second and third seasons.

    Heroes is quite excellent, though. Or at least this first season has been quite excellent. Obviously it’s hard to point to as a good example of a show that doesn’t meander about given that it hasn’t had the chance to yet. Still, if there were no second season, I’d be happy enough with how it ended.

  66. pseudosilence says:

    Shamus, if you liked Wonderfalls, and loved Firefly, then I’ll recommend Buffy again, since it was written/developed by many of the same people. The first season is a little uneven, but by the second season they hit their stride, and there is a heck of a lot of great television there.

    And another note on B5 – if you have the right friend, get them to tell you which first season episodes you need to see, and then skip the rest and start with season two. That’s what my parter did for me, and it made all the difference – I loved the show, but never would have made it through the entire lousy first season.

  67. Yahzi says:

    Yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

    And Angel, except they got cancelled early, so it’s not their fault.

  68. Joshua says:

    Unfortunately, it does seem to be hard to have a really good (Western)arc-based series to point to as a decent example. The first show that hooked me on arc-based story-telling was Twin Peaks, but the show really jumped the shark once you found out who the “killer” was.

    Liked the Buffy/Angel/Firefly series, but as one poster pointed out, the arcs were more seasonal than whole as a series. Probably a somewhat appropriate way to go about it, as it’s almost impossible to film a series on an arc in the U.S.(more on this later)

    After Buffy ended, decided to watch Alias, as I heard that was another arc-based series. Got really hooked into it, and bought several DVD sets within a month. Unfortunately, it really started sucking after Season Two, and although I actually own Season Five, I haven’t started it yet after the things I’ve heard.

    Heard some great things about Lost after the first season, and decided to check it out. Wow, great first season! Second season, things get more confusing, and there are more new questions than new answers. Considering the track record for J.J. Abrams, I’m kind of doubtful.

    Unfortunately, it seems that series that have a clear-idea for an arc either get cancelled too early, or are pressured to hold off on resolving too many plot points so they can string along the viewers for the longest period of time possible, before the execs realize the show is just dead weight and then have the writers hastily wrap up the story in a usually non-satisfying way. Makes you want to weep.

  69. Nic says:

    I’m two episodes away from watching the whole of Bab5 for the third time- this time was to introduce my fiancee to it, and she loved it!

    Sure, it’s looking rather dated now, but that is more than made up for by the brilliant plot, amazing characters (and their development over time) and just sheer awesomeness. There are still things that surprise me and that I missed the first two times!

    Go watch it, NOW! I can’t respect you until you do… =P

  70. Kevin says:

    I enjoyed the ending.

  71. Miako says:

    Arrested Development seems to have a big plot, with lots a little subplots, but i’m in season 1, so I don’t get to say.

    Upright Citizen’s Brigade has themes, not plot. but it is the bestest show!

  72. Roxysteve says:

    Never watched the sopranos. Never will. I live next to a minor “made” character, let’s call him Don Calzone, and he is a total pain in the ass and his “brothers” are scum. One of them who’s plumbing doesn’t work right any more threw his (full) foley bag over my garden fence where my young daughter could find it, and this is the least repulsive thing one of these “gentlemen” has done over the years.

    The “just stop” method of quitting a long running show was pioneered in “Hill Street Blues”. They did it and got away with it because of the format. Ever since, lazy writers have been trying to pull off the stunt again.

    Truly, there is nothing new in Tinseltown.

    As for complete stories on TV: I just finished watching “Shogun” on DVD. In the days when it was made, TV companies didn’t try and belt out a mini-series in four days, and this was compulsive viewing both sides of the Atlantic for weeks as a result. It ages surprisingly well.


  73. suzene says:

    I think you’d enjoy Babylon 5, just be aware that so far as FX go, it is very much showing its age. And, no matter what JMS claims, the show does crib from Tolkien pretty heavily at points (I mean, come on, the new installment is called Babylon 5: The Lost Tales!).

    I’d also recommend Homicide: Life on the Street. For characters and plot, it is still one of my all time favorites.

    I haven’t watched the Sopranos and, in fact, only know of them because of others complaining about the long wait between episodes, Gandolfini’s diva-tendencies, and the fuss over the ending, but so far as the manner in which the series ended, I call pretention on the writer’s part, if not outright cowardice. Endings are a bitch to write. I always dread them and I have never been satisfied with any final line I’ve ever written. But refusing to write one and pretending that it’s some kind of inspired decision is just crap. Even if they don’t like what ultimately happens to the characters, an audience deserves to know what happened after they’ve invested their time, money, and emotions in a body of work; they shouldn’t have to imagine the payoff. I don’t even give Stockton a pass on that one.

  74. Matt says:

    What about the last season of X-Files? Imminent alien invasion/end of the world, let’s throw in a bunch of comic relief episodes and replace all the major characters, then just sort of fizzle out. A disappointing end to what had been a good series.

  75. Lo'oris says:

    babylon 5, but also partly DS9 (though inferior).
    moreover, thare’s plenty of anime with a REAL story, such as Cowboy Bebop.

  76. puffins says:

    If you haven’t seen Farscape you really should. The first season doesn’t have much of an arch, but it’s decent. After season 1 it gets really good. I think it just about blows away every other sf.

    From what I hear of Babylon 5 and my own first impressions from its earliest episodes, while the rest of the series is good the first season is torture. If you can stand to waste 16+ hours to get to the “good parts” then go right ahead.

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