Dec. 1st, 2014

metaphasia: (Default)
Apparently there's a meme going around where people try to post every day in December, so I decided to also give it a shot. I've got several topics already lined up to talk about, but if there's anything that you want to see me rant on, just leave a comment and I'll add it to the queue.

This is a post about expectations.

Every fandom is, indirectly at least, answerable to its fans. If viewers don't watch a television show, it won't get renewed for more episodes and will be canceled. If readers don't purchase a novel, the author won't be offered a contract for a sequel. Which means that creators have to be aware of what their fans are expecting to see. While no creator is obligated to fulfill every expectation that is held of their works, if they simply disregard those expectations, their works will fail because they are unaware of their audience. There is certainly room in which to subvert or avert fulfilling expectations, but simply disregarding them leads to unsatisfactory stories. However, there is a fine line between failing to meet the audience's expectations, and not leaving enough room for an organic story growth by only meeting their expectations. I feel that two great recent examples of this fine line between are the series finale to How I Met Your Mother and the Veronica Mars movie.

Many viewers were upset with the ending of How I Met Your Mother. However, I think that the show managed an excellent ending, given the constraints of how the show had evolved over the course of its run. Two of the most common complaints about the show were that Ted had no reason to be telling his kids all the stories that he did, and for a show whose premise was ostensibly about how Ted met the unnamed mother, the focus was frequently on Robin and her relationship with Ted. And the series finale managed to address both of those concerns. I had find it helpful to think of things in terms of math. While any ending imaginable was theoretically possible for the show, the probability space for how the series could end became gradually more and more constrained by the weight of the two hundred and seven prior episodes. Any ending that didn't resolve the concerns of Ted and Robin's relationship, or didn't address why Ted was telling his kids every detail of his life, or in which the mother didn't live up to the expectations that had been set for her by the course of the show, could not have been satisfactory. And while the ending to the show was certainly not happy, How I Met Your Mother has never been a very happy show, and is always willing to show how life is not what happens while people are making plans. But it has always been a very satisfying show to watch, because it understood the type of story that it was trying to tell, and the expectations that it's audience had. Just because a work ends in tragedy does not make it unsatisfying to experience; the very idea of catharsis is based on the satisfaction experienced from tragic works. That said, there was certainly room for the ending wasn't satisfying compared to the rest of the show, because the writers chose to kill off the mother to resolve the Ted and Robin relationship. In this case, while the writers managed to meet a great deal of the expectations held of the series, they didn't meet the expectation that the mother was still there in the future, and because of that, the story strayed from what people were expecting and left a distaste for some viewers.

On the other hand, the Veronica Mars movie was very good, but I feel that it failed to live up to the best episodes of the series. And the reason for that is that the film had to be too many things to too many different people. It had to end with Veronica and Logan together, or those fans would have rioted. It had to open with Veronica and Piz together, or THOSE fans would have rioted. There had to be appearances by Wallace, Mac, Weevil and Dick, or the fans of those characters would have rioted. It was so burdened by the weight of everything that was expected of it by the fans, that there was too little room for it to take any real risks. The best episodes of Veronica Mars are the ones which take risks and succeed, and so while the film was very good, it was also somewhat formulaic and didn't have the room to truly flourish.

In one episode of the Middleman, Lacey has this to say:

At the end of Ride Lonesome, Ben Brigade kills the man that kills his wife. Only it doesn't happen the way you think it's gonna happen. But once it does, you realize that no other ending was possible.

And that's what great art has to do. It has to meet the expectations of it's audience, but also provide a new twist to the story. And failing to do either can lead to very unsatisfactory experiences for the audience, but in very different ways.