|Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies on The Good Wife, which will air its final episode tomorrow night on CBS.|
However, that way of analyzing the relative costs and benefits of staying with a work until it’s over tends to go out the window with television. I’ve been wrestling with the decision to quit or keep watching a number of shows recently, something which is at least in part a function of this so-called era of Peak TV, in which there’s always something else on that’s more vital and compelling (or so we’re told, at least, by friends and critics alike). True, the knowledge that a show may have entered a death spiral, at least in terms of quality, is usually discouragement enough to keep us from committing to more of it. At the same time, the longer-term, more involved nature of the medium means that we come to grow attached to characters (and perhaps the actors portraying them) more readily than we might in a two-hour movie or play, and are therefore willing to forgive some lapses in quality. Besides, expectations for how TV shows treat plot have changed over the last decade or so: where once we expected them to just carry on until they ended, now we operate, for better or worse, on the assumption that there will be some sort of narrative and/or thematic payoff to longstanding storylines and character dynamics, even if they have grown increasingly strained and implausible by the end. TV’s rise in prestige means that there’s an increasing tendency to want shows to feel artistically complete.