How to Tell if a TV Show is Probably Not Going to End Well

Charlie Jane Anders knocks it out of the park again:

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by Charlie Jane Anders

Many of us have commitment issues with television, because we’ve been burned so many times by weak or overblown endings. (And no doubt, a lot of us are anxiously praying that Fringe gets the powerful conclusion it deserves tonight.) But there’s no reason to give up on long-form series television because of some past bumps in the road — after all, TV has also given us some powerful endings. Instead, the next time you launch a long-term relationship with a TV show, best to go into it with your eyes open.

With that in mind, here are 15 signs to watch out for, that a show you’re falling in love with may leave you disappointed in the end. None of these are definite signs that a show is absolutely going to stumble in its final hours — but they’re omens we’ve noticed over the years.

Top image: Star Trek: Enterprise, “These Are The Voyages,” probably the worst finale of all time.

We all know it’s hard to end a long-running TV show — most shows either get cancelled too early or drag on way too long, eventually running out of steam well before they reach their final curtain. TV writers are at the mercy of network interference, bossy actors, real-life contingencies like strikes and cast departures, and random quirks of fate… all things that a novelist never has to worry about. And yet, some shows have cracks that are apparent long before the end.

The show tries to sweep the most interesting questions under the rug in its very first episodes.

Like if you have a show about people time-traveling to the past, and the show inserts some technobabble to try and explain away why they’re not changing the future they came from. Or if you have a show about people who travel from 1963 to the present, and there’s some handwaving to explain why they’re not confused by cellphones and the internet. When a TV show tries to sweep the most interesting implications of its premise under the rug, that’s a clear sign it’s never going to be able to follow through on the ideas it raises.

There are kids, and you can tell they’re not going to age well

This is another one that you might be able to tell from just the first few episodes of a show. If there’s a little kid, or a teenager, and the show is building a lot of mysteries and suspense around him or her — WAAAAAALT! — and making him or her seem really important, that might be a red flag. Because A) kids are really hard to do right, and it’s a rare child actor who can carry a major storyline on his or her shoulders, and B) this kid may not age well, and may not stick around long enough to pay off all the stuff that’s being set up. Especially if there are teenagers who just whine all the time, that’s a honking big red flag right there.

Read 13 more warning signs


Aw, Charlie Jane, please, please, please come work for us. You can run the whole shebang. We’ll give you anything. (Except $$$, after all, this is the interweb.) Call us!