Unfortunately, the answer is likely: YOU! And me. Or, more generally, human psychology.
In our modern times, it is difficult to be bored. If we look at the options available even ten years ago, we have an abundance of education and entertainment at our fingertips at anytime we feel like it.
In the past five years or so, I have noticed how many people (myself included) complain about TV show finales. An exhaustive list of reasons is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I will
- share some hypotheses for why modern finales seem to fall below expectations.
- finish with some simple steps I took to make the credits rolling on the series finale to be a motivating experience rather than a disappointing one.
When Everyone Speaks
One reason for the increased negativity around TV show finales could be that social media usage is more pervasive so I might be hearing more people’s voices, both the praise and the complaints. Even taking into account our negativity biases (that it generally takes 5 pieces of positive information to balance 1 piece of negative information), it still seems like there is significant criticism around TV show finales.
So perhaps the increased negativity might simply be due to the “increased everything” that has come with pervasive social media use. The second and third hypotheses explore some psychological mechanisms that may keep us hooked until the dissatisfying end.
We form parasocial relationships with the characters we follow, developing deep attachments and forging a sense of connection. These bonds fuel our expectations for a finale that satisfies our emotional investment in these characters.
The better the writing, usually, the stronger parasocial relationship, and the more likely a viewer will be to see a series through to its end. Next time you see social media erupt because a character has been eliminated from a plotline (because they died or abruptly went to live on a farm in Nebraska), this is likely a signal of some strong writing.
In addition, when all the characters are simultaneously eliminated in a plotline, AKA a finale, it is natural to want these characters that we feel we have formed deep attachments get a fitting end.
This is not to let writers off the hook; it’s a challenging mix of balancing pacing and unpredictability. But that’s why they get paid. We, as consumers don’t get paid. Instead, we pay with our attention and, sometimes, money (both in the form of subscription services and merchandise).
Thus, we should be aware and make intentional choices about where we are investing these previous resources.
The third explanation involves the idea that more passive entertainment will push more active entertainment and pastimes off your calendar. This crowding out can cause you to overinvest emotionally and, sometimes, financially, in what’s on your TV. This might be hard to hear: you might be upset about finales, not because of the quality of writing, but because the finale suggests this show your emotinoally invested in is over, and, you don’t really have that much else going on.
Would you like to have an evening of playing Scrabble with a friend, or to veg out on the couch with your favourite TV show? Unfortunately, you can’t do both. Your evening on the couch watching TV carries the opportunity cost towards a more active pastime.
This tendency to favour passive over active activities is a quirk of our evolution. Our brains have evolved to keep us safe, not keep us happy. The brain’s prime directive is still to conserve energy where necessary and expend energy only when short term survival or reproductive opportunities are at stake.
Fast forward to today, even though you’re more likely to feel satisfied after playing a board game with a friend, that takes effort and sounds like a wasteful idea to the survival oriented brain. It’s a lot easier and energetically efficient to turn on the TV and watch your favourite show even though, intellectually, you know it is not likely to satisfy you quite like a spirited game of Scrabble might.
Our brain pushes us towards passive consumption because that’s the path of least resistance. Thus, when we are pushed towards an bottomless bucket of passive pastimes because of brains tendency for easy short term over more challenging long term, it’s easy to see how passive pastimes crowd out the active pastimes.
Return of the Fantastic Finale!
The answer here is not to go cold turkey on your favourite TV shows. It is a suggestion to enhance the enjoyment you get out of TV shows by reducing your emotional (and perhaps financial) investment in them.
Here are some easy ways to do that:
Try watching the finale with a friend. Or schedule some social time after watching the finale.
You know that feeling of emptiness as you watch the credits rolling? It’s likey a low grade grieving process that happens as all your parasocial relationships end all at once. Use this longing for connection to connect with a friend (one that will be there for you for longer than a series!)
Schedule some “maker” time
Sometimes, after watching consuming some really good art, you might be inspired to make some cool art of your own. I remember after watching the Spiderman cartoons, I would want to create my own universe of superheroes and villains.
If you know a series finale is coming, block out some time in your calendar to scratch a creative itch you may have had and start something cool. If you’re not sure where to start, or if you’re finding it hard to restart a stalled project, that’s the exact problem that the Habitling course was created to solve.
Final Step: Enjoy
You can still feel the rush of watching Daenerys Targaryen victoriously ride a dragon, or to see Dexter brutally assassinate the bad guys without the disappointment that comes with overinvesting in the fantasy on your TV.
Remember, you might be the reason why finales are disappointing, but the easy fixes above will bring back a lot of the enjoyment.
(Also, sorry for the somewhat dated TV show references, I don’t really watch TV much anymore :D)