“Let’s all promise that in ten years from today, we’ll meet again, and we’ll see what kind of people we’ve blossomed into.” These words, spoken by Bradley Cooper in the original “Wet Hot American Summer,” form the basis for the second season of the Netflix revival that began two years ago with “First Day of Camp.” “Wet Hot American Summer” is just the latest franchise to enter into a state of what I like to call “Perpetual Ending Purgatory.” Other offenders of this include “Arrested Development” and the BBC series “Sherlock.” In essence, these are series that never truly end, but also do not continue in any kind of regular fashion. There won’t be another season of “Sherlock”… until there is. “Arrested Development” fans have spent the better part of a decade now waiting on a Season 5 to wrap up story threads left over from the long gestating Netflix-sponsored Season 4. All this after the show originally concluded in a pretty satisfying way back in 2005.
This “Perpetual Ending Purgatory” is especially prevalent among Netflix revivals and other kinds of sporadically-appearing television series that don’t air every year in the way most series do. And while this is potentially cause for rejoice for the various fans of these shows, it also makes it harder for audiences to interpret what it is they are watching. Take “Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.” At surface level, it would seem like this is the natural place to conclude the “Wet Hot” franchise once and for all. They have now gone back in time with “First Day of Camp” and made it all the way to the point originally mentioned in the feature film. One would think there isn’t much more that can be mined out of these characters and storylines at this point. But without any kind of confirmation one way or the other that this is really the grand finale for the Camp Firewood gang, the climax of the miniseries loses much of its potential impact.
“Sherlock” Series 4 is another example of why it’s important for an audience to know if they are watching the conclusion to a story or merely another chapter. That whole series focused a lot on the impact that Sherlock and John Watson’s adventures had had on the people around them and it really tried to bring the series full circle in a number of ways. It ended in a way that could be viewed as an ending, but could also easily be continued on from any number of years from now. To an extent that was probably the point. But should it have been? We live in a culture that is obsessed with dusting off old things and bringing them back to go through the same motions all over again and this inability to let anything end is slowly but surely degrading the overall quality of long form western storytelling.
Even the creators of these shows don’t have any idea if they are ever done. Both the creators of “Wet Hot American Summer” as well as the creators of “Sherlock” have been coy about whether or not there will be more seasons of their respective shows, and Mitch Hurwitz (the mastermind behind “Arrested Development”) has been very open about saying he has long had the last beat of the current “Arrested” storyline planned out with the feeling that beat is supposed to give the audience being, “Oh wait, so there’s more.”
Oh wait, so there’s more. Those five words could essentially sum up the entirety of the way stories have come to be told on the big and small screens in the 21st century. The end is never the end. Sure the credits might roll but there’s always something after the credits. Maybe this is the end for this particular group of characters, but it’s certainly not the end of this universe. There will be prequels and sequels and reboots until the end of time and for the most part we will gladly accept these derivative works into our lives because they provide us with more of the same. But without the ability to provide us with true endings, more and more movies and TV shows are failing to provide us with true meanings. That is the greatest sin of all. Oh wait so there’s more. Just once, it would be nice for there not to be.